For my third Breening Thursday article, I present another pre-Code film, Flying Down to Rio from 1933. This was the first teaming of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as well as the film debut of the former, but it stars Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond. This elaborate, carefree musical from RKO Pictures brings the audience from Miami to the tropical shores of Brazil, and it is filled with many classic dances along the way. With these elaborate musical numbers come risque costumes, suggestive dance movements, and racy lyrics. As we explore this fine old musical, let us review the changes which Joseph Breen would have required for the seal to be given. I suggest you watch the film first then follow me as we breen it.
At the beginning of the film, the Swiss manager of the Miami hotel which employs Roger Bond and his band, the Yankee Clippers, inspects the outfits of the staff. The waitresses being inspected are wearing indecent necklines, particularly one rather voluptuous, flirtatious waitress who winks at the inspector. The necklines should be raised, and the wink should be removed. Then, the manager inspects their stockings. This does not seem proper. He sees that one girl’s shoes have round heels, and he says that he will not tolerate that sort of thing. This is making reference to the 1930s expression “round-heeled woman” for a woman of ill repute. This should be eliminated.
Later, the same manager is scolding the Yankee Clippers for getting familiar with the customers. Honey, the pretty singer with the band, says, “What if the customers get familiar with us?” She lifts her skirt as she says this line. The line may remain, but she must not lift her skirt.
During the first musical number in the film, “Music Makes Me,” Honey is the singer. She is wearing a very risque dress which features a low neckline and a transparent skirt, under which she appears to be wearing only a leotard. The neckline must be raised, and the skirt should be opaque. While she sings, Honey moves her body rather suggestively. Her movements should not be risque during this or any other song.
When Fred sees that Roger is falling for the beautiful Brazilian customer, Belinha, he sees trouble and says to the band, “Hold your hats, boys.” The italicized words are a forbidden expression under the Code which must be omitted.
During this same scene in the hotel, the American girls occupying the table with Belinha are discussing the handsome young bandleader, Roger. One girl says that he is an aristocrat’s son. If he would stop fooling around with bandleading, aviation, and composing, he could name his own figure. A silly blonde at the table says, “He could name mine anytime.” This is rather risque.
In the same scene, the girls enviously watch Belinha dance with Roger. The fore-mentioned silly blonde says, “What have these South Americans got below the Equator that we haven’t?” The strange placement of the italicized prepositional phrase makes the whole line blue. If it was placed before got, it would be better. However, I think the italicized phrase should simply be deleted. It would be acceptable for her to say, “What have these South Americans got that we haven’t?”
Care should be taken to ensure that there is no pansy flavor with the Swiss hotel manager. At present, I detect slight hints of this in his manner.
In the scene in which Belinha is writing a letter to her father, she is wearing an overall style dress. It is too low in the front, and it cuts too far over on the sides of her chest. I think this is a rather strange style for a dress, but if these revisions were made, it would be acceptable.
In the same scene, Roger tells Belinha that he has a friend with a small airplane which can take her toward Rio. He actually is the man with the airplane, but he is being conniving. “How far is he going?” she asks. “Just as far as you want him to,” Roger replies. He says this rather suggestively. I think the line would be acceptable if he delivered it plainly.
Later, Roger’s plane has trouble, and he and Belinha have to land on a desert island. She thinks that there is nothing wrong with the plane and that Roger made this up to be alone with her in the middle of nowhere. Despite her suspicions and Roger’s mischievous nature, there really is something wrong with the plane. He soon discovers the problem, which is easy to fix, but then his evil alter ego appears and councils him to pretend that the plane is having serious problems. In general, care should be taken with this sequence to ensure that the audience does not think that Roger has some serious amorous immorality in mind. One should always feel that he just wants to spoon with her, that is, to hug and kiss her. One particular line said by the alter ego struck me as too suggestive. It was the following: “When was there ever a better opportunity for dirty-work at the crossroads?” This should be changed, deleted, or replaced.
The first scene in Rio is in Roger’s hotel room. He is having a lively conversation with Julio, a Brazilian who is his best friend. He is telling him all about the beautiful but anonymous girl whom he flew part of the way from Miami. Little does he know that Julio is her fiance. The first shot you see is the word RIO, which is printed on a towel which is tightly wrapped around Roger’s waist. I know that bath towel scenes were relished in pre-Code years, since bathroom sequences and swimming sequences were the only chances filmmakers had to display their actors’ physiques; whereas pre-Code woman were usually indecent when fully dressed, men were always completely covered when they were dressed. At any rate, Gene Raymond’s physique is certainly being displayed in this scene. First, he parades around in his bath towel for a while. Then he removes his bath towel; even though he is only shown from the waist up, it is clearly implied that he is completely naked. He eventually puts on his undershirt and shorts, in which he gallivants around for a while before actually putting on his trousers. It certainly takes him a long time to get decently dressed. This scene is quite improper, since more people than just Julio are watching it. Instead of a bath towel, he should be wearing a bathrobe which says Hotel Rio. There should never be any implication that he is standing there with no clothes on at all. Perhaps he could turn away from the camera and pull his shorts on without removing the robe. If he is shown in his shorts, they must be made longer and looser. I have noticed that, if men were ever shown in their underwear in Code films, the underwear had to be looser and longer than the average outerwear shorts men wear now. All shots of Roger in his underwear should be brief and minimal. The technique of cutting to a shot of Julio could be used to cover possibly indecent shots of Roger. In conclusion, Roger should be properly covered for most of this scene.
In this same scene, Roger says, “In a pig’s monocle.” This is a play on the forbidden expression, “In a pig’s eye.” This line must be deleted.
In the Carioca Casino, Honey, Fred, and the band are about to witness the famous dance, the Carioca, for the first time. The manager of the club says that the customers prefer it to the American foxtrot. Honey replies, “You mean, they prefer it in public?” This line sounds rather risque.
The Carioca is the highlight of this film; it is famous for being the first dance which Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers performed together. However, it is rather risque, so it needs some breening. When the customers of the club are first performing the dance, it is rather like a tango in which they press their foreheads together. This is a little strange, but it is acceptable. Care should be taken that there is no suggestive movement of the torso, particularly the hips, during this part of the dance. Also, a few men have their hands on their partners’ hips. This is not proper. When the chorus girls begin to dance, it should also be ensured that there is no suggestive or indecent choreography. Their costumes feature leotards with cutouts on the torsos and transparent long skirts. The necklines should be raised, the cutouts should be removed, and the skirts should be made opaque. Then, black chorus girls and boys begin to dance. The black chorus girls are wearing tops which are completely open on the side. The only material covering their sides is a thin piece of skin-colored material. Since it matches their dark skin perfectly, it implies bare flesh. Their entire sides should be covered with lighter material. Their choreography contains a lot of torso shaking and isolated movements which are quite suggestive and risque. These must be removed. The following lyric in the song sounds very risque: “Tomorrow morning you’ll discover / You’re just a Carioca lover.” The black singer accompanies this lyric with a suggestive smile and a wink. The lyric should be changed, and the wink should be removed. This phrase could be replaced with something like “When it is over you’ll discover” or “When you are dancing you’ll discover.” There are several lines which are said by the Yankee Clippers during the Carioca. One of the musicians says, “No wonder it never gets cold in this country.” While watching the couples dancing, Honey says, “I can tell what they’re thinking from here.” Referring to the forehead-touching in the dance, Honey says, “The trick is to keep your mind a blank.” Fred responds, “With that music?” Honey watches the dance a little more and says, “Oh, Freddie, is my mind red!” All these lines should be delivered a little less suggestively. None of them are necessarily un-Codish in wording alone; the delivery is what makes the difference. Finally, Honey’s neckline is too low in this scene.
Later, Roger, Honey, and Fred are walking through Rio; Roger is trying to find Belinha, but Honey and Fred are just sightseeing. After Roger has left, Fred has spotted Belinha sitting in a pastry shop with her aunt, but Honey is more interested in the sweets sold in the shop. She asks Fred how to ask for little tarts in Portuguese. He replies, “Try the Culbertson System.” This has a double-meaning. Firstly, Ely Culbertson developed a famous bidding system for bridge, so the surface meaning is that Fred is telling Honey to use Culbertson’s bidding system to buy the tarts. Secondly, Culbertson was noted for his wildly immoral amorous life. Since the word tart was a 1930s synonym for a loose woman, there is a risque double-intendre with asking for tarts using the Culbertson system. If she were trying to buy cookies or some other pastry instead of tarts, I think it would be acceptable. Otherwise, the entire line about the Culbertson system should be removed.
After Fred is bodily thrown out of the pastry shop for speaking to Belinha, a crowd gathers around him. The camera focuses unnecessarily on a young woman’s derriere. This shot should be made more general.
At the Aviator’s Club, Belinha’s neckline and backline are too low. They should both be raised, or the top of the dress should be changed entirely.
Later, Fred is gathering a group of chorus girls for the show at the Hotel Atlantico. Among the unlikely prospects he has found, there are two rather loose-looking girls whom he says he found on the doorstep of the American consul. The implication that these girls are women of ill repute should be removed. To accomplish this, the line should be changed, and the women in question should dress and behave more decently.
In this same scene, Honey’s neckline is too low.
In the scene when Fred is told by the police that they cannot rehearse on the Hotel Atlantico grounds, Belinha rushes to his aid from the beach. She is wearing a rather exposing bathing suit. The neckline should be raised, and I think the bathing suit should be made a one-piece suit which covers her midriff. Her navel is not showing in the present bathing suit, but two-piece suits were considered quite risque in the early 1930s.
In all shots of the rehearsals for the elaborate flying numbers, care must be taken about the chorus girls’ costumes. Their necklines and backlines must be high enough, the costumes must not be too tight, and their chests’ must be supported and covered properly. This last point is important throughout the picture.
In the actual flying number, the same changes to the costumes must be made as in the rehearsals. In addition, care should be taken that the material is dark enough to immediately imply clothing. Also, there should be no long, transparent skirts. These look more risque than shorts. All skirts must be opaque, regardless of their length. During this number, some girls are preparing to jump off one of the airplanes with parachutes. However, a strong wind blows off the parachutes and removes their outer-clothes! This should be eliminated. As in most pre-Code musical numbers, the airplane finale features some shots which focus excessively on the chorus girls’ legs. These should be removed.
Now that I have finished breening this 1933 extravaganza, I hope that I have not lost my audience. Perhaps it seems a little silly to so thoroughly dissect fine old films, but I feel it has two specific purposes. Firstly, I want to show my readers that many pre-Code and Shurlock era films would not have lost their quality or their content because of being breened. Many people think that Joseph Breen’s work at the PCA ruined many fine films, but I am trying to show that he made good films even better! Secondly, I am showing my readers how to breen in preparation for the Great Breening Fest Blogathon which I will be hosting with the Flapper Dame in the beginning of November. I will formally announce this blogathon soon. Until then, keep watching wonderful old films, Code or otherwise. I just hope that I am teaching each viewer to be his own self-regulator. If the next time you watch a classic movie, you ask yourself what effect the Code had or would have had on it, I have begun to succeed.
Follow us to bring back the Code and save the arts in America!
Belinha: A beautiful Brazilian girl who is engaged to a Brazilian but in love with a handsome American pilot, Roger; played by Dolores del Rio.
Roger: A rich playboy who loves bands, airplanes, and his best friend’s fiancee, Belinha; played by Gene Raymond.
Julio: Roger’s best friend, who loves Belinha but is sad to realize that she loves Roger; played by Raoul Roulien.
Fred: Roger’s assistant, the accordion player in the Yankee Clippers who is stuck on the band’s singer, Honey; played by Fred Astaire.
Honey: Fred’s sweetheart, who sings and dances; played by Ginger Rodgers.
Hotel Manager: The Swiss manager of the Miami hotel where the Yankee Clippers are employed in the beginning of the film; played by Franklin Pangborn.