Sunday, June 25, 2017

Everything old is new again

Because it was raining and I was being held prisoner in my den, I had no choice but to lay back and surf through the 1,102 channels on my television.

I did that for a moment or two until an old back-and-white flick caught my eye. It was on Turner Classic Movies and the picture that stopped me dead in my remote was "Flying Down to Rio," a 2.5-star Hollywood musical probably most noted for the first on-screen pairing ever of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

It was made in 1933. I'd never seen it before.

What actually stopped me was the repartee in the dialogue between grown men and women. A lot of it was stilted, as you might expect. But a lot of it was pretty racy, too. Suggestive. Wiggle your eyebrows stuff. Wow stuff. Wink, wink stuff. More than you might think for the era.

But that was incidental. I mean, there are Marx Brothers flix just as suggestive. I was actually here for the dance numbers.

The movie is about a band leader (not Astaire, thankfully), who also happens to be a pilot and who keeps losing gigs because of his questionable flirtatious behavior. You know, like dancing with the women he lusts for when he should be leading the band (in one scene, he hands his baton to Astaire, who is the band's accordion player, to finish conducting the tune while eyeing a patron).

Anyway, to make an impossible story short, the band gets a gig in Rio and the pilot/band leader flies ahead of his band down to Brazil in his two-seater with the latest object of his desire, who needs a lift to Rio as well. Convenient to the plot.

 Never mind. What caught my attention here was the airplane. It's a 1930 Monocoupe 90, according to IMDb. Impressive. Especially considering this was state-of-the-art aviation just three years after Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic and only 27 years after the Wright Brothers. Oh, yeah. The plane comes equipped with a little piano behind the pilot's seat so the band leader can compose songs while in flight. OK. Sure. I'll bite.

The nightclub dance scene, which lasts forever, occurs in Rio. People are doing something called the Carioca, which requires some quick-step dancing with a man's hands placed occasionally on the woman's hips perilously close — if not actually close — to sizzle. They also mostly dance with forehead touching forehead, which requires eye contact and therefore the even more passing of suggestive messages of intent (One guy gets his face slapped while dancing and he didn't even say a word).

It is Rio, you know.

Look, I don't consider myself to be a prude, but I think my mouth was hanging open by now. Kind of like, "This is the 1930s? This is what my grandparents did?" I guess this is how you got through The Great Depression.

And Astaire and Rogers hadn't even shown up yet. When they finally did, it was without the suggestive stuff, but loaded with the incredible stuff: leaping; twirling; flying. All I could think about was the supposed quote from Ginger Rogers later in her life in which she pointed out that she had to dance every step that Astaire did, only she had to do it backwards and in high heels. True enough, I guess.

I later read that Astaire said that after Rio, he wouldn't mind making another film with Rogers (they would do nine more movies together), just as long as they weren't considered to be a team. Sheesh. Men never seem to know what's good for them, especially when a woman is involved. But I guess it worked out.

It gets better. During one dance number, the film suddenly flips through scenes in one-second bursts like flipping through a deck of cards. Whaaa? Maybe is was just inventive film editing, I don't know. I didn't watch the movie from start to finish.

So apparently, there's some movie magic that I missed. IMDb tells me there are scenes of chorus girls doing wing-walking on a high-flying fleet of airplanes, and many are wearing see-through garments, thus giving us some added definition to the term "special effects." Whaa? Turns out, 1933 was before the censoring Hays Code went into effect. No ratings. You could take your kids to see a Rogers and Astaire musical and end up seeing more burlesque than you ever bargained for. Oh, the humanity...

They sure don't make movies like that anymore.

Well, enough got to be enough. After about a half hour of this, the fantasy was just too much for me. I needed an anchor. I had to get back to the real world. You know. The one with the latest presidential tweets...

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