Band leader Roger Bond (Gene Raymond) is a notorious womanizer. While his band is playing in Miami, the lovely Belinha De Rezenda (Dolores del Rio) catches his eye and isn’t about to let the hotel’s rule about staff not fraternizing with guests stand in his way. Fred Ayers (Fred Astaire), his friend/choreographer/accordion player, knows that this will not end well at all and sure enough, he is right. When Belinha’s chaperone finds out what Roger is doing, she gets him fired. But when he finds out Belinha is headed to Rio de Janeiro, he gets in touch with his friend Julio (Raul Roulien) in Rio and gets the band a gig playing at the hotel Julio works at. And it just so happens that Roger likes to fly and has his own two-seat plane, so he offers to give Belinha a lift.
Along the way, Roger plays the old “engine trouble” card and lands his plane on a secluded beach in Haiti. He spends the whole night trying to win Belinha over, but he soon finds out there is one little detail she’s neglected to mention — she’s engaged. Roger isn’t about to let that stand in the way, but when she finds out that there wasn’t really a problem with the engine, she storms off and catches another plane to Rio. When Roger finally makes his own way to Rio, he asks his friend Julio to help him win Belinha back, but doesn’t realize that Julio is the person Belinha is engaged to. Not only that, her father owns the hotel they’re now playing at.
While Fred and Honey Hale (Ginger Rogers), the band’s singer, are having fun learning the local dances, things aren’t going so smoothly for Belinha’s father. Some business rivals are trying to put his hotel out of business before it even opens and has the police shut down the band’s rehearsals, knowing they couldn’t get their entertainment permits in time for the grand opening festivities. But then Roger has a stroke of genius and decides to do their show in the air, where they wouldn’t need permits. They come up with a show that involves plenty of showgirls dancing on the wings of airplanes. The show is a huge success and Belinha’s father is so grateful to Roger for saving his hotel that he sends him a heartfelt letter thanking him for all he has done. After that, Roger doesn’t have the heart to split up Belinha and Julio. But Julio realizes that Belinha would be much happier with Roger and doesn’t want to get between them.
Flying Down to Rio is best remembered for being the first movie to feature Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers together. But don’t go into it expecting something along the lines of Swing Time or Follow the Fleet. Flying Down to Rio was really intended to be a vehicle for Dolores del Rio, so Fred and Ginger are just supporting roles. But even in their supporting role status, they’re clearly the scene stealers of the movie. If you set the Fred and Ginger factor aside, Flying Down to Rio stands well on its own as a real pre-code classic. It’s got some fun innuendo and even though there’s no way that musical number on the airplanes would ever actually work as a real show, it’s such an unforgettable scene. Overall, a very fun movie.