A masterpiece of dance on film: Jack Cole’s “Happy Ending”

Dance · Film

The dance sequence below, choreographed by the great Jack Cole (he dances in it as well) closes Twentieth Century Fox’s “On the Riviera” (1951). Every element of  “Happy Ending” rings true. Not a single step is wrong or jarring; on the contrary, all is balanced and golden and smart and right. It’s evidence of Cole’s magic in grouping bodies in space, his stellar chains of movement invention, and his skill at highlighting a soloist with supporting dancers.

“Happy Ending” is a “how to” primer in choreography, dear dance makers. So study it well.

My notes here:

  • Jack Cole dances. His magnificent spreading port-de-bras graces the number’s final frames. He had a huge wing span.
  • Gwen Verdon beyond perfection at the center of the three women and then comes her masterful solo on the platform. Nothing Bob Fosse  choreographed for Verdon, in my humble opinion, compares to what Jack Cole did for her habitually. But Cole had such a savvy eye for female dancing, not just Gwen, also Rita Hayworth, Betty Grable and Monroe.
  • In the foreground, and partnering Gwen, the wonderful George Martin, who died not one year ago, and whom we met at Jacob’s Pillow in the summer of 2010 along with his wife Ethel, also a killer Jack Cole dancer. These people practiced an art form that is now lost.
  • The great costumes. The hats!

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