Gene Kelly’s witty number in “It’s Always Fair Weather” 5

Dance · Film

We enjoyed watching  “It’s Always Fair Weather” (MGM, 1955, co-dir: Gene Kelly, Stanley Donen) recently on Turner Classic Movies. The song-and-dance number in the video above, Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks, bears much influence of Jack Cole (he, too, worked with Gray, coaching the non-dancer in “Kismet” and “Designing Woman,” both at MGM). So much so that it puts into question the origin of the choreography.

The number is chockablock with Cole’s signature elements that were on display, for all of Hollywood to see, in the choreographer’s wildly innovative work at 20th Century Fox in the period 1951 – 53. The funny entrances of the men are in fact, a spoof on Jack Cole’s work, particularly his knee slide. It is completely poking fun at Cole when the men “march” on their knees. Gower Champion was heard to complain that Cole made him do precisely that, while working on “Three For The Show” (1955).

Gray’s vivid femme-persona, her boldly colored costume, her edgy and aggressive interactions with the male contingent … all are Cole-esque. The number is a direct reply, thematically, to Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend and Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love? in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (Fox, 1953).

The smartly moving camera reminds me of Cole. The use of the frame in which dancers burst in and out of the rectangle is an innovation I credit to Cole in “On The Riviera” (Fox, 1951). The props and amusing references that stretch the lyrics come right out of “The I Don’t Care Girl” (Fox, 1953). But all this is “influence.” I’m actually questioning who choreographed this number.

Gene Kelly is the choreographer of credit for the movie. But that’s not definitive. Dance makers, and their assistants, often got short shrift in Hollywood and imprecise crediting seemed to get even murkier when Kelly was involved. Components of his dance numbers were regularly meted out to assistants, often women, but in Kelly’s case he also employed Jack Cole dancer Alex Romero on this number. It’s rare to see a work of this complexity created by Kelly in which he himself does not appear. Few of the hoofer’s familiar dance motifs are on view; I see only one, when the men hook their own hands and do that sailor’s hornpipe. He liked that step.  Neither is the number’s zinging humor Kelly’s brand (his humor was broader). For awhile, I toyed with the notion that it had been done by Michael Kidd (who co-stars in the movie); the telltale sign, acrobatics. Kidd, of course, successfully incorporated tumbling into his classic “barn raising” sequence for “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” (dir Stanley Donen), filmed just prior to “Fair Weather” at MGM.

A recent reading of a Donen interview in British “Movie” magazine (November 1973; thank you Dave Kehr), however, put this question to rest. In the article, Donen explicitly states, “I thought Gene did it very well, and the Dolores Gray number, ‘Thanks a Lot, But No Thanks,’ is still very funny.” Amen, the end. Donen has spoken. He also admits, separately, in the interview, that Kidd did contribute “a very little bit, a tiny bit” of choreography to “Fair Weather.”

Your humble dance detective has thus closed her investigation: this clever number is by Gene Kelly. Nice work, Gene.


arts·meme friend Larry Billman, author of Film Choreographers and Dance Directors (McFarland & Co. 1996), notes: “It’s Always Fair Weather” has not been given its full credit as, “it clearly tried to move the movie musical into new territory and out of the standard “Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl” format of the film musical up to that time. There are geniuses at work (Kelly, Donen, Kidd).”

arts·meme friend Alain Ronay remembers his friend Jacques Demy talking about the film: “Jacques told me it was one of his favorite films.”

Thanks to Facebook friends with whom I worked out many of these ideas.

5 thoughts on “Gene Kelly’s witty number in “It’s Always Fair Weather”

  1. Bob Boross Aug 31,2021 12:15 pm

    Definitely not a Jack Cole dance. Not even good enough to be Michael Kidd.

  2. Kevin King Mar 21,2019 4:00 pm

    I have watched this number so many times, I love it. But there is one male dancer in particular who was particularly expressive in his moves and figures in an important way in the last quartets. He is the shorter one. I wonder who he is?

  3. Janne Mar 25,2014 3:09 pm

    This number with Dolores Gray is maybe the sexiest number ever made, I love to see the stunning femme fatale making the little men into worshipping kneeling slaves. OOOOOOOOHHHHH she is a true goddess.

  4. debra levine Jul 5,2013 4:55 pm

    thank you for this wonderful comment.
    it is a cole knock off. i was trying to demonstrate how pervasive cole’s influence was …
    i enjoy your interpretation of the content.
    for me “diamonds” still surpasses … if only because it came first. but all of it is choice stuff that I wish young choreographers would study step by step.

  5. Richard Jul 5,2013 4:02 pm

    I read a blog several years ago that actually gave Jack Cole credit for this number. Thanks for thorough investigation. Gene Kelly. Case closed.

    This case reminds me of what one might witness in the music industry from time to time. Song writers are often given credit for the totality of a musical piece while the musicians that create the catchy hook or the “filthy, cool, groove” remain forgotten.

    “It’s Always Fair Weather” is a brilliant movie. I like the “Thanks a Lot But No Thanks” number more than I can say and much more so than Marilyn’s iconic “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. Dolores’ number is quite sophisticated and it sticks to the “less is more” principle of visuals much better. Marilyn accepting the diamonds is to be typically expected whereas Dolores disposing the male chorus line is deliciously startling.

    I still have questions about this number. Was it intended that this is the story of one femme fatale’s relationships with men or is it a commentary about the real power of women? Or Both? Could it be that the alpha male becomes fragile when he encounters a stunning woman? One thing I know for sure is that this number is way ahead of it’s time.

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