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.