Now the clouds roll by

In "Singing in the Rain", neither the female nor the male lead are the ones to watch for the really fantastic dancing. Gene Kelly might have been the star and lauded for his dancing abilities, but just put in the disk, forward to "Moses Supposes" and see whose dancing draws your attention most. Donald O'Connor has greater grace and fluidity--and even style--in that routine. You can also tell that the filmmakers knew it. You see, through most of the really difficult bits, O'Connor is the one on the left of the screen. All else being equal, that's the side most people's eyes are drawn to (probably because we read left to right and we are hard-wired to look first to the left.) So, traditionally in dancing, you put your best dancers on the audience's left. You've gotta think that even Gene Kelly knew that, and knew which of the two of them should get the prime placement. This speaks a lot for Kelly, that he knew a better dancer when he saw one and wasn't such an ego as to place himself always in the prime spot.

After you've watched "Moses" a half dozen times, find the "Make 'Em Laugh" routine to see a dancer putting his life on the line for a fantastic routine. Pick any of the great wow-dances from Astaire (eg. dancing with a hat rack, or on the ceiling) and put it up against "Make 'Em Laugh" and my guess is most people would pick O'Connor's choreography and death-defying antics. Astaire couldn't have done that routine, and I doubt Kelly could have either. According to the IMDB:
For the "Make Em Laugh" number, Gene Kelly asked 'Donald O'Connor' to revive a trick he had done as a young dancer, running up a wall and completing a somersault. The number was so physically taxing that O'Connor, who smoked four packs of cigarettes a day at the time, went to bed (or may have been hospitalized, depending on the source) for a week after its completion, suffering from exhaustion and painful carpet burns. Unfortunately, an accident ruined all of the initial footage, so after a brief rest, O'Connor, ever the professional, agreed to do the difficult number all over again.

As for Debbie Reynolds; the 19 year old actress had never danced before being cast in "Singing in the Rain". For a complete novice, she did a pretty good job holding her own between O'Connor and Kelly.

But to watch a great dancer once again stealing the spotlight from Gene Kelly, go to "Broadway Melody" and watch Cyd Charisse. Lithe, lanky, and beautiful, she steals the show. I can't think of any other dance from the golden age of the MGM musical as dramatic and sensual as Cyd's work in her only scene in the movie.

Sadly, Cyd Charisse died on Tuesday here in Los Angeles.

Here's Astaire commenting on Charisse:
"When you dance with Cyd Charisse, you've been danced with."

Now I'm going to pop in one of her movies and enjoy a great dancer in her prime.