Saturday Night Cinema: The Red Shoes


Tonight’s Saturday Night Cinema classic is The Red Shoes. A masterpiece from Geller favorite, the British film-making partnership of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Archers). They made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 1950s. Their collaborations were original stories by Pressburger, with the script written by both Pressburger & Powell.

Regular Saturday cinemaphiles have enjoyed a number of Archer films here.

The Red Shoes is not just an Archer production but one of my favorite films. Set in postwar London, with an aspiring ballerina at its heart, played by the luminous, flame-haired Moira Shearer. The Red Shoes is the name of the ballet that is created for Shearer’s character, Victoria Page. “And one of the overwhelming triumphs of the film is the utterly original vision of that ballet, which we see at the centre of the film.” (Guardian)

Even the impossible to please Mr. Crowther is a bag fan.


Published: October 23, 1948

Over the years, there have been several movies in which attempts have been made to capture the spirit and the beauty, the romance and the enchantment of the ballet. And, inevitably, in these pictures, ballets have been performed, a few times with charm and sincerity but more often—and unfortunately—without. However, there has never been a picture in which the ballet and its special, magic world have been so beautifully and dreamily presented as the new British film, “The Red Shoes.”

Here, in this unrestricted romance, which opened at the Bijou yesterday, is a visual and emotional comprehension of all the grace and rhythm and power of the ballet. Here is the color and the excitement, the strange intoxication of the dancer’s life. And here is the rapture and the heartbreak which only the passionate and the devoted can know.

In certain respects the whole picture which Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger made seems to have the construction and the flow of a romantic dance. For not only is the story a frankly sentimental affair, true to the stanchest conventions of triumphal love and bitter tears, but it is played by a splendid cast of actors who have the grace and the pace of dancers themselves. Indeed, many of them are dancers, as is natural, and they frequently perform, so that the rhythm and movement of their dancing transmits easily into the dramatic scenes.

And, for that matter, the story—it being about an English girl who devotes herself to a famous ballet company, becomes its star and then falls in love—is a symbolic realization of the theme of the principal ballet, which is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fable of the little girl who is bewitched by her red dancing shoes.

If there is one objection to the picture, it is that the story plays too long, with much involvement and redundance in a comparatively simple plot. There is no need to have the impresario, even though he is a charming martinet, reiterate with such monotony that dancing and love don’t mix. And despite the beauties of the settings and the fascinations of the theatre, it is wearying to see so much Monte Carlo and so much of the ebb-and-flow backstage.

However, the story is still beguiling, having been written with eloquence and taste, and the performance of Anton Walbrook as the impresario is winning, none the less. He gives such a wonderful picture of a forceful, inspired, creative man with a beautiful flair for the dramatic that his over-frequent presence can be borne.

And, at least, the length of the picture—a good bit over two hours, not counting an intermission—permits an abundance of dance, which is the particular glory and excitement in this film. Numerous bits and pieces of famous and popular ballets are handsomely and tactfully intruded. And the main ballet, “The Red Shoes,” is given a full-length performance, playing for about twenty minutes on the screen.

The cinema staging of this ballet, conceived in cinematic terms, is a thrilling blend of movement, color, music and imagery. For it quickly evolves from the confines of the limited settings of the stage into sudden and fanciful regions conceived in the dancer’s mind. And here some spectacular décor and some fresh choreography, arranged by Robert Helpmann, spark impressions that are vivid and intense.

As the leading ballerina and the romantic heroine of the film, Moira Shearer is amazingly accomplished and full of a warm and radiant charm. Leonide Massine is wonderfully comic in a completely fantastic style as her dancing partner and ballet master, and his dancing (of his own creation) is superb. Mr. Helpmann and Ludmilla Tcherina dance and act remarkably well, too, and Esmond Knight, Albert Basserman and Eric Berry are good in minor roles. Only Marius Goring, as the young composer who steals the heroine’s heart, vaguely distressed this observer. Too flamboyant and insincere.

Much could be said of the whole décor, which is set off to brilliant effect by properly used Technicolor, and the music of the ballet. Much could be said on the direction of Mr. Powell and Mr. Pressburger. But right now we must be contented with repeating that “The Red Shoes” is one you must see.

THE RED SHOES: Written, directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger for J. Arthur Rank; from an original screen play by Mr. Pressburger, with additional dialogue by Keith Winter; musical score by Brian Easdale and choreography by Robert Helpmann; a Powell-Pressburger Production released here by Eagle-Lion. At the Bijou.
Boris Lermontov . . . . . Anton Walbrook
Julian Craster . . . . . Marius Goring
Victoria Page . . . . . Moira Shearer
Ivan Boleslawsky . . . . . Robert Helpmann
Ljuboy . . . . . Leonide Massine
Ratov . . . . . Albert Basserman
Boronskaja . . . . . Ludmilla Tcherina
Livy . . . . . Esmond Knight
Terry . . . . . Jean Short
Ike . . . . . Gordon Littman
Professor Palmer . . . . . Austin Trevor
Dimitri . . . . . Eric Berry
Lady Neston . . . . . Irene Browne

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