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Meg, a young ballet student, idolizes the school's top ballerina, the shallow Ariane Bouchet. Meg is distressed when she learns visiting prima ballerina Darina rather than Bouchet will play the lead in the school's production of "Swan Lake." So on opening night, Meg arranges an accident which nearly kills Darina and ends her dancing career. As a result, Bouchet becomes a star, while Meg is torn with guilt. Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Even if it had turned out very badly, "The Unfinished Dance" would have been an extraordinary film. Back in the late 1940's, making a large budget film was actually a more corporate decision than it is today. Which makes you wonder how something that is a weird mix of "The Red Shoes" and a pre-teen "Crime & Punishment" was ever approved for production.
Fortunately things turned out very well and for today's viewers the film's uniqueness is not the only reason to watch it. Most likely it was intended as a vehicle to showcase nine year old Margaret O'Brien's acting and dancing talents. O'Brien was an extremely hard working and motivated child actress, and "The Unfinished Dance" is the most accomplished of her many solid performances. She really gets to demonstrate her range, moving between her standard self-parodying cuteness and a convincing demonic side that should be quite a nice surprise to first-time viewers.
There are some extremely slick ballet scenes, with Cyd Charisse and Karin Booth (if it is not Booth's actual dancing they did a seamless job of matching close-ups and master shots). The Swan Lake scene is especially effective with the stage floor covered in mirrors to simulate the surface of the lake.
Little Meg Merlin (O'Brien) worships the featured dancer Ariane Bouchet (Charisse) at her ballet school. When guest dancer La Daria (Booth) displaces her for the season, Meg and her friend Josie (a very young Elinor Donahue) conspire to sabotage her performance by turning off the stage lights in mid-dance. Things go horribly wrong when Meg throws the wrong switch. La Daria suffers a career ending injury. Meg and Josie promise to keep Meg's involvement a secret.
This gives O'Brien the whole second half of the film to play the Raskolnikov role, as she is torn between satisfaction that her idol has reclaimed the top spot in the company and guilt because of the unintended consequences of her actions. The guilt becomes too much to bear when La Daria becomes her instructor and demonstrates far more interest in Meg's dancing than her idol Bouchet ever did.
"The Unfinished Dance" has a more contemporary shot selection than the standard 1940's-50's film. The story benefits from many close-ups of O'Brien's face, with the use of reaction shots more frequently than I can recall in any other film from this time period. O'Brien's expressiveness is nicely showcased and she is certainly up to the challenge.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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