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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>
When Cyd Charisse made THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947) she was still a young starlet in the MGM stable, before her rise to stardom in 1950s Arthur Freed musicals like SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952), THE BAND WAGON (1953), BRIGADOON (1954), and SILK STOCKINGS (1957). (You can tell it's from her "early years" by the way her face is made-up.)
Fans and admirers of Charisse will want to check out this film for a chance to see her at home in the world of ballet. Many dancers in Hollywood were tap dancers, but Cyd Charisse came from a ballet background. The ballet influence is evident in her work in things like BRIGADOON, for instance, but in THE UNFINISHED DANCE we get to see Cyd Charisse do some real ballet, in a tutu and everything.
The real focus of the movie, however is Margaret O'Brien, MGM's child actress extraordinaire. THE UNFINISHED DANCE is a Hollywood remake of a fascinating French film LA MORT DU CYGNE (a.k.a. "BALLERINA") (1937). It concerns the girls of a dance academy and a sort of tragic mistake. O'Brien is a young dancer who idolizes ballerina Charisse and perceives a visiting prima ballerina (Karin Booth) as a threat. With her idol's best interests at heart, O'Brien sabotages Booth's performance. Booth suffers a career-altering injury and O'Brien is haunted by her guilt, even as Booth becomes a mentor for her at the academy.
Margaret O'Brien was a major child star in the 1940s and MGM adapted LA MORT DU CYGNE as a vehicle for their young actress. What's impressive is that MGM got ten-year-old Margaret O'Brien to actually learn ballet. O'Brien had never been known as a dancer, but she does her own dancing here and is convincing enough. Karin Booth, too, seems to do her own dancing on camera.
MGM adds Hollywood gloss to the plot from the original French film. The tragedy isn't quite so tragic. The irony not quite so defined. While it's a darker role than some would expect from Margaret O'Brien, it's not *too* dark. Danny Thomas plays O'Brien's gentle, vaguely ethnic, de facto guardian and sings a couple of cutesy tunes. The ballet sequences are staged in glorious Technicolor.
The plot is probably good enough for those who haven't seen the French film, although I personally feel the remake suffers by comparison. I prefer the French film for aesthetic and thematic reasons. I would highly recommend checking out LA MORT DU CYGNE ("BALLERINA") if the opportunity arises. It seems to be rather obscure but I caught it on Turner Classic Movies a few years back.
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