The Red Shoes (1948) Poster

(1948)

User Reviews

Review this title
158 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
10/10
A Duel for Art: a Hero *for* our Time
DrMMGilchrist24 January 2004
Art as vocation; art as religion; art as the purpose of life: The Archers team of Powell and Pressburger aimed high with 'The Red Shoes' - and scored a bull's-eye. The film is a feast for the senses: cinematography (by Archers regular Jack Cardiff), music, acting and ballet are combined to make a magnificent whole. Emeric Pressburger's story appears simple at first glance, but is a challenging study of the value and purpose of art, and of aestheticism as a creed (a term not used lightly). It is given life by some of the most talented dancers of the era: Leonid Myasin/Massine as lovable Grisha; Ludmilla Tchérina as glamorous, flighty Irina; Robert Helpmann - who choreographed the title ballet - as Ivan; Marie Rambert as herself, and Moira Shearer (Ashton's 'Cinderella') highly appealing as the heroine Vicky. The non-dancing cast is led by Archers regulars Anton Walbrook (magnificent - why no Oscar?) and Marius Goring (so convincing I ended up wanting to slap him).

The plot combines Andersen's fable, 'The Red Shoes' with elements of Dyagilev's relationships with Nizhinskii and Myasin, and the effect of the younger men's marriages. Dancer Vicky Page (Shearer) and composer Julian Craster (Goring) are taken up and encouraged by ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook).

Boris is the film's dominant character, an obvious portrait of Sergei Pavlovich Dyagilev (1872-1929), one of 20C culture's greatest figures, the driving force of 'Mir Iskusstva' and the 'Ballets Russes'. However, his Scots-Russian surname alludes to Mikhail Yur'evich Lermontov (1814-41), poet and author of 'A Hero of Our Time', Pushkin's successor as the voice of Russian Romanticism. Boris is an aesthete and perfectionist, a true believer in the religion of art. All his passions and energies are channelled into bringing out the best in the company that is his 'family'. He demands equal dedication from his protégés. He believes that if you have an outstanding talent, your primary duty is to give that talent its fullest expression, not fritter it away through mundane distractions and dalliances. Human relationships are transitory: what matters is the art. It is a stern, unsentimental creed, but a noble one.

Vicky and Julian begin an affair during the creation of the new ballet, 'The Red Shoes' (which we see in full, and has, in its sacrificial death-by-dancing, echoes of Stravinskii's 'Sacre du Printemps', choreographed by Nizhinskii for Dyagilev). Their love tests their commitment to Lermontov's ethic. What makes the conflict interesting and effective is that it is not trivialised as sexual rivalry: Boris is discreetly signalled as gay, like Dyagilev - something reinforced by the casting of Walbrook. (It is unnecessary to highlight the courage, in 1948, of placing centre-stage a dignified, powerful, non-caricatured gay character, played by a gay actor who had escaped Nazi persecution.) The struggle is between real Romanticism - hence Boris's sharing his name with the Byronic poet - and mere 'romance'. But the brutal climax, bringing together Andersen's story with suitably Russian overtones of 'Anna Karenina', is an evasion of decision: a character choosing death rather than commitment one way or the other. The final scene combines tragic lyricism with awareness of the unnecessary waste: and the dance, of course, goes on.

My understanding of and relationship with 'The Red Shoes' has changed and deepened with time. In girlhood, I was inclined to be relatively indulgent to Vicky and Julian. In middle age, they seem plain self-indulgent. Julian, frankly, isn't worth any sacrifice. Ballet is a "second-rate form of expression", he says in a quarrel with Boris - who, of course, launched his career. (If Boris had punched *him* instead of the mirror, how I'd have cheered!) He regards Vicky as a muse for his own fulfilment as a composer, while she frets with frustration, her pointe shoes in a drawer, her own artistic fulfilment denied. Their separate beds after marriage seem a revealing insight, not merely '40s film censorship. On the spectrum of fictional obnoxiousness, Julian's not far behind Angel Clare in 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles'. Boris's manipulations are actually *less* selfish - directed towards enabling Vicky to express *her* creativity to the maximum - not bury her talent in a drawer.

Yes - Boris's passionately held vocation and values now evoke my strongest sympathies and recognition/identification as a fellow 'true believer' in art (and long-time Dyagilev-ite). Young sentimentalists may hate him (he knows "adolescent nonsense" when he hears it!), but he speaks hard truths and much wisdom. Personal relationships are fragile; a dancer's active career can be short. If you have a gift, service to it must come first: it is a sacred duty. Domesticity can wait. Yes, he is autocratic, temperamental: prophets and visionaries usually are. And what is his job? To unite other exceptionally gifted people from diverse disciplines - painting, costume, music, dance - with *their* competing egos and artistic temperaments, to create the multifaceted art of ballet. Herding cats is easier! And yet he is capable of generosity and forgiveness, as with the prodigal Irina. A complex, moving, genuinely heroic figure, 'The Red Shoes' is more his film than Vicky and Julian's.

But what went wrong with British film? The Archers made 'The Red Shoes' in 1948; now we have vacuous romantic-comedy/chick-flick pap or drab kitchen-sinkers that might as well be TV soap episodes, betokening a loss of cultural and intellectual confidence. (In visual flair, has The Archers' torch passed to Baz Luhrmann? Time will tell!) The present cultural climate treats the arts as an optional add-on to civilisation, rather than a defining part of what it means to be civilised. The arts are constantly called upon to justify their existence in commercial or social engineering terms, not for their intrinsic worth. A film, then, in which the most compelling character advocates Art for Art's Sake - art as a sacred calling - flings a gauntlet in the face of a market-driven, anti-intellectual, anti-beauty, utilitarian society. Sergei Pavlovich/Boris Lermontov, where are you now we need you?!!!
146 out of 161 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
A superb production, wonderful colour, but above all, superbly directed.
Ben_Cheshire1 April 2004
The performances are terrific (with only the odd unusual line delivery, partly due to english being many of the actors' second language, and partly due to the fact that all of the main dancing characters, are not professional actors at all, but dancers - including Moira Shearer, Australia's Robert Helpmann, Leonida Massine and Ludmilla Tcherina - which fact considering, they do marvellous jobs).

The story's passion for ballet and music comes across to the audience, and the story is compelling and fascinating, due to the way it is told. Moira Shearer, in a career-defining role, has a wonderful presence as the young dancer Victoria Page, who becomes a star of the Lermontov Ballet Company, and dances the lead in the ballet The Red Shoes. But Anton Walbrook is truly terrific as Lemontov. One particular moment i was very impressed with was when he begins to write a letter to Victoria, and there is a closeup of his face, and on his face we can read the emotions of his letter in a very subtle way. A marvellous scene. He has a germanic cold stare in this part which really brings it to life - the character of Lemontov is entirely in his eyes.

The score is fantastic, particularly the original ballet of the red shoes itself, composed for the film by Brian Easdale. The film has such a wonderful look partly due to the fact that its production designer was a painter, Hein Heckroth.

But the element which really makes this movie great is how superbly it is directed. With glorious use of colour, it is directed in a smooth, impeccable style in the manner of Renoir - except here each frame poses not as a painting, but as a moment from a ballet.

A wonderful film to watch.
33 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
One of the best films of all time
halloweenbikini23 April 2004
I am biased because I have loved this film ever since I was four years old. Some films, as you grow and age, lose their magic and you forget what made you love it as a child. This film has only strengthened my love and appreciation of it as I have grown older. I am not one to narrate a storyline, as this film is great for more than, and even despite, it's story.

The beautiful colour photography of the locations, including London, Paris and Monte Carlo, will take you back to a fictional glamorous 1940's where everyone wore chic clothes and were perfectly mannered and groomed and make you wish you could visit there sometime.

The music is a highlight for me. Brian Easdale has written such a detailed and nuanced lyrical score that does not overpower any moment in the film. There are moments where the music so perfectly conveys a character's very thought, even though they are not saying a word and their face betrays not a hint of emotion.

The story is a familiar one, particularly today, of ambition and the balance between career and personal life, between a creative passion and a human one. And of course, yes there is the ballet element. I have no interest in ballet and I love the film. It does play up the prima ballerinas and haughty choreographer stereotypes, but as they are played by real ballet dancers, I think it makes it all the funnier. Robert Helpmann and Leonide Massine are particularly hilarious and over the top, so full of pathos and themselves.

Anton Walbrook is the star of this film, playing a Diaghilev type character and absolutely dominates any scene he is in. He is not bombastic in a showy, hammy way. It is a more silent but deadly charismatic performance. It is a pity he did not receive an award for it. He is stern, uncompromising, cold and passionate and absolutely deadly. He is a gentleman tough guy.

Moira Shearer and Marius Goring, unfortunately do not fare so well in comparison, but they are perfectly adequate in their roles and have some touching and funny moments. It is not altogether their fault, the characters are a little bland, especially in comparison to all the other larger than life characters they are paired with. Shearer really comes good as soon as she starts dancing.

Which brings me to the fifteen minute ballet in the middle of the film. It is beautiful (and brief). The dancing is fabulous, it looks beautiful and the music is amazing. No one should fast forward this masterpiece of filmed ballet. It is cinematic, not (as filmed ballet usually is) procenium stage bound. It is a modern ballet, choreographed by Robert Helpmann and Leonide Massine and is a story, perhaps even a mirror, within and of the film.

The Red Shoes combines every one of it's elements into a perfect whole. Some elements are a bit lacking, the story is very simple and given another context a bit soap opera like, but combined with the visuals, the music, the characters and the human comedy-tragedy, it is a beautiful complete film and one that will keep improving with age.

10/10
73 out of 84 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
(Top 10 pick) A superior film.
Hermit C-222 April 1999
I first heard of "The Red Shoes" when I read the liner notes to an album by the jazz/fusion group Weather Report, called "Tale Spinnin'". Therein it said that saxophonist Wayne Shorter had seen the film a few dozen times. Intrigued, I watched it when I noticed it in the TV listings. What a discovery!

With its focus on the tangle of lives of a ballerina, a composer, and a dictatorial impresario who uses them both, the story may have elements of a soap opera, but it's a superior soap opera. What appealed to Shorter, I'm sure, is the film's depiction of the artists' creative process. It may have been done better elsewhere, but I haven't seen it. Besides that, it's beautifully directed, beautifully photographed and sumptuous to look at throughout. The surreal title ballet is performed in a segment that is stunning, and I'm not just using that word as a cliche.

Anton Walbrook stands out as Lermontov, leader of the ballet troupe. There are many real-life artists from the ballet world in the film, including Leonide Massine and Robert Helpmann. Massine is particularly effective.

Don't be put off by the notion that this is some effete art film; it's high quality AND accessible. Anyone who enjoys art (especially ballet), romance or just plain good moviemaking owes it to themselves to see it.
62 out of 72 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
One of the few films impossible to over-praise
Spleen20 December 1999
The film isn't THAT closely related to Hans Christian Andersen's story; but it would be a good idea to read the story before seeing the film. It's one of Andersen's better stories, anyway.

Another minor note: if no other consideration will sway you, see `The Red Shoes' for a perceptive look the position of the ballet composer relative to that of the dancers. For Powell and Pressburger it's no more than a diverting side issue, but it's one of the things that especially interested me. If you look at advertisements for ballet productions today, you'll notice that the composer's name is NEVER printed - even if the ballet is called `Cinderella' and the public has no way of working out whose score is being used. It puts the composer in his place, no doubt. Yet musicians at the ballet are in the habit of thinking that they're the most important people there.

I'm on their side. I happen to loathe classical ballet as such. `Swan Lake' strikes me as a lovely score disfigured by people who insist on dancing to it. Yet `The Red Shoes' makes me put all of this aside. Indeed, it would be fair to say that I simply CAN'T dislike ballet while watching the film - which is especially odd, considering some of the things it does to people.

So, yes, if `The Red Shoes' can have this effect on ME, of all people, it's surely one of the best films ever made. I can't agree at all with the people who describe the film as `melodrama' or `camp'. (The latter charge I scarcely even understand.) The story is what it is and it's told at the most realistic and sincere level appropriate. The characters who act theatrically (NOT melodramatically) are all creatures of the theatre, and have not spent not just their days but their lives in Lermontov's troupe. If you want a more understated view of things then watch the musicians. To put in a word for one of them, Brian Easdale's source music is superb: GOOD music of a kind that an English composer like Craster might well be expected to write. It's clear that Easdale wrote Craster's compositions first, and then constructed the rest of the score around them, rather than vice versa.
59 out of 70 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Shall we dance?
jotix10021 June 2005
We saw this film years ago. It was a surprise when it was included as part of a Michael Powell's work at the Walter Reade recently. The film still has a great look as it seems it has been lovingly restored. Mr. Powell, working with his usual collaborator, Emeric Pressburger, created a film about the world of ballet that has proved to be, not only a timeless classic, but a crowd pleaser to those who watch it for the first time.

"The Red Shoes" is basically a fairy tale loosely based on a Hans Christian Andersen story. Mr. Anderson and Mr. Pressburger gave it a vivid look that even today, appears fresh and glamorous. Those glorious colors in the film stays in the mind of the viewer forever.

The ballets shown are magnificently staged. The Red Shoes ballet by Sir Robert Helpmann and The Shoemaker by Leonide Massine, a giant in the world of ballet. The music conducted flawlessly by Sir Thomas Beecham lingers in one's mind long after the movie is over. The glorious Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff is amazing.

The acting by Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring and Moira Shearer serves the story well, although the director got better performances in later films, "Peeping Tom" and "Black Narcisus", to name two. Ms. Shearer with her red hair and peaches and cream skin projects such a refined presence in the film that is hard to forget her features. The actress dressed by Jacques Fath, the famous French designer, shows why she was one of the best things that happened to the picture.

"The Red Shoes" is one of the best films about ballet thanks to the vision of its directors.
52 out of 62 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
P&P's Masterpiece
Hugh-1412 April 1999
I have seen this film about 30 times in 30 years and for me this film will always be special. Astonishingly, my wife, who is a Ballet Teacher, doesn't care at all for this film finding it too 'affected'. Perhaps as I am not involved with ballet at a professional level is a reason why I can enjoy this vibrant, colourful fantasy so much, but then our ballet friends adore the film, so who knows why this film affects some so profoundly (Spielberg&Scorsese!!) and not others. Anton Walbrook's authoritative performance is so memorable and Moira Shearer dances beautifully. Perhaps because the film is so highly charged with passion and emotion it will never please everyone, but I feel this is one of the great achievements of British Cinema and a film so rich and inspirational you will never wish to forget it.
57 out of 69 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Powell and Pressburger's ballet fairytale
didi-516 November 2003
`Why do you want to dance?' Anton Walbrook asks of Moira Shearer part way through Powell and Pressburger's inventive ballet film. `Why do you want to live?' is her cool response. Suggested by the Hans Christian Andersen story and a project long in development by P&P, this sumptuous colour production allows Shearer to display her excellent ballet skills alongside Robert Helpmann and Leonide Massine, and all three are excellent.

In fact, the `Red Shoes Ballet' alone is enough to recommend this movie in the strongest terms. Also in the cast is P&P regular Marius Goring, as the composer pushed aside for the lure of the stage. Walbrook, as the emotionless impresario who is only alive within the confines of his art, is superb, and perhaps only his role as Theo in `Colonel Blimp' served him better.
33 out of 39 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
A true masterpiece
emuir-125 April 2004
A great film speaks to each of us in a different way. To me this more than a colourful piece of escapist entertainment, this was a glimpse into a world of magnificent color, sumptious settings, French Haute Couture, the theatre, music, luxury hotels, elegant opera houses, chaffeured Rolls Royce cars, travel to the South of France - in short, everything that a child in the near bankrupt England in 1948 had never seen and could barely imagine.

I was fascinated not only by the glimpse of an elitist life, but of the time capsule which the film presented of a time and place that no longer exists as it was at that time. The views of London in 1948, are similar to watching "World War II in Color" on the history channel. When the ballet company travelled, they took the train. Rationing may still have existed back then, and travellers could not take money out of the country, except for a ridiculously inadequate amount; therefore, if you went abroad you had to know someone with whom you could stay. I also found myself wondering how they got the money to make a technicolour film in 1947, when they began filming.

Part of the film takes place in Monte Carlo, only 20 years after the heyday of the famous Ballet Russe. In fact the ballet company in the film is quite obviously based on the Diaghilev Company. Former member Leonid Massine has a major part in the film, and Marie Rambert has a cameo role.

This is also a ballet film for those who do not really care for ballet. The plot is simple - rising young ballerina falls in love with rising young composer and must choose between him and a career possessively controlled by the impressario - and acts as a frame for the ballet. The film is as near perfection as it is possible to get, and watching it in 2004, it does not seem to have dated at all. Everyone, especially Anton Walbrook, is perfectly cast. The script is witty and occasionally humorous. The technicolour photography is superb, especially capturing Moira Shearer's flaming red hair.

The audio commentary on the DVD adds immensely to the enjoyment of the film, which is one that can be watched over and over. o understand how great this film really is, try watching Baz Luhrmann's "Moulin Rouge" travesty afterwards.
35 out of 42 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
A Very Creative Movie About Creative Artists At Work
Snow Leopard26 May 2005
The resourceful approach that characterizes so many of the Michael Powell/ Emeric Pressburger collaborations makes "The Red Shoes" one of the most creative and interesting of any of the "back stage" movies that show the lives and dreams of creative artists at work. The characters are quite interesting in themselves, and the story brings out some worthwhile aspects of each of their natures while giving a realistic and often fascinating look at their world.

By no means do you have to be a ballet fan to appreciate and enjoy the story or the settings. While fully convincing in themselves, they are also set up so that the most important aspects and conflicts of the plot could easily be applied to those working in other creative fields as well.

Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, and Marius Goring make a nicely balanced and intriguing trio of main characters. The opening scenes work very well in bringing them together while being enjoyable to watch in themselves. From there, the creative tensions are built up steadily as the story itself becomes even more interesting. The script makes use of the best conventions of its genre, while never allowing itself to become formulaic.

There is also a good deal of creativity in many of the individual sequences. The opening scene at the opera is particularly clever in playing off of a viewer's initial expectations. The most spectacular sequence is the "red shoes" ballet segment itself, a very imaginative and enjoyable mini-movie that also parallels some of the main story's most interesting ideas. All in all, "The Red Shoes" well deserves its reputation as a distinctive classic.
23 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Subtle, tragic, with consummate artistry
snaunton18 June 2001
Julian Craster (Marius Goring) is a talented young composer, Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) wants only to dance. Both wish to work with the Ballet Lermontov and Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), who lives only for the ballet, is shrewd enough to hire them both. After shaky starts, they achieve first success when Vicky plays the lead in Craster's 'The Red Shoes' at Monte Carlo. But Lermontov demands total commitment to their art, so when Vicky and Craster fall in love, they must leave the company. They marry. Some time later, Vicky returns to Monte Carlo on holiday. Lermontov relents and she is again to star in 'The Red Shoes'. Unexpectedly, her husband turns up to reclaim her, with tragic consequences.

Who but Powell and Pressburger would have the nerve to present an entire ballet, specially written, within a feature film drama? The "Wanna Dance" sequence in "Singin' in the Rain", is, though magnificent, but a bagatelle compared with the "Red Shoes" ballet. The ballet itself is lavishly staged and is a clever cheat, slipping smoothly in and out of the theatre into a world of pure cinema, seeing with the eyes of the audience at one moment, then looking out into an amphitheatre filled with swirling colours. So, too, the more prosaic moments are perfectly rendered, with the wonderful sense of colour and design and costume that is a badge of The Archers. And the dancers! Robert Helpman and Leonide Massine (also the choreographer) dazzle us with their energy and command. And the puppeteer, or rather the Shoemaker to the the Ballet Lermontov, sits in his Monte Carlo office. To Vicky's Sylphide he is the basilisk gargoyle that sits on the parapet outside his window.

Anton Walbrook delivers a masterly performance as the fanatical, tyrannical, director of the Ballet. He can be ice cold, but then, a faint smile will seem filled with warmth. Every nuance of his performance is perfectly timed and delivered. In his final, passionate, pleading that Vicky abandon love and dedicate herself to dance, he glances momentarily at her dresser, indicating that Vicky is ready to put on her shoes. He calculates and he controls them all. But he has miscalculated, and his subsequent address to the theatre audience is delivered with raw chunks of grief, his voice strained, rasping. Marius Goring, too, is completely convincing as the young musician, his every word and action witnessing his commitment to his art. So, too, the collection of Russian emigres around Lermontov give sympathetic and well-modulated performances. Brian Easdale's music supplies all that is needed credibly to support the claims of the film. But, in the end, even amongst such talent, it is the image of Moira Shearer that endures, dancing her heart out in the ballet, then losing it in the shocking closing scenes.
10 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Divided by Two Passions
claudio_carvalho9 July 2010
The successful impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) gives an opportunity in the Lermontov Opera to the talented young composer and conductor Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and to the gorgeous red-haired ballerina Victoria "Vicky" Page (Moira Shearer), whose greatest passion is to dance. Sooner Vicky becomes the lead dancer of his company and a sensation in Europe. Craster composes the ballet "The Red Shoes" based on the fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen and Vicky falls in love with him. The jealous Lermontov sends Craster away and Vicky decides to leave the company and marry Craster. However, when Lermontov meets Vicky one year later, he offers the position of lead ballerina in his ballet back to her; the youth feels divided between her passion for dancing and her love for Craster, leading her to a tragedy decision.

"The Red Shoes" is a magnificent work of art and one of the most beautiful features I have ever seen. The story of the ballerina Vicky, a woman that can not live without dancing and is pressed by her beloved husband and by the manager of the ballet company to choose between her life of wife or ballerina, is heartbreaking. Moira Shearer is very beautiful and the color of the restored DVD released by Continental Distributor is fantastic. "The Red Shoes" deserves the awarded Oscar of Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color, and Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture. My vote is nine.

Title (Brazil): "Os Sapatinhos Vermelhos" ("The Little Red Shoes")
9 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
Magnificent production values, great dancing, strange ending...
Doylenf3 July 2004
A fascinating glimpse into life behind the theater curtain, gorgeous color photography and a number of well-staged ballet sequences are the factors that make THE RED SHOES such a wonderful film to watch. On top of that, the performances are masterful--especially Anton Walbrook as a theater impresario with an obsessive drive to control the girl he believes he can mold into the finest ballet dancer (Moira Shearer). Shearer's flaming red hair reminds one of a British Susan Hayward with the delicate features of Vivien Leigh. Marius Goring is the struggling young composer who falls in love with her as they collaborate on THE RED SHOES and gives one of the film's most interesting performances in a vivid role.

I know that it was the intention to give the viewer a glimpse of "The Red Shoes Ballet" as it exists inside Moira Shearer's mind--but it illustrates a point of weakness that is always present when we are watching--presumably--a stage presentation in the movies. None of the scenes could realistically have been performed before an audience of theatergoers. It's all strictly cinematic in conception. While I view this as a flaw, I'm sure other devotees of this film don't.

Marred only by an ending that seems too hurried to be accepted but does follow the framework of the Hans Christian Anderson fairytale.

All in all, a rich viewing experience not to be missed if you want to see the best of British film-making in the late '40s and their truly wondrous use of color in film. Definitely a masterpiece of its kind.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
More than the other films, it caught on with audiences, and many of us have fallen madly in love with it and treasured it for life.
Ziggy544627 June 2007
The team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger direct and write one of the great ballet melodramas of all time. Hans Christian Andersen's tragic fairy tale serves as the outline for a film about a backstage love story. The film's core relationship between the impresario and dancer was a take on the one between Diaghilev and Nijinsky. It's the kind of dance film that can appeal to a wide audience not just balletomane devotees.

Originally, Emeric Pressburger's story was commissioned by producer Alexander Korda for his wife-star Merle Oberon (Oscar nominated for "Wuthering Heights" in 1939). One problem was Oberon could not dance. Pressburger then bought the story back and decided to co-direct it with partner Michael Powell with Moira Shearer, a pro dancer who could also act, in the lead. Red-haired Shearer was then a ballerina at Sadler's Wells. In the film, she is joined by such skillful dancers as Léonide Massine, Ludmilla Tchérina, and Robert Helpmann, who also worked on the choreography.

It begins when a talented but impoverished musical composer Julian Craster (Goring) attends a London performance of the Lermontov Ballet Company and recognizes his own score being performed without his authorization. Complaining to ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook - who gives the films best performance), things get resolved when the composer is hired to compose the score for his next work -- a ballet version of "The Red Shoes." It's based on Hans Christian Anderson's story about a pair of magical shoes that permit their wearer to magically dance without ever stopping. The impresario also hires a gifted sweet young flaming red-haired dancer, Victoria Page (Moira Shearer, the Sadler's Wells ballerina's debut as an actress), to perform in the ballet.

The centerpiece of the film is a stunning 20 minute ballet sequence, where we see The Red Shoes performed, first on traditional stages, but then on increasingly expressionistic and fanciful sets, until it's clear that the brilliant dance and music have taken the performance away from anything approaching reality, onto a plane of pure art, where such things as the laws of physics and time and space don't seem to apply. It's a heartbreaking and wonderful experience. Leonide Massine, who plays the choreographer and who created the unforgettable character of the Shoemaker within the ballet, is considered to be one of the greatest choreographers in the Western World, creating over 50 ballets. It is he, not Moira Shearer, who makes the ballet sequence so entrancing (and I can't say that I traditionally like ballet). You just can't take your eyes off him. Not bad for someone that his mentor, Sergei Diaghilev, called nothing but a good-looking face and poor legs.

As a result, the ballet is well received and Julian and Victoria fall madly in love. Meanwhile Boris recognizes how talented Victoria is and puts all his energy into making her the perfect dancer and a slave to her art, as The Red Shoes is set to go on tour throughout Europe. Things get dicey when Julian leaves the company and Victoria marries him over the objections of the overbearing and jealous Svengali-like Boris, who believes her art comes before love. Boris uses his power to prevent her from dancing the role that brought her fame. After the music stops the film comes down from its lofty heights to tell its mundane story. The dancer misses performing her magical role and after meeting the impresario by accident after a long time not seeing him agrees to dance for him again just one more time, thus missing her possessive hubby's premiere of his new work. There's a hidden "gayness" to all these melodramatic moves as the three protagonists in the concluding scene in Monaco confront one another and each makes an earnest case for how they stand. It leads to a tragic ending for the dancer who is torn between love and her world of dancing.

The Red Shoes is one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking films one could ever see, certainly one of the best uses of Technicolor cinematography (if not the best) in the history of film. It's one of the best looks at the tensions that tear at artists who want to devote their lives to their art but find themselves entangled in the affairs of humanity. It's also a very good portrait of the difficulties a woman in the 1950s had deciding between her career and her so-called womanly duties as a wife and mother. Directing/producing/writing team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger did not--could not--make a bad film in the whole decade of the 1940's or the years bookending it, but with The Red Shoes they created one of the screen's great tragedies.
8 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
6/10
Beautiful but Boring
tgooderson5 August 2012
A young amateur ballerina called Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) meets famed ballet producer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) at a ballet after party, impressing him enough to invite her to join his company. At breakfast the next morning Lermontov also meets an inspiring young composer by the name of Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and he too is invited to join the company. The two talented youngsters begin to work their way up through the company ranks as a romance blossoms between them. There are tough decisions to be made however when it comes to a choice between ambition and love.

I bought The Red Shoes of Blu-Ray about three or four years ago after hearing Martin Scorsese say it was one of his favourite films. Now I've finally seen it I can see why someone would enjoy it on an artistic and technical level but it left me feeling very bored.

The first thing to strike me about the film was its wonderful use of colour. Everything is so bright and vivid and it's incredibly striking. Although Technicolor had been invented in 1916 it wasn't widely used in the film industry until the 1940s. After the success of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, studios began to think of the medium as the future. The use of colour in The Red Shoes is stunning and is definitely one of the highlights of the film for me. I wondered if the colour was made to be so bright and vivid because the directors were working in a relatively new and unexplored medium, just as today 3D films seem to make an extra effort to have things poking out of the screen at the audience. Unlike 3D which is in my view rarely if ever improves a film, the colour in The Red Shoes most definitely enhances the viewing experience.

The plot revolves around a story within a story with Hans Christian Anderson's fairy tail The Red Shoes being performed inside the film. I was never really interested in the characters and I think this is because the film was very predictable. I was always one step ahead, able to anticipate what was coming next. This was true even of the shocking ending which I worked out just a couple of minutes earlier. This isn't a film with twists or surprises. Even so I thought that the ending was done very well and I loved the thirty seconds on stage after the 'surprise'. I thought it was beautiful and moving. One of the problems I had with the film was my indifference to ballet. I've tried to enjoy it a couple of times when I've been to see ballet and although I have huge admiration for the ability of the dancers I can't help but find it confusing and dull. I'd love to be able to say I can follow a ballet but I just can't. As about a third of the film is purely dancing I often found my mind wandering to other things.

Although I'm no ballet fan I did find the performance of The Red Shoes ballet sometimes interesting. The fairy tail element peaked my interest a little and it felt almost surrealist at times. I was reminded of Disney's Fantasia at various moments. The prolonged dance scene half way through was also very well edited. The costumes' were also well designed and the music, although not to my taste, was excellent. Occasionally the film was overacted, perhaps in part due to the cast been predominantly ballerinas first, actors second. I let this go slightly as a lot of the cast were working in their second or third language. Both leads were very good and Anton Walbrook stood out as the charismatic but vicious impresario. Another thing I liked was to see London's Covent Garden as it was in the 1940s. It's an area I've been though many times and looks very different today. The same is true of Paris and Monte Carlo which are also interesting to see over sixty years ago.

For me The Red Shoes is a lot like ballet itself. It is admirable and I wanted to enjoy it but I often felt bored and kind of couldn't wait for it to be over.

www.attheback.blogspot.com
9 out of 13 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
8/10
Powell & Pressburger's classic modern-day fairytale.
jonathandoe_se7en8 September 2001
I saw The Red Shoes for the third time yesterday, it's probably my third favourite Archers film after A Matter of life and death and Black Narcissus, I haven't commented on any of these films out of fear I would not be able to eloquently put into words my feelings on their work. But after seeing the meagre amount of comments this film has received, it's time to try.

The Red Shoes is one of the most exquisite pieces of art I have ever seen, every shot is tightly composed, brimming with colour and texture, there's a real feel of the hustle and bustle of the everyday world these characters inhabit. But unlike other Powell & Pressburger films, The Red Shoes is very weak when it comes to characters. As many have pointed out there aren't really any likable characters, most are either too meek or just not emphasized enough to get a real connection with them. No this should have been first and foremost a ballet film, that sadly only features one real dance sequence, the haunting production of the titular "Ballet of the Red Shoes".

The performances are good enough, with all three principals (Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring and Moira Shearer) delivering, but the script just doesn't fit them. However the ideas of the film are so timeless, that you can't help feel for all of them at the tragic conclusion. So I give The Red Shoes a rating of 8/10, mainly for the Red Shoes sequence and Jack Cardiff's cinematography. This is a classic that should be discovered by every generation.
11 out of 17 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Stylized Masterpiece
Bucs196025 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
No one has ever been better served by Technicolor than Moira Shearer.....with that transparent skin and flaming red hair, she is a treat for the eye, as is the film itself. Based loosely on the Hans Christian Anderson story of the cursed red shoes, this is a very unusual film with over the top acting styles and offering a glimpse of the ballet world to which the non-performer is not privy. Some may find it a bit too stylized for their tastes but it draws you in, just as the red shoes weave their spell. The major players are quite good with the exception of Marius Goring, a rather bland actor. It calls for a suspension of belief to imagine Shearer giving up her one love, ballet, for Goring. Anton Walbrook is mesmerizing as Lermontov and we expect him to win in the end, although his victory is short-lived. Several well known names in ballet offer support....particularly notable are Leonide Massine and Robert Helpmann. Powell and Pressburger bought the screenplay from Alexander Korda who had planned to film it in the 1930's but didn't. Bad call by Korda since the film won 2 Oscars and has become a classic for the ages. It's a fairy tale film which is not to be missed.
6 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
un-fulfilled
simonrosenbaum30 November 2002
I wanted to see this film because of its reputation as one of Britain's finest films, but as I find with a lot of highly praised films your expectations are way too high and can't be fulfilled. I found "The Red Shoes" quite disappointing and not the amazing film I was led to believe it was. You have to admire the colour and style which is still incredible after 50 years. I also liked the music, and the ballet sequence was inventively directed, but Walbrook & Goring played characters who were not likeable which failed to draw you in to a story which was too melodramatic for you to care about. I've enjoyed all the Powell/Pressburger films that I have seen up to now and I think they are one of cinema's greatest treasures, but this one failed to excite me. (5/10)
5 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
7/10
A flawed masterwork
moonspinner5516 August 2005
Beautiful to look at, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "The Red Shoes" is astonishing and ravishing as photographed in color by Jack Cardiff: blood reds, creamy whites, midnight blues and inky ebonies all blend together as if in a dream. A would-be prima ballerina and a would-be music composer both come in contact with a brilliant showman, an impresario who becomes their mentor but soon tries to destroy their love for each other. The "Red Shoes" ballet sequence is, of course, the highlight--and it's interesting to note you do not see it from the audience's point of view, but from within the dancer's imagination. This centerpiece alone puts all other ballet films to shame, and in fact makes some (like Herbert Ross's "The Turning Point") seem downright irrelevant. Problems with the last act may be due to the constraints of (and faithfulness to) the Hans Christian Andersen fable the plot derives from, but the finale is so over-dramatic it may provoke some giggles. The picture manages to capture happily frantic backstage life like no other movie, and is memorable and exciting for many different reasons, but when the final bows come, the story has somewhat molded over. *** from ****
9 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
The most brilliant dance sequence ever
frankde-jong27 July 2019
There are many films about ambitious young people trying to make a career in showbusiness. Think about "All about Eve" (1950, Joseph Mankiewicz, film), "Singin in the rain" (1952, Stanley Donen, musical) and "A star is born" (several years, several directors, pop music). In al these films the aim is stardom and the means is getting to know the right acquaintances (by chance or by manipulation).

Not so in "The red shoes". Here the aim is perfection and the means are total dedication or (formulated differently) bedevilment. In this respect "The red shoes" has much more in common with films such as "Black swan" (2010, Darran Aronofsky) and "Whiplash" (2014, Damien Chazelle) than with the above mentioned films.

Central in "The red shoes" are the characters of Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) as the impresario of the ballet Lermontov, Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) as a young ballet dancer and Julian Craster (Marius Goring) as a young composer. Victoria and Julia are discovered by Boris Lermontov, but during the course of the film they fall in love with each other. This much to the displeasure of Borils Lermontov, who demands of his collaboraters total dedication to their art form. It is impossible to combine a human romance with this total dedication (is the opinion of Boris Lermontov). And so Victoria Page has to choose between her love for Julian Crastor and her love for ballet.

In "The red shoes" Boris Lermontov is a sort of Mephistopheles. When you sell your soul to him, he delivers greatness (in for example a specific art form) but there is no way back. Surprisingly I did not find the charcter of Lermontov less sympathetic than that of Craster. Apart from the fact that Walbrook is a beter actor than Goring, I think there are a few other reasons. In a certain dialogue Lermontov asks Victoria if she would ask Craster to give up music. When she says that she would never do that he asks on what ground Craster can ask her to give up ballet. Lermontov certainly has a point here. In another scene we are witnesses of the marriage of Page and Craster. They sleep in seperate beds (unusual for a newly married couple) and Julian stands up in the middle of the night to rehearse a new piece of music. How deep does their love go?

"The red shoes" is based on the fairy tale of the same name by Hans Christian Andersen. This fairy tale character is most prominent in the best known scene of the film, a ballet sequency of more than a quarter of an hour. This ballet sequence begins as a life performance but than assumes a surreal character as it reflects the subjective emotions of Victoria Page while performing. This scene easily matches and even surpasses famous long dancing scenes as in "The earrings of Madame de ... " (1953, Max Ophuls), "Il Gattopardo" (1963, Luchino Visconti) and particularly (as this is also a surreal sequence) the Broadway melody sequence with Cyd Charisse in "Singin in the rain" (1952, Stanley Donen).

The scene is a perfect co-operation between actress (Moira Shearer, one of the most beautiful red heads I have ever seen), set design (Hein Hecktoth) and cinematographer (Jack Cardiff).
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Pop Culture Thoughts
popculturethoughts26 December 2018
Breathtakingly gorgeous and dramatically compelling from the first few shots, this quasi-adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's original fairy tale has no parallel. Set primarily in the backstage world of professional ballet, the movie benefits from the extraordinary grace and precision of the multitudinous ballet dancers seen throughout, as well the inherent drama of ballet itself. In addition, the story of the overlapping pursuit of concurrent professional and personal bliss is universal and timeless, rooting the movie in a compelling middle ground of immediacy and timelessness. Lead Moira Shearer is perfectly cast here in a demanding role that requires both dancing and deep emotional depth, and she tackles it fearlessly. There's nothing else quite like this.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Beautiful
aliceinfaerieland12 October 2018
I love ballet and I love ballet films. I also love Hans Christian Andersen. This was beautifully acted, beautifully danced, and I cannot believe I have never seen it before. It perhaps moves a bit slowly in some parts, but otherwise I have no complaints.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
Will satisfy you to the core and leave you ravished
barevfilm30 September 2018
Viewed at the 2000 Karlovy Vary film festival. One of the great revelations of the week in Karlovy was the rediscovery, in a section devoted to older classics, of the great English ballet drama "The Red Shoes", from the year 1948. I had seen the film years before and remembered that it had impressed me way back then, but I had forgotten, or perhaps hadn't realized at the time, how truly magnificent and extraordinary this incredible picture actually is. The basic plot is a love triangle between a beautiful red headed ballerina, her despotic impresario, and a younger musician, set in an incredibly colorful Monte Carlo. Moira Shearer, an actual professional ballerina was the dancer, and most imposing as the possessed impresario, was Austrian actor Anton Walbrook. This picture, based to a certain extent on a Danish fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson in which a dancer dons red shoes which make her into a marvelous dancer, but then won't let go and force her to dance herself to death, is the perfect merger of classic dance, high Greek tragedy, and Hollywood staging. Unquestionably one of the most beautiful and compelling motion pictures ever made. "Red Shoes" directed by the British masters Powell and Pressburger, is the kind of picture that makes sitting through a thousand other banalities worth while, and makes you remember why you fell in love with the flickers in the first place. I was most delighted to find that the film would be repeated, and put everything else on hold so I could see it again the next night. Had there been nothing else of note during the festival, RED SHOES would have been enough to justify the trip. It's just one of those movies that satisfies you to the core and leaves you ravished. Words fail. See it if you ever get a chance, preferably on the big screen
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
10/10
You don't do art for a living, you live for art...
ElMaruecan8223 September 2018
"Why do you dance?" ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) impassibly asks Vicki Page (Moira Shearer), another of these Covent Garden dreamers who can't fool him.

But Miss Vicky plays in another league, she marks a pause and retorts "why do you want to live?", the man who was so stingy in smiles lets one slip, he's obviously amused by that question, it's a rhetorical one but he answers nonetheless, that's how thrown off he is: "I don't know, but I must" That's her answer too.

And that simple exchange encapsulates what Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's classic masterpiece "The Red Shoes" is about: Passion.

The film is one of the greatest, if not the all-time best movie about ballet, it's all fitting that the title contains the word "shoes", but its soul rests in the word "red" word, red like the fire that ignites three people caught in an odd triangle of love and dedication to art. Some do arts for a living, some live for art, what when these two visions collide? What when there's a choice to make? But I'm being hasty here, let's get back to the genesis ... or how a simple screenplay meant to be a vehicle for a Hollywood star became another bull's-eye from the Archers!

The screenplay is actually both an original and an adapted one, like many self-referential show-within-show movies, it is based on a pre-existing work and make backstage realities and fictional shows converge toward the sameconclusion. One can make an easy comparison with Darren Arronofksy's "Black Swan" and Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" as the emotional skeleton. Working on an existing work is crucial because two original stories can strike as contrived coincidences while a work with an existence of its own allows a better suspension of disbelief.

And it's like Hans Christian Andersen's tale was begging for such a parallel story. The tale is about a woman who puts on some red shoes from a Demonic shoemaker and then can't stop dancing, what starts as an enchanting musical escapade with her boyfriend turns out into a nightmare, the girl dances until she wears nothing but rags and end up so exhausted she got her feet cut to stop the curse... the story is the perfect embodiment of the way passion can drive people to extremes... with a few Faustian undertones.

Powell and Pressburger made a lavish movie about people who are all deeply dedicated to their art and can't allow anything to interfere with it, it's just as if there was a sort of a pact with the devil in a movie that doesn't seem to have any villains. Lermontov is the closest to one but it's more a posture than a nature. Played with dignified severity by Walbrook, he's the kind of man who doesn't let any emotions interfere with work and his only outburst of genuine sympathy happen to be approvals of good work. And when he hires a young pianist as an assistant conductor, it's because he can recognize talent when he sees it.

Julian Craster (Marius Goring) doesn't have the flashiest role of the leading trio but his seemingly lack of physical appeal justifies that he would be the easiest to surrender to love while enhancing Lermontov's frustration that Vicki make a rival out of such a bland man. Lermontov' fortress of confidence is obviously shaken; he could have lost Vicki's heart for Art but not for Julian. We know from that point that tragedy is tiptoeing toward their people's lives. Lermontov himself was based on famous Ballet Russes founder who fired two dancers after they fell in love.

But as riveting as the story is, it doesn't tell one tenth about the film's greatness.

"The Red Shoes" is a dazzling looking film served with Technicolor magnificence, restored with the sheer passion of Martin Scorsese who holds it as one of his favorites, a movie where the hair of Moira Shearer can't inspire any better description than the one written in Powell's memoirs "an autumn bonfire", and where the score and the cinematography render all the grace and magic of the ballet and the tragedy of great art, summed up in that meaningful statement: "a great impression of simplicity can only be achieved by great agony of body and spirit."

While "Black Swan" was an introspection into the agony and spirit of a tormented soul with the same tragic perfection at the end, "Red Shoes" is a more extraverted hymn to the beauty of dance and the way the music can command the most graceful fantasies, and the film couldn't have conveyed that message had it not contaminated the crew, which means the director, art-designers, the camera operators, the writer and the choreographers.

"The Red Shoes" is renowned for a long ballet sequence when we can have a proper view on Moira Shearer's talent as a professional dancer. That Powell wanted a real dancer was the right approach, proving that he respected viewers, art and artists and that a debutante like Shearer or professional dancers such as Leonide Massine or Ludmilla Tchérina could be so natural is one of these miracles allowed by the Gods of the reel when you show them enough respect.

The dancers might have made a pact with the Devil, the Archers made one with Heaven. And as for the ballet in itself, it's a moment of pure heavenly magic that transcends the story and puts us viewers in Vicki's state of mind, it's a surreal combination of stage artifices and camera magic, an extraordinary symbiosis between reality and dreams. It's also a masterstroke of directing featuring many daring special effects we would be wowing over if we weren't so drawn by the music and the art-direction (two deserved Oscar wins for the film).

Truffaut demanded that a film expressed "either the joy of making cinema or the agony of making cinema". That's exactly what "The Red Shoes" are about: joy and agony disguised as sheer virtuosity.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
9/10
Visually stunning, always engaging, but minor reservations
malcp2 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Had the story throughout this film managed to sustain the level of drama it achieved up to and including the performance of the ballet of the Red Shoes, then this would have been right up in the top ten films of all time.

It is often a beautiful, magical, wondrous thing to look at and like it's predecessor Black Narcissus, manages to achieve something far beyond the normal conventions of cinematography. The whirlwind drama created by commanding auteur Boris Lermontov builds slowly and gradually, increasingly dramatic pace and tension culminating with the performance of the Red Shoes.

Here we are shown the truly graphic nature of the musical imagery Craster (it's composer) describes earlier, the dance, fabulous by itself is supported by visual and musical invention that transcribes the ballet and the role of the dancer. She becomes intertwined with the art itself until glimpses of Craster and Lermontov intervene and we are returned to mere theatre. It is here where my reservations begin. Somehow, during the performance, Lermontov has been transformed. From a remote but vital creator surrounded by a bunch of supportive, equally creative adjutants where his work is everything, he is reduced to a love-sick puppy blinded to his ambitions by an overwhelming physical love for one woman. This to my mind is just too big a fish to swallow.

Circumstances dictate that he never has the opportunity to declare this love, but instead hides his emotions behind his previous persona, before setting in train a chain of events that lead to the films shocking but inevitable climax. Unfortunately, though it is dramatic, it's also a bit of an anti-climax, whereas the death of Lermontov in some equally dramatic fashion would have given a much more satisfactory conclusion to the whole endeavour. Whatever, don't be put off by my musings, if you love film, you must watch this.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Permalink
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews


Recently Viewed