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It may be the film that launched a million little girls' dreams of becominga ballerina, but Michael Powell's groundbreaking dance fantasy, The RedShoes (1948), originally seemed a risky undertaking. Powell and his erstwhilefilmmaking partner, Emeric Pressburger, were dealing with a form of dancethat tended to scare off the uninitiated, and they aimed to conclude theirpicture with a lengthy ballet sequence that ran without dialogue. Thegraceful movement of dance itself would, in effect, serve as the finalmovement of the narrative, and nobody was certain if such a concept wouldplay properly on the big screen.
The story opens with Julian Craster (Marius Goring), a fledgling composer,realizing that his work has been stolen for the Lermontov Ballet'sproduction of "Hearts of Fire." When Julian confronts the company'scontrolling director, Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), Lermontov enlistshim to score his next work, The Red Shoes. Unfortunately,Lermontov's star decides to get married, so he re-casts a beautiful youngdancer named Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) in her role. The RedShoes becomes a huge success, and Victoria is suddenly a star. WhenJulian and Victoria fall in love, Boris, who secretly pines for the youngwoman, kicks Julian out of the company. But Victoria chooses love over art,and leaves with him.
This will lead to another meeting between Victoria and Boris, and a freneticfinal presentation of The Red Shoes. Simply calling the event thatbefalls poor Victoria melodramatic would be a vast understatement. But itscinematic grandeur is enough to bring out the 13-year-old girl in anyviewer.
When The Red Shoes made its British debut, it failed to stir muchexcitement. Critics complained that it was way too long, the dialogue wasrepetitious, and the characters were cliched. There was also a rumor thatPowell and Pressburger had gone so far over budget, the film threatened tosink its production company, The Rank Organization (this turned out to beuntrue). When all was said and done, Powell and Pressburger seemed to havecreated little more than a highly inventive commercial failure...that is,until the film started playing in New York City.
For quite some time, no American distributor was interested in releasingThe Red Shoes, seeing how it had fared so poorly in its homeland.But, when the picture was finally booked into Manhattan's Bijou Theater, ittook off, playing there - and only there - for a staggering 110 weeks! Onlythen did Universal Pictures give it a broad release. All the good pressworked wonders back in England, where the picture ultimately found anaudience and became one of the highest grossing films in U.K. history. Toobad its young star wasn't concerned with its eventual success one way or theother.
Shearer was a ballerina who had been hand-selected by Powell to star inThe Red Shoes, not that it was easy convincing her to do so. In aninterview she gave years later, Shearer said she really wasn't all thatinterested in the job, even after she accepted it: "I fought against beingin that film for a whole year, and (Powell) was so angry. He thought Iwould sort of fall at his feet and be absolutely thrilled at this greatchance. I was just beginning to do the big classics at Covent Garden, whichwas every classical ballerina's dream, and I didn't want to be deflected byall this."
But Powell kept after Shearer until she relented, although she waseventually quite disenchanted with both Powell and the filmmaking process. "Michael Powell was obviously very keen about the ballet in an overall way,"she said, "but he didn't know anything about it at all. He had these sortof grandiose, filmic ideas of putting every sort of eccentricity into everycharacter and having everything going on at once." She particularly didn'tcare for Powell's handling of Leonide Massine, the real-lifedancer-choreographer who plays a choreographer in the movie, claiming thatPowell had the normally dignified Massine "behaving like a mad jumpingbean." She also complained that the dancers were treated disrespectfullyduring filming, with their routines being full of fitful starts and stopsthat often made it physically impossible to meet Powell's exactingdemands.
Shearer never found another role to utilize her unique talents (with the possible exception of The Tales of Hoffman, 1951), even though many were offered including, rather bizarrely, a role opposite Charlton Heston in ElCid (1961). But her work in The Red Shoes, both as an actress and adancer of the highest order, remains a sight to behold.
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger and Keith Winter (inspired bya story by Hans Christian Anndersen)
Producers: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Editor: Reginald Mills
Music Composer: Brian Easdale
Music Director: Sir Thomas Beecham
Art Director/Costume Design: Hein Heckroth
Choreography: Robert Helpmann
Principal Cast: Anton Walbrook (Boris Lermontov), Moira Shearer (VictoriaPage), Marius Goring (Julian Craster), Leonide Massine (Grischa Ljubov),Robert Helpmann (Ivan Boleslawsky), Albert Basserman (Sergei Ratov), EsmondKnight (Livy), Ludmilla Tcherina (Irina Boronkaja), Jean Short (Terry),Gordon Littmann (Ike), Julia Lang (Balletomane), Bill Shine (Her Mate),Austin Trevor (Prof. Palmer), Eric Berry (Dimitri), Irene Browne (LadyNeston).
C-134m. Closed Captioning.
by Paul Tatara