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Red Shoes, The (1948)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Red Shoes, The (1948)
Directed, Produced &Michael Powell
Written byEmeric Pressburger
Production CompanyArchers Film Productions
 Independent Producers
CinematographyJack Cardiff
MusicBrian Easdale

Cast: Anton Walbrook (Boris Lermontov); Marius Goring (Julian Craster); Moira Shearer (Victoria Page); Leonide Massine (Grischa Ljubov); Robert Helpmann (Ivan Boleslawsky)

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A young ballet dancer is torn between love and her career.

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One of Powell and Pressburger's best-loved films, The Red Shoes, released in 1948, is perhaps the definitive ballet movie. The film interweaves the story of an ambitious young ballerina, Vicky (Moira Shearer), with that of The Red Shoes ballet (inspired by Hans Christian Andersen) which forms its centrepiece - the most dazzling flight of fantasy in Powell's career, and scarcely matched in British cinema.

Emeric Pressburger's script had originally been prepared for Alexander Korda a decade earlier. As well as Andersen's tale - in which a young peasant girl falls victim by a pair of magic ballet shoes and ends up dancing herself to death - the film reworks themes from George du Maurier's Trilby (itself filmed several times). Vicky is torn apart by the competing demands of art - represented by the tyrannical, Svengali-like ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) - and love - the talented young composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) who she marries. Finally she is driven - apparently by the shoes - to suicide.

By this time, the duo were turning increasingly away from realism, and although the film was ultimately a success (it was rewarded with Oscars for its art direction, by Hein Heckroth and Arthur Lawson, and original score, by Brian Easdale), it baffled many critics, and some found its tragic ending in poor taste. Such objections would be remembered twelve years later when Powell's Peeping Tom (1960) was critically mauled.

The lack of enthusiasm from studio boss J. Arthur Rank - who walked out during the gala performance - led to Powell and Pressburger abandoning the Independent Producers organisation they had helped to form and re-signing with Alexander Korda.

Powell assembled an impressive ad hoc ballet company, and took the bold step of casting in the lead role Moira Shearer, at the time playing second fiddle to Margot Fonteyn at Sadlers Wells, and with no acting experience. Her performance made her a huge star, and Powell went on to cast her in Tales of Hoffmann (1951) and Peeping Tom.

After the success of The Red Shoes, the Archers made two further forays into musical fantasy, Tales of Hoffmann (1951) and Oh... Rosalinda!!/Die Fledermaus (1955), but although both contained sequences of beauty and imagination, they failed to capture audiences in the same way.

Mark Duguid

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Video Clips
1. Introductions (1:54)
2. Ballet sequence (6:15)
3. A terrible choice (3:10)
Original poster
Production designs
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Oh... Rosalinda!! (1955)
Tales of Hoffmann, The (1951)
Cardiff, Jack (1914-2009)
Easdale, Brian (1909-1995)
Goring, Marius (1912-1998)
Heckroth, Hein (1901-1970)
Helpmann, Robert (1909-1986)
Kalmus, Natalie (1887-1965)
Knight, Esmond (1906-1987)
Mills, Reginald (1912-1990)
Powell, Michael (1905-1990)
Pressburger, Emeric (1902-1988)
Shearer, Moira (1926-2006)
Verno, Jerry (1894-1975)
Walbrook, Anton (1896-1967)
1930s: The Invocation of Theatre in Film
Classic Powell and Pressburger
Female Protagonists
Powell and Pressburger