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Tales of Hoffmann, The (1951)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!


The poet Hoffmann is in love with ballerina Stella, and goes to the theatre to watch her dance in The Ballet of the Enchanted Dragonfly. During the performance, Stella passes a message and key to her servant, to be taken to Hoffmann. The message reads 'I love thee Hoffmann'. The sinister Councillor Lindorf intercepts the servant, and bribes him to obtain the parcel. On stage, the 'dragonfly' mates with and then kills her partner, concluding the first act of the ballet.

During the interval, the student audience visits Luther's Beer Cellar. Nicklaus, Hoffmann's faithful and longstanding friend, watches with amusement as the students sing a paean to beer. Lindorf enters, shortly followed by Hoffmann, who is upset at not having received word from Stella. The students invite him to sing and Hoffmann tells them he will sing three tales of love. Although the second act of the ballet is beginning, Hoffmann's audience prefers to stay in the tavern and listen to his stories.

The Tale of Olympia

The first tale is set in Paris, while Hoffmann is a young student. He visits the magical workshop shared by Coppelius, a maker of magic spectacles, and Spalanzani, a puppet maker. The puppet maker tricks Hoffmann into believing that Olympia, a marionette, is his daughter. The illusion is completed by Coppelius's enchanted spectacles, which bring inanimate objects to life. Spalanzani pays Coppelius to give Olympia eyes and then leave their workshop. Olympia dances for Hoffmann, who falls in love with her. Nicklaus tries to tell Hoffmann the truth about Olympia, but he chooses not to listen. When Coppelius arrives at the bank to cash his cheque, he realises he has been cheated by the puppet maker and vows his revenge. His chance arrives when Olympia dances away from Hoffmann and out into the street. The vengeful Coppelius pulls Olympia to pieces and Spalanzani's attempts to save her only hasten her demise. Her dismembered body parts continue to dance.

The Tale of Giulietta

Hoffmann is now a traveller, a man of the world. He arrives in Venice and falls prey to the schemes of Dapurtutto, a collector of souls, and his lover, the beautiful courtesan Giulietta. Guilietta seduces Hoffmann and helps Dapurtutto to steal Hoffmann's soul by luring him to an enchanted mirror, where his reflection disappears. Schemil, a former lover of Guilietta has also lost his soul and challenges Hoffmann to a duel. Hoffmann kills Schemil and receives a magic key. He throws the key at the mirror and it shatters, restoring Hoffmann's reflection and soul.

The Tale of Antonia

In the third tale, Antonia, a consumptive opera singer, is Hoffmann's latest love. Her mother, also a singer, is dead, and Antonia lives with her father Crespel, a great conductor. Dr Miracle comes to visit Antonia and tries to persuade her to sing, even though it will cause her death. Hoffmann convinces her not to, but Dr Miracle tells Antonia that Hoffmann's love for her will fade, and then torments her with a vision of her dead mother. Antonia chooses art over life and sings herself to death, collapsing as she reaches the climax of her song. Dr Miracle holds her dead body and pulls off his mask, exposing himself as Councillor Lindorf.

As Dapurtutto and Coppelius, Lindorf again unmasks himself, revealing that he has been Hoffmann's nemesis throughout the three tales.


As he concludes his story, Hoffmann is exhausted and drunk. Stella enters the tavern and, seeing Hoffmann insensible, leaves with Lindorf.