The Red Shoes | Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressuburger’s masterpiece The Red Shoes plays out like two different movies. One is about what goes on behind the scenes of a professional ballet company and the seemingly harsh man who runs it. The other is a love story between two young lovers and the one person who does everything in his power to keep them apart, which leads to one of the most difficult choices one could make: would you rather spend your life doing what you alway though you were meant to do, or living a normal life with the person that you have always loved. Both parts of this are amazing on their own, but together with the ballet that joins them in the middle makes this a breathtaking experience that is among my favorite movies of all time.
As I mentioned, The Red Shoes is both a back stage drama and a love story. It opens with Julian Craster (Marius Goring), a young composer, attending a new ballet scored by his music professor. However, it turns out that he stole the music he had shown him in confidence. Also in attendance is Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), a young dancer whose aunt wants her to meet Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), the ballet’s director, so that she may have a future with his company. Through a series of events, both Julian and Victoria end up working for the company, at first only as an orchestra trainer and as a background dancer, respectively.
Eventually, they are given a chance to move on up. Julian is told to write a score for a balle based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes” about a girl who wants red shoes do dance but as she gets tired, the shoes want to keep on dancing until her death, which happens just after her lover takes the shoes off her. And Victoria is given the lead role. Through the production of this play, the two young talents fall in love, which enrages Lermontov who not only believes that love destroys career, but he wants her all to himself.
First I gotta talk about the story. I’ve seen this story many times before also done in many ways, such as Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge! But now I know where he got his inspiration from. If you haven’t seen Shoes, but you have seen the Luhrman movie, just think of it as a less in-your-face spectacle, but equally, if not more hypnotic. And as I watched it I felt as if I was seeing this story for the first time, and it is indeed one of the originals. It is just one of my favorite stories in any medium.
Complementing the great story is the work Powell & Pressburger did as writers, directors, and producers. The script, from the dialogue to the scene set up is brilliant. It is engaging, interesting, and it keeps you wanting more. The latter part of course mostly comes from the direction. Every shot is perfectly used and the way the “Red Shoes” ballet is presented just wowed me.
Also making the movie what it is is the incredible technical work. As many have said before, Jack Cardiff’s cinematography is simply breathtaking, and the much talked about restoration does it justice. The Academy Award winning sets from Hein Heckroth are equally magnificent. And the editing is exquisite. Plus, what would the movie be without Brian Easdale’s music.
And finally, the performances. Moira Shearer, in her first movie role, is just fantastic as Victoria. Before making the movie she was a professional ballet dancer, but that didn’t stop her from focusing on the dancing rather than on the performance. Marius Goring is also good as the young composer in love. But the performance of the movie is Anton Wolbrook’s. His work here is easily among my favorite peformances of all time. His character is so cold, but wants to be loved, and Wolbrook potrays every emotion perfectly.
The Red Shoes is simply amazing. If you haven’t seen it, please do yourself a favor and put some time aside to do so. If you have the chance, please watch it on blu-ray, as it is the best way to enjoy it short of a proper projection in a nice theater. You won’t regret it.