(directors/writers/producers: Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger; screenwriters: from the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen/Keith Winter; cinematographer: Jack Cardiff; editor: Reginald Mills; music: Brian Easdale; cast: Anton Walbrook (Boris Lermontov), Marius Goring (Julian Craster), Moira Shearer (Victoria Page), Leonid Massine (Grischa Ljubov), Albert Basserman (Sergei Ratov), Robert Helpmann (Ivan Boleslawsky), Esmond Knight (Livingstone ‘Livy’ Montagne), Ludmilla Tcherina (Irina Boronskaja); Runtime: 136; MPAA Rating: NR; Criterion Collection; 1948-UK)

The team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger direct and write one of the great ballet melodramas of all time.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

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.

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), 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. 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.

It’s a movingly expressive film that is charged with a true artistic life-force that rises to heights above its more pedestrian story. The Red Shoes also eventually became recognized as the first really big postwar art-house international success story. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture.