The Red Shoes-1948
Director-Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Starring-Moira Shearer, Marius Goring
Reviewed September 19, 2017
Certainly the best of the bunch in the collection of cinematic ballet films, 1948’s The Red Shoes is a highly artistic and influential film undoubtedly studied in film schools everywhere. One cannot view The Red Shoes without amazement and the realization that this piece must have been dissected by legendary director Darren Aronofsky before he created his creepy 2010 psychological thriller, Black Swan, is evident.
The Red Shoes is a British film which gives it a clear element of grace, class, and sophistication, perfectly enveloping the themes of love, ambition, and jealousy- the Brits simply do it right and director, Michael Powell, later crafting the odd and controversial 1960 film, Peeping Tom, certain to have wholly ruined his career, brings his A game to this 1948 work. Decades later, Powell now is considered a genius director.
The film is laden with foreshadowing, at least a handful of times during its running time, as we meet our heroine, Vicky Page (Moira Shearer), a bright-eyed young woman with flowing red locks and aspirations of grandeur as she emerges as a fledgling ballerina in the Covent Garden area of London. Partially due to her aristocratic upbringing and her assertive and snooty aunt, she lands an audition for the ballet company, led by sophisticated Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). he is immediately enamored by her yet gives her the cold shoulder, making her question her talent. The incorporation of trains in multiple sequences is the key here.
As Lermontov and Vicky’s lives begin to intertwine, a young music student named Julian (Marius Goring) is perturbed by the plagiarism of his music by his own professor, having conducted Heart of Fire under the guise of it being his own work. When Julian expresses his displeasure to Lermontov, he is hired to perform with the orchestra. The addition of Julian to the plot kicks off a compelling triangle between the three characters- their lives overlapping in a mixture of young love, passion, and jealous rage.
The action takes off even further as the film moves to the gorgeous setting of Paris and Monte Carlo, a treat for any worldly or aspiring world traveler, as the photography and cinematic angles of the lush locales are simply breathtaking. As former prima ballerina, Irina Boronskaya, decides to leave the company to be married, Lermontov decides to create a new ballet, The Red Shoes, starring Vicky, with music composed by Julian. This creates enormous pressure for all involved as the film then takes a dark turn.
Dashes of influence surrounding the exquisite performance of the famous Swan Lake dance number heavily influenced 1950’s classic, An American in Paris. The long, colorful, and dramatic sequence is splendid, emitting lush, vivacious music and performance. This “time out” from the heavy drama encompassing the rest of the film is beautiful and peaceful and one of the sheer highlights of The Red Shoes.
The heart of the film really belongs to the dynamic between the three principal characters as the performance of each actor is spot on and rich with flare. Especially profound are the performances by Shearer and Walbrook, as each actor gives their respective character a perfect amount of fury, ambition, and tension, but Goring as Julian is equally worthy of mention and kudos.
I adore witnessing Moira Shearer dance as her talent and tenacity are astounding. An internationally renowned British ballet dancer and actress, the role of Vicky is perfectly carved out for her as the character must have been close to her heart.
Who can forget the most famous scene of all in The Red Shoes as a determined and crazed Vicky finishes her stage performance, Powell firmly holding the camera on her makeup stained face, her blue eyes wide and hair wild. Her look of triumph and insanity, lost in the moment, is a grand moment and unforgettable image seen time and time again in cinema reference books.
Equal parts dramatic, romantic, eerie, lustful, and wise, The Red Shoes is a classic film made way ahead of its time, with startling visuals and treasured art and set designs, to say nothing of powerful acting and a story that compels. No wonder this film easily influenced other masterpieces to come.