Movies I Need To See Before I Die: THE RED SHOES (1948)

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(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have.  Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films.  But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to.  Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already.  I’m a film geek for God’s sake!  I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old.  I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time.  So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see.  Enjoy!)

I was first made aware of THE RED SHOES while watching one of the Academy Awards shows back in the early 90’s when it was shown during one of those montages, highlighting movies.  I remember the brief images striking me.  I immediately rented it, but the VHS that I got looked like garbage, so I didn’t even make it past the first 3 minutes.  It’s been heralded as a masterpiece!  Even Martin Scorsese has cited this as one of his favorite films and said it was a major influence (technically) on SHUTTER ISLAND.  This is definitely one of those films that I don’t like to mention I haven’t seen when I’m among fellow film geeks.  I’ve only 2 other films by directors Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, and that was BLACK NARCISSUS and THE THIEF OF BAGDAD. While I loved the look of those films, they left me emotionally cold and found the former much too melodramatic.  But at the very least, THE RED SHOES was bound to look amazing if nothing else.  Thankfully it’s been properly remastered so I was able to view it in HD.

The description of this plot, I believe, won’t do this picture justice.  It’ll probably make it sound predictable and clichéd, which it’s anything but.  The movie begins as a bunch of college students attend a Ballet because their professor did the music.  But for one student, Julian Craster, it’s a bit of a shock as he hears that his teacher has stolen pieces of his compositions.  Then we meet an aspiring ballerina named Victoria Page, who is also attending the Ballet so she can possibly meet the director, Boris Lermontov, and audition to perform in his company.  Boris rejects her at first, but admires her passion, so hires her as a bit player.  Meanwhile, Julian informs Boris that he actually wrote many of the pieces in his latest production (not his professor).  This gets Julian hired as an orchestra coach at first, but then he eventually writes Boris’ latest production, a ballet adaptation of Hans Christen Anderson’s The Red Shoes.  Boris has also noticed Victoria’s talent and makes her the lead in the new ballet.  Everything seems to be going great, but once Julian and Victoria take a fancy to each other, this enrages Boris.  Not because he wants a relationship with the ballerina, but he doesn’t want her new flame to get in the way of him creating the greatest ballerina in the world.

That might seem like a mouthful, but there is a lot going on here.  This isn’t one of those run-of-the-mill melodramatic showbiz dramas.  It’s much more complex than that.  I liked how the movie introduces the 3 main characters as if they were in separate movies, only to bring them together for one story.  I wasn’t sure how everything was going to connect when the picture started and I loved how everything played out.  It’s a story that immediately engaged me.  I was really pulling for Victoria to become a great ballerina, but I also didn’t want her to throw true love away, but I didn’t want her to throw away her dreams either.  As you can see, I was just as torn as she was.

But that love stuff is more in the last half.   The first half shows how Victoria and Julian gain success by preparing for the production of The Red Shoes.  Boris is established as an extremely obsessive man who MUST have control over every single little thing of his ballet.  He doesn’t care about feeling and emotions.  The show is the most important thing.  It’s kind of scary just how he can manipulate and get in the head of Victoria.  The mind games he plays with her kind of make this a psychological thriller of sorts.

But also, this is a musical.  Not in the way most are though.  There’s not singing.  Just dancing.  Ballet!  Probably the most known segment in the film is the infamous Red Shoes ballet suite, which is about 15 minutes long.  It’s a beautifully choreographed, elegantly shot dance that gave me goosebumps throughout.  It’s truly enchanting.  This sequence contains some of the most gorgeous and haunting shots you’re ever likely to see in a motion picture.  Pure cinematic heaven.

The performances are outstanding.  Moria Shearer is absolutely stunning to look at (with her fiery red hair) as Victoria, and she’s a wonderful dancer.  Her performance is heartbreaking.  It’s a shame that she wasn’t nominated for her work here.  Marius Goring is plenty likable as Julian, but it’s Anton Walbrook’s portrayal of Boris that steals the show.  His performance is just as iconic as Clark Gable in GONE WITH THE WIND.  His work as Boris is nothing short of masterful.  I’ve never heard of this actor before, and after watching him in this movie, I wondered why the hell not?  This guy should have been getting roles up  the wazoo after this film was released.  It’s a performance that I don’t think I’ll ever soon forget.  A truly memorable character, and it’s an absolute outrage that he was not recognized by the Academy.

Powell and Pressburger have mounted a real masterpiece here.  Not only are the dance numbers extremely stylish, but so is the rest of the film.  With how everything looks (the lavish sets, the colorful art direction, and the shadowy cinematography) it’s clear that this is not set in the real world.  This is movie land.  A story that can only exist in the movies.  It’s absolutely enchanting to gaze your eyes upon.  The photography by Jack Cardiff is pure genius.  Some of the most beautiful work I have ever seen.  It’s a shame I only saw this on a small TV screen, because this movie is just begging to be seen on the big screen.  It’s a class act all the way.  The look of this movie elevate what could have been standard melodrama into something hypnotically engaging.

If you love to be swept away by what movies can really do, then you’re going to be totally entranced by THE RED SHOES.  It’s marvelously acted, superbly written, and features outstanding choreography , unforgettable characters and hauntingly beautiful cinematography.  It’s a cinematic treat for movie lovers!  Bon appetit!   ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)

– Not Rated but would probably be PG for thematic elements and some violent images.  Maybe PG13???….but I don’t think so. 

– Running time: 2hrs 13min.



Categories: Austin Kennedy, Movies I Need To See Before I Die, Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1 reply

  1. Okay, I have to watch this immediately.

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