The Red Shoes (1948)

Article #1596 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-28-2005
Posting Date: 12-25-2005
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Featuring Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer

A young ballet dancer and an aspiring music composer fall in love against the wishes of a dictatorial ballet impressario.

The fantastic element in this movie isn’t contained in the above plot description, and in some ways, it’s not part of the main plot. It is present within the central ballet of the film, which is based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about some red dancing shoes which take possession of the wearers and causes them to dance until they drop dead. This ballet sequence is in the middle of the film, and it is brilliant; despite the fact that the movie introduces it as a work being performed on stage, it is a purely cinematic piece, with special effects and transitions which are only possible through the movie medium. It is also a richly fantastic piece, and even touches upon horror at one point as the dancer encounters some grotesque night creatures. This sequence is definitely the high point of the film.

In truth, though, it can’t be said that the ballet has nothing to do with the main picture; rather, it serves as a metaphor for the three characters who make up the romantic/artistic triangle plot that drives the movie. The plot itself is usually the stuff of soap opera and women’s movies, and would hold little interest for me if it weren’t in the hands of the brilliant directing team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They transform this story into a transcendent and incredibly moving story of a woman who is forced to make an impossible choice between love and art, both of which are demanding (in the form of the two men in her life) total commitment to one at the expense of the other. The climax of the movie is unforgettable and includes a short reprise of the ballet, only with one significant change. The performances are uniformly excellent, with special kudos going to Moira Shearer as the ballerina and Anton Walbrook as the impresario.


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