Guest Post: The Red Shoes (1948) Review

Special thanks to my buddy Vince Caro for his excellent contribution!


With the anticipated release of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, the somewhat unmarketable genre (at least in recent years) of the ‘ballet movie’ has been reinvigorated with high expectations. The last such movie I’d seen was The Turning Point (1977), an uneven melodrama which stayed within the subject’s borders: love triangles, competition between diva dancers, leaving the profession and the art’s physical toll on the dancer’s body. Seeing an aging Anne Bancroft as a nearly washed up ballerina sorta gave me the heebie jeebies (in a Betty Davis kinda way). That same year, Dario Argento literally conveyed that creepiness in full with Suspiria with some classic 70s gore.

Moira Shearer as the ballerina Vicky Page

But there is one ballet movie that transcends all others in terms of beauty, tragedy and intelligence but still reminding us of the dancer’s Faustian dedication to their art. The Red Shoes is derived from a Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name, where a demon shoemaker gives a young girl a pair of magical red dancing shoes which forces her to dance against her will, and ultimately to her death.

In the film, aspiring dancer Vicky Page (the riveting Moira Shearer) is discovered by ruthless theater producer Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) who casts her in a ballet rendition of the Red Shoes. She falls in love with the ballet’s composer Julian (Marius Goring). Lermontov, fueled by his jealousy of the two lovers, forces Vicky to choose between her love for Julian and her love for dance – with tragic results.

The film is shot beautifully in lush color and directed by famous collaborators Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell, with magnificent and dreamlike dance sequences. [According to Wiki, to create a realistic feeling of a ballet company at work, and to be able to include a fifteen minute ballet as the high point of the film, they created their own ballet company using many dancers from Britain’s The Royal Ballet.] The film carefully carries us into a magical fairy tale, but never repressing the darkness of human cruelty and obsession. At their first meeting, Lermontov asks Vicky: “Why do you want to dance?” She replies, “Why do you want to live?” This is the core of the film’s heart: when your life depends on your art – what then?

***

RTM’s note: Wow, I’m really curious about this now. I just might try to catch this one over the weekend as it’s on Netflix’s Watch Instantly. I love ballet in movies but Black Swan might be too bizarre for my taste. Those who’ve seen this movie, feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

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15 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Red Shoes (1948) Review

  1. Absolutely adore this film, it’s without a doubt one of the best films to watch at Christmas that doesn’t involve Christmas lol

    The ballet scene alone is one of the greatest cinematic sequences of all time. Might watch it on DVD later… 🙂

    1. Yeah, I heard the ballet sequence is phenomenal. There is something mystical about the whole ballet thing to begin with, definitely a good subject for a dramatic film.

  2. I actually saw this a week or two ago. There is a more recent asian horror movie that is another take the dancer who can’t stop story, which after seeing with my dad he had me watch this version. Both are good movies imo

    1. What’s the name of that ballet horror flick, Julian? I just read one of the Black Swan reviews on rotten tomatoes and this guy said it’s as if Aronofsky’s got a direct pipeline straight to his nightmare. Yikes!

      1. Its the same name. And did the reviewer mean that line in a positive or negative way? Out of context, i’m not sure whether the reviewer is saying the movie is scary like a nightmare(And from the trailers i kind of expected that anyways) or whether the movie is bad like a nightmare

        Also, i left a comment on your post where you reviewed the Expendables. Late i know, but i just saw the movie last night

        1. Sorry for the late reply, J. No, I think he meant it in a positive way… some people like watching nightmarish stuff apparently 🙂

          Ok, I’ve responded to your Expendables comment.

            1. Well, for now I basically just ask my friends/colleagues who don’t have their own blog. They’d send the writeup via email and I’ll post ’em on the blog. That’s it… simple as that 🙂 I’ve only done one mini-blogathon of sort with other bloggers (for the GB b’day tribute), but I might do another one shortly. Would you like to participate too, Julian?

  3. I haven’t seen this film, nor have I heard of the story, but I like it. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Vince. I am a fan of Hans Christian Anderson tales and now have another, of sorts, to check out.

    1. Vince

      Thank RTM for kicking my behind to finally write this:) Kudos to Fandango Groovers’ post a few months ago for an even more in- depth post of this classic masterpiece.

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