– “Why do you want to dance?”
– “Why do you want to live?”
To me, there’s something kind of modern about Moira Shearer. To a classic film megafan, that’s not something that would be considered important. However, it’s something I’ve observed. Is it because of her mastery of ballet, and that ballet is so timeless? Is it her gorgeous fiery red hair and/or her iconic makeup in The Red Shoes? I don’t know.
There’s also something really modern -timeless- about the film itself. It’s based on a fairly tale of the same name written and released by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845. In the fairy tale, the story is even darker than the film’s narrative. The ending is especially darker, resulting in the protagonist’s feet being chopped off while her red shoe-clad feet remain dancing. You can read the full fairy tale here if you dare.
The film adaptation was released in 1948. It was written, directed, and produced by the impressive filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. They actually had a bit of trouble getting Moira Shearer to sign on to the film, but she did after about a year of persuasion. It’s been said that she had a terrible experience during the filming of The Red Shoes.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about the movie itself:
First off, the film production is beautiful. Its use of Technicolor is one of the most beautiful ever seen onscreen. Check out some of the clips from this Criterion Collection video:
*Cue The Brady Bunch theme* – Here’s the story:
After attending a show with her mother, a young unknown dancer named Victoria “Vicky” Page (Moira Shearer) is introduced to Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) at a party by way of her aristocratic aunt. Lermontov happens to be a famous impresario for his own renowned ballet company, The Ballet Lermontov. Intrigued by her, Lermontov accepts her as a student where she is instructed by the best of the best in the industry.
After watching her perform in a production of Swan Lake, Lermontov realizes that Vicky is a brilliant dancer and asks her to join the company in a trip to France and Monte Carlo. Once his prima ballerina announces that she’s going to get married (meaning that her career is ruined in the eyes of Lermontov), he seeks Vicky out to become his number one dancer. She soon lands the starring role in a new ballet called The Red Shoes with music being written by a young and new composer named Julian Craster (Marius Goring).
Things begin to get complicated. Vicky and Julian fall in love. Then Lermontov, who also falls in love with her, becomes incredibly jealous. Always having to be in control of everything, Lermontov doesn’t let their new romance bloom as it could. Vicky becomes torn between her two loves: Julian and ballet. Which will she choose?
The ballet sequences are gorgeous and mesmerizing. Here’s one of them. Watch for the famous shot in which Vicky leaps into her red ballet slippers:
After starring in The Red Shoes, Moira Shearer was in a handful of films, but didn’t achieve the same amount of success in ballet that she did before the film. She once said, “Isn’t it strange that something you’ve never really wanted to do turns out to be the very thing that’s given you a name and identity? … The Red Shoes (1948) ruined my career in the ballet. They [her peers] never trusted me again.”
Oh, and big shout-out to a dancer and actor named Robert Helpmann, who you see a lot in The Red Shoes. He portrays dancer Ivan Boleslawsky. In the video above, he is the first person to dance with Vicky. His first closeup is at the 40 second mark. You may remember Helpmann as the childhood-scarring Child Catcher in the 1968 musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, starring Dick Van Dyke and Sally Ann Howes.
It’s little known to many that our childhood’s worst nightmare was actually an accomplished dancer. I first learned this when I read a piece of trivia on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang‘s IMDb page: “Whilst filming one of the scenes where the Child Catcher rides his horse and carriage out of the village, the Cage/Carriage uptilted with Robert Helpmann on board. Dick Van Dyke recalls Helpmann being able to swing out of the carriage and literally skip across the crashing vehicle. Van Dyke claims Helpmann did this with incredible grace and much like a dancer – which was Helpmann’s original claim to fame.” He just seems like he was a really cool, interesting guy.
If you enjoy a good drama, romance, dance film, or even melodrama, then you’ll love The Red Shoes. Find a free Saturday night, turn the lights out, curl up, and discover the beauty of this film.
This post is part of the 3rd Annual British Invaders Blogathon hosted by Terence Towles Canote of mercurie.blogspot.com. Be sure to check out the other great posts here!
7 thoughts on ““The Red Shoes” (1948)”
One of my favorite films ever. As an artist, I feel this film speaks so much about the creative drive. And Moira Shearer is just perfection in it, such a shame it inhibited her dancing career though.
I love, love, love this film – so much that I just bought a poster to hang in my home office! Great review. I was mesmerized by the ballet sequences and the use of Technicolor in The Red Shoes.
Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂
So cool – I bet the poster looks amazing! I’ll read that now!
I have been interested in the Red Shoes ever since I saw a show called Dance Academy (2010) as in season 2 there is kind of a running allusion the the famous dance sequence. I didn’t know it was British! Now I’ve gotta watch it! I didnt read the whole post too carefully as I wanna be surprised but I like all of the BTS detail of the cast!
Oh, you’ve got to watch it! If you can find a copy of the Criterion Collection release, I recommend it. It’s been restored beautifully. Thanks for reading!
I’ve always adored The Red Shoes. After Peeping Tom it is my all time favourite Michael Powell film. And I have to agree with you about Moira Shearer. There is something about her that just makes her irresistible. It always made me sad that the film ultimately hurt her ballet career, as she really was a fine dancer. Anyway, thank you so much for the great post and for participating in the blogathon!
Thanks for letting me take part in it! I need to watch “Peeping Tom” at some point.