“40 films from the ‘40s” is a movie challenge to watch and write about one film from that era weekly. Why the ‘40s? That decade is fascinating, because of the juxtapositions between films released during WWII and those released after. Half the decade was spent scrambling to keep nations afloat during war and the second half was spent trying to pick up the pieces and move forward.
Written & Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Starring Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, and Marius Goring
UK, 133 min. – 1984
Based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale, The Red Shoes follows the story of young, aspiring ballet dancer, Victoria Page (Shearer). Vicky dreams of dancing for Boris Lermantov’s (Walbrook) company. She finally gets the chance to do so, in Lermnatov’s newest ballet, “The Red Shoes”, composed by the young, musical genius, Julian Craster (Marius Goring). Vicky lives for dancing and Lermantov promises to make her into a prima ballerina, but love is the price of greatness. Ultimately, Vicky must choose between her ambitions and love.
In addition to the technological ingenuities used in The Red Shoes (such as the heightened use technicolor and camera techniques employed during dance sequences), another of the film’s other lasting effects is in the way it portrays Victoria Page’s psychological state. Vicky’s story comes closer to resembling that of the ballet she performs. The film foreshadows this early on, but increasingly during the 14 minute dance sequence, when Vicky sees people from her actual life in place of the characters in the ballet.
Also interesting is Vicky’s decision between career and love. This is a choice that many women must make. In the late 1940s, it is even more difficult to have both than it is today and the men in Vicky’s life force her to choose one or the other. Lermantov, in particular, becomes Vicky’s personal Svengali (though with more possessive than evil intent), which illustrates a strong message about the role of women in post-WWII society. Some ideas were struggling to change, while other traditions held fast.
The Red Shoes is undoubtedly a classic that has inspired many a famous director (including Martin Scorsese). In its colorful blend of classical music, compelling dance sequences, and dream-like costume design, the film fuses together the real world, with the fantastical elements necessary to create stunning ballet performances. It breaks accepted boundaries between the stage and cinema and brightly colors the entirety of its created world, before breaking its heart. All of this, when absorbed together makes The Red Shoes beautiful to watch and worthy of being named amongst the best British films ever made.
– Karen Bacellar