Saturday, October 03, 2015

Tonight's Movie: The Red Shoes (1948) at UCLA

There was a packed house last evening at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater for the opening night screening in UCLA's new series Archive Treasures: 50th Anniversary Celebration.

The crowd came out to see UCLA's gorgeous restored 35mm print of Powell and Pressburger's THE RED SHOES (1948).

I'm a great admirer of Powell and Pressburger's I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING! (1945), but this was my very first time to see THE RED SHOES. On the surface the two films are very different; one is a black and white film about a very practical young woman, the other a Technicolor movie about a dreamy yet dedicated girl, but the films share an otherworldly quality, casting a magical spell over the viewer.

Gorgeous red-haired ballerina Moira Shearer plays dancer Vicky Page. When ballet company impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) asks Vicky why she wants to dance, she replies by asking why he wants to live. He says, "Because I must," and she says, "That's my answer, too." Shearer, incidentally, is just as effective an actress in this as she is a dancer.

Vicky dances for Lermontov's ballet company and has a huge success in the ballet "The Red Shoes," a 17-minute showstopper which comes in the middle of the film.

Vicky and company composer Julian (Marius Goring) fall in love and marry, but the jealous Lermontov plots to break them up. Lermontov wants both Vicky and Julian to give their all to art, not their relationship...although it's implied he has romantic feelings for Vicky himself. It's unclear whether he longs for her artistic abilities or her personally; perhaps both. Although Vicky and Julian resist Lermontov's pressure, eventually Vicky is lured back to dance for Lermontov once more...

Although I think I would have gotten more out of the film if I weren't feeling rather under the weather when I saw it -- which will unfortunately keep me home from the fantastic double bill of GILDA (1946) and THE BIGAMIST (1953) this evening -- I nonetheless very much enjoyed it.

The Technicolor cinematography by Jack Cardiff is every bit as stunning as I'd read over the years, and in my slightly hazy state it was almost a surreal experience, having all that dreamlike color simply washing over me. The shots of Shearer, in particular, were simply exquisite. This is a movie I'll definitely need to see again, probably multiple times, to take it in more deeply.

The story itself is compelling enough that my husband, who'd recently caught part of the movie on TV, wanted to accompany me and see the whole thing.

That said, while the theme of obsession -- with dance, music, love -- lures in the viewer and casts its spell, my only real problem with the movie was when I was struck by how unrealistic Lermontov's power was. Certainly, he had Vicky's contract and was a powerful force in their world, but realistically it's hard to imagine someone with Vicky's talent not ultimately building a career elsewhere. Lermontov holding all the eggs in his basket, so to speak, didn't make sense to me, but then again the movie is a bit of a dream so you just go along with it.

The casting of ballet stars such as Shearer, Leonid Massine, and Robert Helpmann is part of the film's magic. The film captures ballet dancing at its finest and with a 133-minute running time, it doesn't skimp on these sequences.

Goring, seen by me in films such as CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951) and SHOOT FIRST (1953), is a charismatic actor. He and Shearer share one of the loveliest romantic scenes I've ever watched.

THE RED SHOES was preceded by the seven-minute George Pal Puppetoon SKY PRINCESS (1942), which was simultaneously nutty and very entertaining, with a wonderful use of Tschaikovsky. It was a perfect start to the evening. It's currently available on YouTube.

Happily THE RED SHOES is on my friend Kristina's list of "10 Classics" to see in 2015, as posted at her blog Speakeasy, and she'll have her own review of the movie up later this weekend, which I'll be linking to when it's posted. Update: Here is Kristina's piece on the movie!

THE RED SHOES is available from the Criterion Collection on both DVD and Blu-ray. Given the film's Technicolor beauty and strong reviews for the Blu-ray, this is a film I would imagine is worth the added expense of a Blu-ray purchase.

It can also be rented for streaming at Amazon Watch Instantly.


Blogger Maricatrin said...

If "I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING" is a favorite, you may also enjoy Powell and Pressburger's "A CANTERBURY TALE." I love them both. What "I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING" does for the Western Isles, "A CANTERBURY TALE" does for Canterbury Cathedral and the Kentish countryside.

Sorry to hear you're under the weather, I hope you're feeling better soon!

4:50 PM  
Blogger Lady American said...

Such as beautiful film!!!!! I recently watch it early this year and I was so impressed with it technicolor and story. And the dancing, of course!!!! One of the rare things about this picture is that it was nominated for Best Picture!!!! Can you believe it!!!!

5:13 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Maricatrin! I picked up A CANTERBURY TALE in a Criterion sale but haven't seen it yet. If I don't have time to see it this year perhaps I'll put it on my 2016 "10 Classics" list. I appreciate the suggestion!

Definitely a beautiful film, LadyAmerican.

Best wishes,

6:54 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

So sorry to hear you are feeling unwell, Laura! Do hope you are fighting fit very soon.
Best wishes,

12:20 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much, Jerry! Taking it really easy this weekend so I'll be rested and ready for Lone Pine next weekend!

Best wishes,

9:05 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

I can only imagine how impressive this must have been on a huge screen, the imagery stays with you. hard to believe Shearer did so few films and wasn't considered, well by herself anyhow, an actress, because she did such a great job in this, totally a natural. Also this was the first film for the art director Heckroth, which blows my mind. Glad I finally watched it, thanks!

2:22 PM  
Blogger Kristina said...

I just remembered something: what was with all the sugar consumption in this movie? There were a few times it was made really obvious, not just a throwaway detail; Lermontov eats a sugar cube, Vicky scoops tons of it into her tea, etc.

5:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Kristina!

So funny about the sugar, I didn't pick up on that and will watch for it next time around!!

I agree, I can't imagine this film without Shearer. Her acting, her "look" and her dancing all were a huge part of what made the movie. And the art direction! Wow, what a debut.

Catching some of the "10 Classics" on your list was an encouragement to me to finally try this so I'm very glad you picked it!

Best wishes,

8:03 AM  

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