THE RED SHOES (1948) C 135m dirs: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

w/Anton Walbrook, Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, Robert Helpmann, Albert Basserman, Leonide Massine, Esmond Knight, Austin Trevor, Irene Browne, Hay Petrie, Eric Berry, Derek Elphinstone, Ludmilla Tcherina, Marie Rambert, Michael Bazalgette, Marcel Poncin, Yvonne Andre, Joy Rawlins, Jean Short, Gordon Littman, Julia Lang, Bill Shine, Jerry Verno, Alan Carter, Joan Harris, Joan Sheldon, Paula Dunning, Brian Ashbridge, Denis Carey, Lynne Dorval, Helen Ffrance, Robert Dorning, Eddie Gaillard, Paul Hammond, Tommy Linden, Trisha Linova, Anna Marinova, Guy Massey, John Regan, Peggy Sager, Ruth Sendler, Hilda Gaunt, Patrick Troughton

From The Movie Guide: "Magical. Although THE RED SHOES is the ultimate ballet film, you don't have to be a balletomane to enjoy this backstage love story distinguished by glorious dancing, superb acting, and masterful direction. After the successful staging of a new ballet, impresario Boris Lermontov (Walbrook, obviously modeled on Serge Diaghilev) admits two new members to his company: Victoria Page (Shearer), a gifted young ballerina, and Julian Craster (Goring) an equally talented composer. After Julian acquits himself well as an arranger, Boris gives him a chance to collaborate on a new ballet, 'The Red Shoes,' with Victoria. A breathtaking 20-minute ballet based on Hans Christian Anderson's story about a pair of magical shoes that permit their wearer to dance gloriously but tragically prevent her from stopping, it brings great acclaim to both Julian and Victoria, who have fallen in love. ...

"THE RED SHOES began as a Pressburger script commissioned by producer Alexander Korda for wife Merle Oberon, whose dancing was to have been done by a double. Pressburger and collaborator Powell then bought the script back from Korda and co-helmed this extraordinary tale of romance and artistic obsession. According to Lermontov, there is hardly the time to be both a ballerina and a loving wife. While some may quibble with this, the film's tension becomes such that you totally understand why dancing or composing becomes the most important thing in the world to those gifted and dedicated enough to do them. The parallels between Victoria's story and that of the ballet are obvious without being too heavy-handed. The ballet, meanwhile, is so engrossing that it flies breathlessly by. Full of audacious lighting, dance modernisms and swirling plastic, it is gloriously unafraid of its own pretensions. The always impassioned but usually more subdued Walbrook does a magnificent job essaying the driven impresario, and the unusual-looking Goring is convincing and compelling as well. Shearer, whose gorgeous red hair is beautifully rendered by [Jack] Cardiff's opulent Technicolor photography, was a Sadler's Wells ballerina who proved to be a much better actress than anyone had dreamed. This bewitching performer covers the emotional gamut quite skillfully and would ever after be identified with this role. Praise should also go to the other dancers in the cast --- Massine, Tcherina, and Helpmann (who also did the choreography). They all perform with great assurance and grace, onstage or off. The film's backstage detail remains intoxicating and when it comes to the more melodramatic aspects of the film, Powell and Pressburger let the naysayers be damned."

From the Criterion website (, this 1999 essay about the film by Ian Christie:

"Before The Red Shoes, there were films with dance numbers. After it, there was a new medium which combined dance, design, and music in a dreamlike spectacle. Hollywood musicals were quick to pay tribute --- An American in Paris was the most obviously inspired --- and filmmakers from Minnelli to Scorsese have acknowledged its influence. Like Diaghilev’s legendary 'Rite of Spring,' it marked a triumph of artistic collaboration and has since become a benchmark of modernity.

"And yet The Red Shoes was considered a disaster by its backers in 1948. The long ballet sequence which Powell and Pressburger considered their finest achievement seemed sheer indulgence to executives of The Rank Organisation. The film had gone over budget and seemed to have no commercial potential. It was given a perfunctory release in Britain, and its international fame only began after an astonishing two-year unbroken run in New York.

"Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who called their unique creative partnership The Archers, were no strangers to controversy. Each film they made together in the five years before The Red Shoes had aimed its barb at complacency and tackled a new creative challenge. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) cheekily mocked the British establishment in the midst of war, while revealing a subtle new Technicolor palette; A Matter of Life and Death (1946) played outrageous tricks with time and brought their experiments with color even further; and Black Narcissus (1947) finally demonstrated a mastery of studio techniques to create a dreamlike suspension of disbelief.

"Looking for a new challenge amid the gloom of postwar Britain, The Archers turned to an idea that Pressburger had first drafted in the ’30s, a film about the backstage life of a ballerina. Now they wanted to develop this into nothing less than a manifesto for the claims of art over mundane life. As Powell later reflected, 'For ten years we had all been told to go out and die for freedom and democracy; but now the war was over, The Red Shoes told us to go out and die for art.' To a generation hungry for new peacetime ideals, the neo-romantic world of total devotion to art was irresistible.

"Through the eyes of a dancer --- unforgettably played by a rising star of the Sadler's Wells Ballet, Moira Shearer --- and a young composer, played by the versatile Marius Goring, we enter the charmed circle of an international ballet company which embodies the artistic legend of Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. And with one of Diaghilev’s own stars, Leonide Massine, and leading dancer and choreographer Robert Helpmann, the atmosphere is rich in authenticity.

"At the center of the company and the film is the most complex and riveting character The Archers ever created: the impresario Boris Lermontov, played with malevolent, devastating charm by Anton Walbrook. Lermontov lives through his creations. People and relationships are ruthlessly subordinated to a drive which inevitably reminds us also of the passion to create films.

"More than any other film, The Red Shoes deals with the dangerous, magical process by which art is distilled from preparation and effort. And, not content with creating and showing at full length 'The Red Shoes' ballet which links all the characters’ destinies, it dares to take us into the inner world of fantasies which art can unleash.

"At a time when 'realism' was the fetish of so many filmmakers and critics throughout the world, this was a bold gamble. It was the same gamble that Eisenstein had taken in his operatic Ivan the Terrible, that Ophuls would soon take in La Ronde (also with Anton Walbrook), and that Kelly and Donen took in Singin' in the Rain. None of these received their critical due when they first appeared. But the passage of time has shown them to be among the most powerful and evocative of all films. The Red Shoes belongs in their company: a parable about the demands of art, as well as a stunning demonstration of cinema’s claim to have united the traditional arts in a new synthesis."

The film won Oscars for Best Color Art Direction (Hein Heckroth) and Score for a Dramatic Picture (Brian Easdale). It was also nominated for Best Picture, Motion Picture Story (Pressburger), and Editing (Reginald Mills).