Review: The Red Shoes (1948)
Today I was finally able to watch the 1948 film The Red Shoes, which I recorded on TCM a couple days ago. The hosts were Robert Osborne and, as a guest, Academy-Award nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. Despite having not heard of this film until a couple months ago, in that short time I have heard and seen many positive things about it. It is a shame it took so long to finally discover it, because the film I watched today was an absolute gem.
The best way to summarize this movie is to imagine Gold Diggers of 1933 mixed with a little bit of Aranofsky’s Black Swan. Add a dash of classy technicolor, and you’re on your way to The Red Shoes. Though to be perfectly frank I feel that to describe this movie using other films is an insult. This movie may show elements of the above, but it is most certainly its own vehicle that manages to stand tall all on its own.
The film centers (literally, since this ballet is performed about halfway through the film) around a ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Red Shoes. It is about a girl who buys a pair of beautiful scarlet shoes which give her the ability to dance. She goes to a ball and has a wonderful time, only to realize that the shoes will not give up. While on, she cannot stop dancing no matter how hard she tries. She goes on and on, “dancing even over the mountains,” until her perpetual dance culminates with her death.
As is the case with many films that deal with performances, whether they be musicals or plays, the story about the real people involved (actors, composers, directors, etc.) parallels the story that is being performed. In this case, a blossoming young ballerina named Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), who has been given the part as the red-shoed girl who cannot stop dancing, finds herself flooded with success. Eventually, she is torn between pursuing the love of an equally promising young composer (Marius Goring), and her passion for dance – as urged by a man who believes love harms one’s ability to perform.
Everything about this movie works wonderfully. Of course the acting is great, as is the dancing, but it would not stand out so much if it were not for the stellar cinematography of Jack Cardiff (Deschanel discussed how he was inspired by Cardiff’s work in this film), the wonderful score, and amazing production design that – thanks to some stellar editing – manages to effectively blend reality and fantasy into a nearly seamless mesh that is especially impressive given the time period during which this film was made. The result is a film with nary a dull moment to be found. It also makes a story that may seem paint-by-the-numbers to “Monday morning quarterback” film viewers (those judging older films based on what has been released out since) into something truly exceptional and unique that can be appreciated by contemporary audiences for its exceptional artistry.
I have often wondered what makes so many older films stand out above most films today as being more absorbing and engaging to me as a viewer. The Red Shoes, I believe, has provided an additional piece to this personal puzzle that I am trying to solve: technicolor. While I am sure the great directors of today could certainly make this film look stunning, it is this style of cinematography that helps give this film a beauty that matches its desire to mix reality and fantasy.
If you need further proof as to my love for the look of this film, just see all of the pictures I plastered over this blog post that I found using Google. Honestly, I wish I had room to post even more.
I recommend that you all try to seek out the introduction to this film provided by TCM (the talk between Osborne and Deschanel) before viewing it, as it will help you appreciate it more. Mr. Deschanel’s words helped me watch this film with an increased eye to the use of color and lighting, so I must give him credit where credit is due. Even if you do not have access to the TCM introduction, please watch it. I promise that you will not regret the experience you’ll have watching this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful film.