Cast: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring
Oscar Wins: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color (Hein Heckroth, Arthur Lawson), Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture (Brian Easdale)
Oscar Nominations: Best Picture, Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Emeric Pressburger), Best Film Editing (Reginald Mills)
SUMMARY: Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) is the owner of the famed Ballet Lermontov. After one night’s performance, a patron arranges for Lermontov to meet her niece, Victoria “Vicky” Page (Moira Shearer). Vicky is a dancer, but is completely unknown. Nevertheless, Lermontov agrees to take her on. Lermontov then seems to forget about Vicky, until he sees her in a matinee performance of Swan Lake. She is invited to travel with the ballet company, to Paris and Monte Carlo. During this trip, the company’s prima ballerina announces that she is leaving to get married. Lermontov begins to consider making Vicky the new prima ballerina. To test her, Lermontov plans a new ballet, called The Red Shoes, complete with a new score that is being written by unknown composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). The ballet, based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen, is about a young dancer who finds a pair of red ballet shoes that she adores. However, the shoes are cursed, and do not allow the wearer to stop dancing. The young dancer is forced to dance continuously, until eventually she dies from exhaustion. While they initially butt heads, Vicky and Julian eventually develop feelings for each other. The Red Shoes is a tremendous success, and Vicky becomes the lead dancer. Julian continues to write new scores and revitalize old ones, and the entire ballet enjoys a great season.
Unfortunately, Lermontov also has feelings for Vicky, and is angry when he learns that she is with Julian. His anger causes him to lash out at Julian by unfairly (and falsely) criticizing his work and eventually firing him. Vicky decides to leave the company in order to be with Julian, and the two marry soon after. They live in London, where Julian works on new pieces (all of his old ones are retained by the Ballet Lermontov); however, Lermontov wants to stop Vicky from dancing anywhere else. He eventually decides against this, and frees her to dance where and what she wants. The only exception is The Red Shoes, which Lermontov keeps the right to; however, he also refuses to produce it. After some time, Vicky visits Monte Carlo, and Lermontov convinces her to return for a production of The Red Shoes. Vicky’s intense love of dance causes her to accept, without telling Julian, who is still in London. On opening night, shortly before Vicky is about to go on stage, Julian appears in the dressing room. Lermontov also comes in, and the two men both try to convince Vicky to give in to their wishes. Vicky is obviously torn, and is unable to make a decision between Julian and dancing. Seeing this, Julian leaves to return to London; Lermontov urges her to prepare for her stage entrance. As she is walking to the stage, complete with red ballet shoes, Vicky suddenly turns around and runs in the opposite direction. At the nearby train station, Julian sees her, and runs back to her. However, Vicky has run out onto a balcony, and jumps off of it, right into the path of a train. Lying on the ground, she asks Julian to take off the red shoes – the same ending as The Red Shoes ballet. Back in the ballet, a visibly shaken Lermontov goes out in front of the audience to announce what has happened. He tells the audience that the company has decided to perform the ballet anyway. Instead of replacing Vicky in the cast, a spotlight follows where she would have been.
MY TAKE: I was not thrilled with this movie for probably the first half of it. It seemed like a pretty stereotypical ballet movie for this long, without much of a plot. This film is frequently cited as one of the most impressive uses of Technicolor, and that is true. The bright colors really pop of the screen, particularly Vicky’s red hair and the ballet shoes of the title. During the second half of the film, things picked up. The love triangle between Vicky, Julian and Lermontov developed, which caused all the characters to behave in extreme ways. The similarities between Vicky’s real life and The Red Shoes ballet start to become noticeable. I was really ticked at the ending, though. I thought Vicky was insane to let Julian walk out – she could have danced anywhere else, and he could have written her a new great ballet. Then, I got all happy because it looked like they were going to get back together – and then Vicky goes and jumps off a freaking balcony onto a train track. I appreciate the correlation to the ballet, but it was a terrible ending. What in the world was she thinking? It’s a little like Black Swan, only she’s not as nuts.
RATING: Amazing dancing, compelling story.