The story follows two young hopefuls trying to get into Mr. Boris Lermontov’s (Anton Walbrook) stage productions. Miss Victoria Paige (Moira Shearer) is a talented dancer who persistently follows Lermontov and Julian(Marius Goring) is a composer who first meets Boris when complaining that his music was stolen for one of his productions. Both are appeased with little odd jobs for a while, until they are given the chance to rise when Lermontov decides to produce The Red Shoes. Julian is to compose and conduct the music and Victoria is the star dancer. Once The Red Shoes opens, it seems that the two could use their talents anywhere in the world, but when they fall in love, everything could fall to ruin.
To be honest, I never realized a film could be this artsy in 1948. Really, if I hadn’t known, I would’ve guessed this to have been made in the 60’s at least. Thanks to the restoration efforts of Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, this film is full of beautiful color with rich bits of red meticulously placed in nearly every scene.
The great achievement of this film is the scene showing The Red Shoes production. At first, it’s beautiful just to watch the stage come to life. Then it is filled with film magic that obviously couldn’t be done in a real theatrical production. We don’t care, the suspension of disbelief is there, and it’s very cool. The whole scene is wonderfully weird, full of color, imagination and a little creepy. There are nightmare inspired masks, shadow hands that stretch across the stage and try to pull the dancing Victoria and creatures that I could only describe as tribal-toilet-paper-mummies. It has to be seen to be believed.
The ballet (and the story) isn’t bogged down in idle dialogue. We understand the plot by images shown and the movement of the music. The image of a bird or waves crashing on rocks says more than entire conversations. The whole film can be summed up, and is obviously foreshadowed, in the interpretation of the stage performance.
I don’t believe this film should be remade; it’s perfect as it is, but the only one who could ever tackle this project right would be Tim Burton. At times, the film has his same sense of style and colorful oddity. No doubt, he would cast Johnny Depp as both Julian and the shoemaker and turn ballet into something macabre. Scorsesse has restored this beautiful gem to be enjoyed, not remade, so let’s enjoy it and pray no one gets any funny ideas.
If you’re not sure if you would like this film (it’s not for everyone), I recommend it for anyone who enjoys ballet, color, dance, music, theater or love. For those of you really into gray people standing still in near silence and hating everything…well good luck to you.
“You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never.”
***For me, The Red Shoes is an obvious winner for 1948, though it was Hamlet that won the Oscar and I’d guess that the average viewers would be split between Shoes and Treasure of the Sierra Madre.***