Retro Review: The Red Shoes

By: Emily Kellas

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Hello again Reel2Reality readers! It has been quite awhile since I’ve written. But with graduation behind me, and the overwhelming weight of the real world ahead of me, I will be using movies as an escape more and more. So lucky for you that means Retro Reviews are back! Armed with a little bit more free time (emphasis on the little) I’m back to continue my fight for classic film!

In 2010 the brilliant acting, and story of Black Swan enamored the world. Natalie Portman, as an obviously disturbed yet determined ballerina, making her rise to the top, was superb. What many didn’t realize is that Black Swan wasn’t born from obscurity. Director Michael Powell’s 1948 film The Red Shoes was indeed the elder of Black Swan, although minus the rather overt sexuality. Staring Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, and Marius Goring The Red Shoes depicted the life of a fame starved ballerina, and her struggle between the love of dance, and the love of another.

Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) is a bright young dancer who dreams of taking top bill in a prestigious dance company, run by obsessive ballet boss Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). Those dreams become complicated after she falls in love with the company’s new composer, Julian Craster (Marius Goring). Craster is asked to rewrite the score for the stage adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s ill-fated fairytale, “The Red Shoes.” Page is asked to dance the lead role. After the show finds stupendous success love blossoms between the dancer and composer, spurring the rage of Lermontov. Determined to make her the greatest ballerina in the world, Lermontov drives Vicki to choose between her two loves, the stage and Craster.

Visually, the film is stunning. The color is vivid, especially the red tones, as they seem to be heightened. The camera work is equally as breathtaking, with it’s close-up shots of the characters faces providing a jarring, and at time disturbing, image. It is in the cinematography that I truly couldn’t help to compare the film to its 21st century counterpart Black Swan. The 2010 film uses the same accentuation of certain colors, black, that the 1948 film did with red. Not to mention the striking close-ups of Natalie Portman’s character Nina Sayers in very similar dark, ominous make-up as Moira Shearer’s Victoria Page. But comparisons aside the camera work of The Red Shoes is what holds it above the rest. I spent most of the film waiting with baited breath for the famous shot following those brilliant red ballet slippers down a concrete street. When the moment finally arrived it was even better than I had anticipated, the Technicolor luring me into the action.

The performances were equally as stellar. Moira Shearer, a classically trained ballerina, added authenticity to the part of Victoria Page. The struggle between the love of dance or a man played out through not only her feet but her eyes as well. Moira Shearer would later go on to star in two more Michael Powell films during her short film career, as she found her home on the stage. Anton Walbrook’s portrayal of possessed company director Boris Lermontov was spot on. He was able to convey the characters surface charm, and hidden desperation and jealousy, with poise and dignity. Lermontov was a complicated character and Walbrook took him on full force, bringing out the most of each personality.

The Red Shoes is a classic within the dance film genre. Retaining its edge, and entertainment value all these years later, is what has made the film a staple, and one that directors and dancers alike refer back too. Though I’m not a ballet aficionado, the film is so much more than dance, focusing on struggle, determination of spirit, and love. And friends, if you haven’t experience all three of those, then you are simply inhuman.

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