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The Red Shoes DVD Cover
"The Red Shoes"
"The Red Shoes" DVD
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine

Guide Rating -  

Tagline: "Dance she did, and dance she must - between her two loves."

Length: 133 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Created by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Britain’s greatest filmmakers of the 1940s, "The Red Shoes" (1948) is one of my favorite films. I think this Technicolor movie is a visual delight, and when I first saw it years ago, I enjoyed it as an entertaining melodrama set against the backdrop of the world of ballet. But now after multiple viewings, I see that there’s more going on in the film than initially meets the eye, and the Criterion Collection DVD provides some outstanding special features that helped me to achieve a deeper appreciation of this masterwork.

"The Red Shoes" centers around Ballet Lermontov, an internationally famous dance company run by the autocratic Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook). A talented young ballerina named Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) and a promising young composer named Julian Craster (Marius Goring) join the company, and Lermontov eventually gives Vicky the principal part in a ballet written by Julian. When the new ballet is a huge success, Vicky sees her dreams coming true, but Julian still considers his job with the dance company to be only a steppingstone. As for Lermontov, he plans to mold Vicky into a great dancer, thereby assuring himself a dominant position in the ballet world for years to come.

But soon Vicky and Julian fall in love, and Lermontov realizes this jeopardizes his plan, particularly in view of the fact that Julian’s passion is music -- not dance. Inevitably, Lermontov and Julian clash, and Julian winds up leaving the dance company. Vicky is then left in the impossible situation of trying to reconcile her passion for ballet with her love for Julian, leading to tragedy.

The DVD provides an optional audio track containing a very informative commentary by film historian Ian Christie that can be listened to while watching the film. Interspersed within Christie’s commentary are interviews with Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, director of photography Jack Cardiff, and composer Brian Easdale. The voice of Martin Scorsese is also sometimes heard, and Scorsese says he has been greatly influenced by Powell and Pressburger, claiming he got his idea of how to do the fight scenes in "Raging Bull" from the 15-minute ballet sequence in "The Red Shoes."

A second optional audio track on the DVD permits listening to Jeremy Irons read from Powell and Pressburger’s 1978 novelization of "The Red Shoes" while watching the film. What’s interesting here is that the novelization, which was done thirty years after the movie, makes some things clearer. For example, the words read by Irons make it much easier to understand how the long 15-minute dance sequence relates to the rest of the film.

Also, don’t fail to watch "The Red Shoes Sketches" while listening to Irons reading the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Red Shoes" on which the movie is loosely based. In Andersen’s version, the young girl has her feet cut off! The DVD has some other interesting special features as well, and I’ve listed them below.

Selected Special Features on the DVD:

  • Audio Commentary by Film Historian Ian Christie with Interviews
  • Audio Track with Jeremy Irons Reading Novel "The Red Shoes"
  • Ballet Sketches with Irons Reading Andersen’s Fairy Tale
  • Historical Still Photographs
  • Martin Scorsese’s Collection of "Red Shoes" Memorabilia
  • Powell and Pressburger Filmography
  • Theatrical Trailer
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