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The Red Shoes (1948)

For decades, young women have been inspired to study ballet by this elegant, romantic depiction of the life of a classical dancer. What started in the 1930s as a biography of Nijinsky for Alexander Korda and a vehicle for his wife, Merle Oberon, eventually became the crowning glory of the Archers, the production company founded by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The latter had been hired to write Korda’s Nijinsky film and was guided toward Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Red Shoes” as possible inspiration. When World War II delayed production and the Kordas’ divorce ended the project altogether, Pressburger bought the rights to his own work and slated it to follow a string of hits he had made with Powell, most recently Black Narcissus (1947).

By that point, the Nijinsky biopic had been forgotten, but the dancer’s mentor, Sergei Diaghilev, served as inspiration for one of the film’s central characters: the tyrannical impresario Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), who refuses to allow his dancers to marry on artistic principle. He has two protégés in the film, the composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and the young ballerina Victoria Page (Moira Shearer). He commissions Craster to write a ballet based on “The Red Shoes” and gives the leading role to Page, setting the stage for a conflict in which Page is torn between her career and her love for the young composer.

With its climactic 20-minute ballet, the film had a tremendous influence on other filmmakers, most notably Gene Kelly, who used it as inspiration for his own ballet in An American in Paris (1951). The Red Shoes’s expressive use of Technicolor (shot by Jack Cardiff) and music (by Brian Easdale) inspired generations of filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Steven Spielberg, and Francis Ford Coppola. The picture even created a fashion trend. In the ‘60s, the Italian glitterati aped Lermontov’s practice of wearing dark glasses constantly, even indoors, a character trait Powell and Pressburger had picked up from Walbrook himself.

d. Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 135 minutes, DCP

Restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive in association with the British Film Institute, The Film Foundation, ITV Global Entertainment, Ltd. and Janus Films. Preservation funding provided by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, The Film Foundation and the Louis B. Mayer Foundation

Courtesy of MGM and Park Circus LLC