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Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer
Emeric Pressburger
A young ballet dancer is torn between the man she loves and her pursuit to become a prima ballerina.
Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 135 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 7/20/2010

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Ian Christie
• Audio Narration of Novelization
• Restoration Demonstration
• “Profile of The Red Shoes” Featurette
• Interview with Editor Thelma Schoonmaker Powell
• Stills Gallery
• “Scorsese’s Memorabilia” Collection
• “Red Shoes Sketches”
• Trailer
• Booklet


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The Red Shoes: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1948)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 14, 2021)

From the famed filmmaking duo of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, we go to 1948’s The Red Shoes. A loose adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen tale, this story takes us to the world of live musical performances.

Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) desires nothing more than to become a successful ballet dancer. Under the tutelage of famous impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), Victoria gets her chance, and she rises through the ranks.

However, Victoria falls in love with up-and-coming composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring), and that creates complications because Lermontov demands utter devotion to the craft. Victoria struggles to balance her romantic and professional desires.

As sad as it makes me to recognize this, Shoes offered only my second experience with the films of Powell and Pressburger. I saw 1947’s Black Narcissus years ago.

Because I liked Narcissus, I can’t explain why I didn’t check out additional Powell and Pressburger efforts. Whatever the case, given the legendary reputation of Shoes and my enjoyment of Narcissus, I looked forward to it.

Alas, Shoes doesn’t live up to those expectations. Though it looks terrific, the actual story and character domains seem too dull to really sustain attention.

Shoes comes with a pretty basic story, one that starts out reasonably well, at least. For the movie’s first act, we get a view of the aspiring artists that never feels especially insightful, but it comes with enough momentum to ensure we take some interest from it.

After that, though, Shoes slows down, and it does so for a couple of reasons. For one, the “inner circle of show biz” narrative morphs into a love triangle, and a dull one at that.

Nothing about the Victoria/ Lermontov/Julian situation ever feels especially interesting. This part of the plot follows a predictable path, and none of the characters seem compelling enough to elevate the material.

In addition, Shoes devotes a lot of its running time to ballet performances. Ala 1951’s American in Paris, the movie often feels less like a narrative a more like an excuse for dance sequences.

For fans of this material, the scenes likely delight, as Powell/Pressburger present them in the expected elegant manner. However, if you find ballet less than captivating, these scenes slow an already semi-dull story to a crawl.

Which is where I found myself, as the dance sequences left me distinctly underwhelmed. If I took more pleasure from the character aspects of the movie, I could better accept the way the flick grinds to a halt for ballet, but given that the “plot” doesn’t work for me, these choices become problematic.

As noted, Powell/Pressburger create a sumptuous cinematographic experience. The filmmakers deserve their reputation as stellar visual artists, and Shoes never looks less than impressive.

Unfortunately, Shoes just seems slow and dull when it comes to its characters and story, as its basic narrative lacks the depth and complexity to come to life. This winds up as a great-looking movie but not one that creates great entertainment.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The Red Shoes appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became an appealing presentation, especially given the film’s age.

In terms of sharpness, the movie usually demonstrated nice delineation. A few shots seemed just a smidgen soft, but those issues occurred infrequently, so the majority of the flick looked concise and accurate.

No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and no edge enhancement became apparent. Grain remained appropriate, and no specks, marks or other defects showed up at any time in this fresh presentation.

Colors were strong. I thought flesh tones were a bit on the brown side, but that was a reflection of Technicolor – and too much makeup. Otherwise, the hues tended to be vivid and full.

Blacks seemed deep and dense without too much heaviness. Shadow detail worked similarly well, as dimly-lit shots were appropriately clear and thick. I found little about which to complain here and thought the Blu-ray brought the movie to life in a positive manner.

The LPCM monaural audio of Red Shoes appeared fine for its era. Speech was fine. The lines showed age-related thinness, but they were always perfectly intelligible and without edginess.

Effects became a minor aspect of the track, and they resembled the dialogue. Those elements lacked much depth but they were without notable problems.

Music was acceptable for its age, as the songs and score tended to be a bit tinny. There wasn’t much range to the music, but again, that stemmed from the limitations of the very old source. This became a perfectly adequate mix for its vintage.

A mix of extras appear here, and we open with an audio commentary. Created in 1994, film historian Ian Christie hosts the track and offers much of the information, though we also get ample sound bites from actors Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, composer Brian Easdale, and filmmaker Martin Scorsese.

Here we get info about the movie’s origins and development, the workings of the Archers production company, story, characters, themes and influences, sets and locations, photography and visual design, music and dance, cast and performances, and connected domains.

Many dislike this edited format, but when done right, it works well, and that becomes the case here. Christie ties the material together well and integrates the sound bites well to make this a very informative piece.

Also from 1994, actor Jeremy Irons reads parts of the Red Shoes novelization. This comes via an alternate audio track that accompanies the movie.

Given the heavy visual emphasis of the film, a text-only version of the story obviously comes across very differently than the movie. This reinforces my belief that the flick acts more as a triumph of style and photography more than as a strong character piece.

Still, thin nature of the plot and roles, I like the chance to hear the tale from an alternate perspective. Irons performs the text well and this becomes a fun extra.

A Restoration Demonstration runs four minutes, 17 seconds and offers narration from Scorsese as he tells us about how the movie’s transfer worked. Some informational value exists, but most of the “Demonstration” feels self-congratulatory.

From 2000, Profile of The Red Shoes goes for 25 minutes, 30 seconds and includes info from Christie, Cardiff, camera operator Chris Challis, Emeric Pressburger’s grandson/biographer Kevin Macdonald, art director Hein Heckroth’s grandson Christian Routh, and dancer Darcey Bussell.

“Profile” discusses the film’s origins and development, story/character areas, cast and crew, some production details and the film’s reception/legacy. This turns into a fairly engaging overview.

Next comes an Interview with Thelma Schoonmaker Powell. The famous editor and widow of Michael Powell, she discusses the movie’s restoration, thoughts about the flick, and her relationship with her husband.

We get a few useful notes, but we don’t learn a lot of personal insights. Given Schoonmaker’s connection to Powell, this becomes a disappointment.

Some still materials follow, and a Photo Gallery breaks into six subdomains: “Cast and Crew”, “Filming in London”, “Filming in Paris”, “Filming in Monte Carlo”, “Deleted Scenes” and “Production and Costume Designs”.

These add up to a total of 103 images. We find a good array of elements here.

Martin Scorsese’s Memorabilia involves 37 frames of material. We get some production artifacts and advertising elements in this engaging collection.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc finishes with The Red Shoes Sketches, an “animated film” comprised of Hein Heckroth’s art. It depicts the movie’s long ballet sequence.

This can be viewed a few ways, and the “basic” version lasts 15 minutes, 57 seconds. It presents Heinroth’s work combined with music.

In addition, a “comparison” presentation puts Heinroth’s art on the left side of the screen while the final film runs on the right. Finally, “fairy tale” shows the standard art reel accompanied by Irons’ reading of the Hans Christian Andersen’ tale. All offer a cool addition to the set.

The package concludes with a booklet. It provides credits, art and an essay from critic David Ehrenstein. The booklet complements the set well.

Like all Pressburger and Powell efforts, The Red Shoes boasts sumptuous visuals. However, both story and characters seem underdeveloped, so this becomes an attractive film that lacks much real dramatic involvement. The Blu-ray delivers strong visuals, appropriate audio and a good assortment of bonus materials. Though the movie leaves me underwhelmed, this becomes a quality release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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