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The Red Shoes (1948 film)

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The Red Shoes (1948 film)

The Red Shoes
original movie poster
Directed by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Written by Hans Christian Andersen
(original fairy tale)
Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Keith Winter
(add'l dialogue)
Based on The Red Shoes 
by Hans Christian Andersen
Starring Moira Shearer
Anton Walbrook
Marius Goring
Music by Brian Easdale
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Edited by Reginald Mills
Distributed by General Film Distributors
Eagle-Lion Films
J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors (West Germany)
Release dates 6 September 1948 (1948-09-06) (UK)
22 October (US)
Running time 133 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget £505,581[1]
Box office $5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)[2][3]

The Red Shoes (1948) is a British feature film about a ballet dancer, written, directed and produced by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as The Archers. The movie employs the story within a story device, being about a young ballerina who joins an established ballet company and becomes the lead dancer in a new ballet called The Red Shoes, itself based on the fairy tale "The Red Shoes" by Hans Christian Andersen. The film stars Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook and Marius Goring and features Robert Helpmann, Léonide Massine and Ludmilla Tchérina, renowned dancers from the ballet world, as well as Esmond Knight and Albert Bassermann. It has original music by Brian Easdale and cinematography by Jack Cardiff, and is well regarded for its creative use of Technicolor. Filmmakers such as Brian De Palma and Martin Scorsese have named it one of their all time favourite films.

Although loosely based on the Andersen story, it was also said to have been inspired by the real-life meeting of Sergei Diaghilev with the British ballerina Diana Gould. Diaghilev asked her to join his company, but he died before she could do so. Diana Gould later became the second wife of Yehudi Menuhin.[4]


Victoria 'Vicky' Page (Moira Shearer) is a young, unknown dancer from an aristocratic background. At an after-ballet party, arranged by her aunt as a surreptitious audition, she meets Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), the ruthless but charismatic impresario of the Ballet Lermontov. Lermontov takes her on as a student, where she is taught by, among others, Grisha Ljubov (Léonide Massine), the company's chief choreographer.

After seeing her dance in a matinee performance of Swan Lake,[5] Lermontov realises her potential and invites Vicky to go with the company to Paris and Monte Carlo. When he loses his prima ballerina (Ludmilla Tchérina) to marriage, Lermontov begins to see Vicky as a possible successor. He decides to create a starring role for her in a new ballet, The Red Shoes, the music for which is to be written by Julian Craster (Marius Goring) a brilliant young composer engaged as orchestral coach the same day that Vicky was brought into the company.

As the premiere of the ballet approaches, Vicky and Julian lock horns artistically, and then fall in love. The ballet is a great success, and Lermontov talks with Vicky about her future.

Lermontov revitalizes the company's repertoire with Vicky in the lead roles, with Julian composing some of the most successful scores. The tale turns toward tragedy when Lermontov begins to have personal feelings toward Vicky. Lermontov’s suppressed jealousy clouds his aesthetic discrimination: he rejects Julian’s latest composition as childish and vulgar, which Julian (and the viewer) knows to be untrue. Lermontov fires Julian, and Vicky decides to leave the company with him. They marry and live in London where Julian works on composing a new opera. Lermontov relents his decision to enforce Vicky's contract, and permits her to dance where and when she pleases. The one exception is The Red Shoes; Lermontov retains the rights to the ballet and ownership of Julian's music, and refuses to mount it again or allow anyone else to produce the ballet.

Some time later, while joining her aunt for a holiday in Monte Carlo, Vicky is visited on the train by Lermontov, who convinces her to return to the company to dance in a revival of The Red Shoes. On opening night, as she is preparing to perform, Julian appears in her dressing room; he has left the premiere of his opera at Covent Garden to take her back with him. Lermontov arrives, and he and Julian contend for Vicky's affections. Torn between her love for Julian and her need to dance, she cannot decide what to do. Julian, realising that he has lost her, leaves for the railway station, and Lermontov consoles her, urging her to dance.

While being escorted to the stage by her dresser, and wearing the red shoes, Vicky is suddenly seized by an irresistible impulse and runs out of the theatre. Julian, on the platform of the train station, sees her and runs helplessly towards her. Vicky jumps from a balcony and falls in front of an approaching train. While lying on a stretcher, bloody and battered, she asks Julian to remove the red shoes, just as in the end of The Red Shoes ballet.

Shaken by Vicky's death and broken in spirit, Lermontov appears before the audience to announce that "Miss Page is unable to dance tonight - nor indeed any other night." As a mark of respect, the company performs The Red Shoes with a spotlight on the empty space where Vicky would have been.

Plot inconsistency

The film contains a possible inconsistency in the story: At the end of the film, when she jumps off the balcony and is killed, Vicky is wearing the same red shoes she wears in the ballet. We see her wearing them as she is preparing in her dressing room for the opening of the revival of The Red Shoes, before the confrontation between Julian and Lermontov, despite the fact that in the performance her character does not put them on until part way through the ballet. This problem was discussed by Powell and Pressburger themselves[6] and has been much discussed since.[7] Powell decided that it was artistically "right" for Vicky to be wearing the red shoes at that point because if she is not wearing them, it takes away the ambiguity over why she died: did the shoes drive her to it, did she fall or did she jump?[6]

"The Red Shoes" ballet

The ballet roughly follows the Hans Christian Andersen story upon which it is based. A young woman sees a pair of red shoes in a shop window, which are offered to her by the demonic Shoemaker. She puts them on and begins to dance with her boyfriend. They go to a carnival, where she seemingly forgets about the boyfriend as she dances with every man she comes across. Her boyfriend is carried away and nothing is left of him but his image on a piece of cellophane, which she tramples.

She attempts to return home to her mother, but the red shoes, controlled by the Shoemaker, keep her dancing. She falls into a netherworld, where she dances with a piece of newspaper which turns briefly into her boyfriend. She is then beset by grotesque creatures, including the Shoemaker, who converge upon her in a manner reminiscent of The Rite of Spring. They abruptly disappear, leaving her alone. No matter where she flees, the shoes refuse to stop dancing.

Near death from exhaustion, clothed in rags, she finds herself in front of a church where a funeral is in progress. The priest offers to help her. She motions to him to remove the shoes, and as he does so, she dies. He carries her into the church, and the Shoemaker retrieves the shoes, to be offered to his next victim.

The ballet was choreographed by Robert Helpmann, who plays the role of the lead dancer of the Ballet Lemontov and danced the part of the boyfriend, with Léonide Massine creating his own choreography for his role as the Shoemaker; both Helpmann and Massine were major stars of the ballet world. The music for the whole film, including for the ballet, is an original score by Brian Easdale, who conducted most of the music in the film, but not the Ballet of the Red Shoes; the ballet itself was conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, who received prominent screen credit.


Cast notes:


Pressburger originally wrote the screenplay for Alexander Korda as a vehicle for Korda's future wife Merle Oberon. After some years had passed without the film being made, Powell and Pressburger rewrote the screenplay, including more emphasis on dancing, and produced it themselves.

Powell and Pressburger decided early on that they had to use dancers who could act rather than actors who could dance a bit. To create a realistic feeling of a ballet company at work, and to be able to include a fifteen-minute ballet as the high point of the film, they created their own ballet company using many dancers from The Royal Ballet. The principal dancers were Robert Helpmann (who also choreographed the main ballet), Léonide Massine (who also choreographed the role of The Shoemaker), Ludmilla Tchérina and Moira Shearer.

Subsequent history

The Red Shoes received positive reviews,[9] but did not make much money at first in the UK, because the Caesar and Cleopatra (1945).[10] Also, the financial backers did not understand the artistic merits of the film.[10] However it wound up the sixth most popular movie at the British box office in 1948.[11]

The film received only a limited release in the U.S., in a 110-week run at a single theatre.[12] The success of this run convinced Universal Studios that The Red Shoes was a worthwhile film and they took over the U.S. distribution in 1951, The Red Shoes becoming one of the highest earning British films of all time.[13]

Contemporary reviews from ballet critics in the UK and in the US were mixed. Some wrote positively,[14] but others were mixed, criticising the film for being clichéd and unrealistic.[15]

Brian Easdale's score won an Oscar for "Best Music Score of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture" in 1948. The film also won an Oscar for "Best Art Direction-Set Decoration" for Hein Heckroth and Arthur Lawson. It was also nominated in the categories "Best Picture" (Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger), "Best Writing, Motion Picture Story" (Emeric Pressburger) and "Best Film Editing" (Reginald Mills).[16]

The Red Shoes led to a few other films that treated ballet seriously. It was only after he made the studio executives watch The Red Shoes a few times that Gene Kelly was able to include ballet in An American in Paris.[10] After the film became a huge success in the U.S., MGM began plans to make a film actually titled Red Shoes Run Faster with red-haired dancer Lucille Bremer, but quickly scrapped the idea.[17]

The Red Shoes is also arguably the most famous work done by Powell and Pressburger and is considered one of their great works as well as a classic of British cinema. The film is particularly known for its cinematography, particularly its use of colour. In the introduction for The Criterion Collection DVD of Jean Renoir's The River, Martin Scorsese, who has long championed Powell and Pressburger's works, considers The Red Shoes, along with the Renoir film to be the two most beautiful colour films.

The Red Shoes underwent a complete restoration as the result of a seven-year effort. With fundraising spearheaded by Scorsese and his longtime editor (and Michael Powell's widow), Thelma Schoonmaker, the restoration work was completed by Robert Gitt (assisted by Barbara Whitehead) at the UCLA Film and Television Archive.[18] This restored version made its debut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival,[19][20] followed soon after by a DVD and Blu-ray release in the UK by ITV DVD[21] as well as screenings at festivals around the world.[22] The digitally restored print has also subsequently been released in America by Criterion on DVD[23] & Blu-ray.[24]

Digital restoration

In 2006 digital restoration of the film was done by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. The digital pictures were frame by frame digitally restored at Prasad Corporation to remove dirt, tears, scratches, and other artifacts. The film was restored to its original look.[25][26][27]

Other media

Musical theatre adaptation

The film was adapted by Jule Styne (music) and Marsha Norman (book and lyrics) into a Broadway musical, which was directed by Stanley Donen. The Red Shoes opened on 16 December 1993 at the Gershwin Theatre, with Steve Barton playing Boris Lermontov, Margaret Illmann playing Victoria Page, and Hugh Panaro playing Julian Craster. The choreography by Lar Lubovitch received the TDF's Astaire Award, but the musical closed after 51 previews and only five performances.

"The Red Shoes" is also referenced in A Chorus Line as having inspired several of the characters to become dancers.

Works inspired by the film

Kate Bush's song and album The Red Shoes was inspired by the film. The music was subsequently used in a film The Line, the Cross and the Curve (1993) made by Kate Bush, starring Miranda Richardson and Lindsay Kemp, which references the original film.

In 2005 Ballet Ireland produced Diaghilev And The Red Shoes, a tribute to Sergei Diaghilev, the ballet impresario who founded Ballets Russes, consisting of excerpts from works made famous by that seminal company. An excerpt from The Red Shoes ballet was included, since the character of Lermontov in the film was partly inspired by Diaghilev.[28]

See also


  1. ^ Sarah Street, Transatlantic Crossings: British Feature Films in the USA, Continuum, 2002 p 110
  2. ^ "All Time Domestic Champs", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
  3. ^ "Noteworthy Films Made In U.K.".  
  4. ^  
  5. ^ The performance takes place at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, which may not look like much but was one of the major venues for ballet just after World War II. The small non-speaking role of the head of the ballet company for which Vicky dances is played by Marie Rambert, founder of Ballet Rambert.
  6. ^ a b c  
  7. ^  
  8. ^  
  9. ^ "The Red Shoes". Picturegoer. 28 August 1948. Retrieved 7 April 2006. 
  10. ^ a b c  
  11. ^ "THE STARRY WAY.".  
  12. ^ At the Bijou Theatre, 209 West 45th Street, New York City
  13. ^ Wood, Alan (23 February 1952). "The Inside Story of Mr. Rank". Everybody's Weekly. Retrieved 1 January 2008. 
  14. ^ Ambler, Maurice (January 1948). "Film Ballet - A New Art Form?". Ballet Today. Retrieved 7 April 2006. 
  15. ^ "Some Opinions on 'The Red Shoes' (Film)". Ballet Magazine 5 (8). August–September 1948. Retrieved 7 April 2006. 
  16. ^ "NY Times: The Red Shoes". NY Times. Retrieved 20 December 2008. 
  17. ^ Fordin, Hugh (1996). M-G-M's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit. Da Capo Press. p. 194.  
  18. ^  
  19. ^ "Festival de Cannes 2009 - The Red Shoes". Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  20. ^ Calonge, Juan (23 May 2009). "Restored Red Shoes Wows Cannes". 
  21. ^ " - The Red Shoes on Blu Ray". Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  22. ^ "P&P Events & Excursions". Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  23. ^ " - The Red Shoes (Criterion Collection)". Retrieved 21 July 2010. 
  24. ^ " - The Red Shoes on Blu Ray". Retrieved 21 July 2010. 
  25. ^ , Robert Gitt, Preservation officer, UCLA Film & television archiveDancing to the Music of Time, The Red Shoes,
  26. ^, Digital film restoration
  27. ^, Digital Film Restoration
  28. ^ Berry, Kevin (4 November 2005). Review "Diaghilev And The Red Shoes". The Stage. 
  • Andersen, Hans Christian. The Red Shoes.
    • In The Shoes of Fortune, and Other Tales. New York: J. Wiley, 1848.
    • In Fairy Tales from Hans Andersen. London: T.C. & E.C. Jack, 1908.
    • In Fairy Tales from Hans Andersen. New York: E.P. Dutton & co., 1908.
    • In Tales. Odense (Denmark): Flensted, 1972.
  • Connelly, Mark. The Red Shoes. London: I.B. Tauris, 2005. ISBN 1-84511-071-4.
  • Gibbon, Monk. The Red Shoes Ballet: A Critical Study. London: Saturn Press, 1948. London. 95pp. (illus).
  • Powell, Michael & Pressburger, Emeric. The Red Shoes. London: Avon Books, 1978. ISBN 0-8044-2687-2. (pbk).
  • Powell, Michael & Pressburger, Emeric. The Red Shoes. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. ISBN 0-312-14034-7.
  • Powell, Michael. A Life in Movies: An Autobiography. London: Heinemann, 1986. ISBN 0-434-59945-X.
  • Powell, Michael. Million Dollar Movie. London: Heinemann, 1992. ISBN 0-434-59947-6.
  • Vermilye, Jerry. The Great British Films. Citadel Press, 1978. ISBN 0-8065-0661-X. 112pp.

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