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Classic art film about the ballet world has never been equaled. 5 Stars

The Red Shoes is something of a miracle film bringing the disciplined, challenging world of ballet to the masses but more importantly exploring with such eccentric candor the psyche of the artist: driven, single-minded, inspired, maddening.

The Red Shoes (1948)
Released: 06 Sep 1948
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 135 min
Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Genre: Drama, Music, Romance
Cast: Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Moira Shearer
Writer(s): Hans Christian Andersen, Emeric Pressburger, Keith Winter
Plot: A young ballet dancer is torn between the man she loves and her pursuit to become a prima ballerina.
IMDB rating: 8.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Criterion
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 13 Min.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: UHD
Region: All
Release Date: 12/14/2021
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 5/5

Art in life versus art is life: this is the key to the theme of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s magnificent The Red Shoes. It’s something of a miracle film bringing the disciplined, challenging world of ballet to the masses but more importantly exploring with such eccentric candor the psyche of the artist: driven, single-minded, inspired, maddening. It’s a film that has maintained its munificent achievements for those in awe of its majesty over more than half a century with its beauty, its passions, and its power still as vibrant and explosive as ever. After seeing The Red Shoes, one never quite judges art of any kind in the same way again.

Impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) runs his ballet company with an iron hand, but his troupe is the best, and the world knows it. Into his sphere comes talented dancing newcomer Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) and budding composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). Lermontov promotes both of his protégés reasonably quickly: Victoria to lead dancer after his former prima (Ludmilla Tchérina) chooses marriage over Lermontov’s ironclad rule: nothing comes before art, and Caster as the company’s reigning composer. Craster’s new work called “The Red Shoes” as danced by Victoria is a sensation, and she quickly rises to star billing in the company, but then life gets in the way as it always does: Julian and Vicky fall in love, something they know their master will never tolerate if they choose to stay with the company.

Before The Red Shoes, dance on film had never been shown from so many perspectives: obviously the viewer sees the show from the audience’s point of view, but director Michael Powell also gives us a wing’s eye view of the performance, and in one magnificent moment, we even see the show through the whirling ballerina’s eyes. Not only do we experience that, but the director shows the pre-curtain hubbub backstage (dancers limbering up, fussing with costumes and props, psyching themselves up for the performance) with such an accurate eye that one feels he is a part of the company. But the film’s most important achievement is to show us a world where its inhabitants see, hear, eat, drink, sleep, and breathe their art; it’s more important than food, than drink, than air. It consumes every waking moment of their lives, until, of course, they must fight to keep from suffocating of it. The struggle between professional and personal lives manifests itself though every moment of the story, and Pressburger’s script emphasizes both the rewards and the sacrifices of such an existence.

As for the ground-breaking (for its time and still amazing in its construction and presentation) quarter-hour ballet “The Red Shoes,” it uses the medium of film to present one cinematic wonder after another: it’s surreal in its presentation (this never could have been mounted on a stage in a real theater with all of the set and costume changes and psychological ramifications of the story shown visually) and haunting in its ultimate achievement. The use of color to capture the varying moods of the piece makes optimum use of the Technicolor camera, the vibrancy and depth of color being unmatched in its day apart from the work Vincente Minnelli was doing at MGM during the same period as this film’s production (see his surreal ballets in Ziegfeld Follies and The Pirate for comparisons though Minnelli didn’t utilize the studio’s special effects unit until the later An American in Paris). Also unusual is that this cinematic highpoint isn’t the climax of the movie. There’s easily an hour of story left after the magnificence of the dancing and the wonders of the production of that focal ballet.

As for the performances, Anton Walbrook’s commandingly icy Lermontov dominates his every scene. The role is based partly on such icons in their fields as Sergei Diaghilev and Alexander Korda, and Walbrook’s interest in an artist ethereally rather than carnally is palpable and easily one of his greatest performances. Marius Goring has his own vain posturing down pat as the growingly fierce composer while Moira Shearer, a real dancer in a film where pointe dancing could never have been faked convincingly, excels both terpsichorially and with her acting in an exceedingly difficult role. Famed Ballets Russes dancer Leonide Massine, himself a protégé of the real Diaghilev in his younger years, has a ragtag elfin charm and a bristly way with lines that endears him to the audience on repeated viewings. Another acclaimed ballet artist Robert Helpmann partners Shearer with tact and poise throughout and choreographs the ballet sequences throughout.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in this 2160p transfer using the HEVC codec and abetted with Dolby Vision. Using the 2009 4K restoration of the film as its source, the ultra high definition rendering is continuously beautiful and impressive with the Dolby Vision bringing out specular highlights in the stylized makeups and costumes used throughout the film. In all, the results are magnificent with sharpness superb (sharp enough to make some painted backdrops used in the Monte Carlo scenes especially noticeable) in the close-ups and color richness and depth very impressive indeed. Black levels are especially striking, and details in shadows come alive to slightly better effect than in the previously released Blu-ray. The movie has been divided into 25 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The PCM 2.0 audio track seems to have been carried over from the previous Blu-ray only release though my equipment is different now than when I reviewed the Blu-ray over a decade ago, and the mono track seems a bit richer and deeper than I noted in my earlier review. The soundtrack now has full sound with the dialogue well-recorded and easily discernible and Brian Easdale’s Oscar-winning avant-garde music still impressive after more than seventy years to stand the test of time. All age-related problems with hiss, crackle, pops, and flutter seem to have been eliminated.

Special Features: 5/5

On the UHD disc are the following:

Audio Commentary: blends in host/critic Ian Christie and his astute observations about the movie with recent and vintage interviews from Martin Scorsese, stars Marius Goring and Moira Shearer, cinematographer Jack Cardiff, and composer Brian Easdale.

Audio Novelization: the novelization of The Red Shoes by its producer/writer/directors is read by actor Jeremy Irons and can be chosen as one of the alternative language tracks while the film is running.

The other bonus material (plus these two above bonuses repeated) can be found on the enclosed 1080p Blu-ray version of the film also included in the set. From my own A/B comparisons, I could discern no differences at all between the original Blu-ray transfer of the film and the Blu-ray transfer included on this disc.

Restoration Introduction (4:17, HD): Martin Scorsese introduces a restoration featurette showing some impressive before-and-after shots noting the remarkable effort that went into creating the superb transfer on display here.

Profile of The Red Shoes (25:30, SD): a marvelous making-of documentary that features Cardiff, along with his camera operator and the relative of the Oscar-winning production designer Hein Heckroth discussing the experiences on the movie set.

Thelma Schoonmaker Powell Interview (14:41, SD): a gifted film editor in her own right and the widow of director Michael Powell, Powell discusses the film, both the original and the restoration here, in a 2009 interview.

Stills Galleries (HD): There are six separate stills galleries. Apart from the costume and production design sketches, they’re all in black and white. They consist of studio portraits of the stars in and out of character, stills from the film, and behind-the-scenes shots of the cast and crew.

Martin Scorsese Memorabilia (HD): A gallery of Martin Scorsese memorabilia concerning The Red Shoes may be stepped through by the viewer. These remembrances consist of everything from an autographed pair of the red shoes themselves along with an autographed script and a large collection of posters and lobby cards in various languages.

The Red Shoes Sketches (15:57, HD): puts the hundreds of production design sketches for the ballet sequence into a montage with the accompanying Brian Easdale soundtrack music playing as accompaniment. This section also allows the viewer to use the angle button to place the sketches’ sequences side-by-side with the actual film sequences for comparison (this may be selected from the menu or done on the fly using the angle button). One may also have the Jeremy Irons-read story of “The Red Shoes” as the background accompaniment by toggling the audio button.

Theatrical Trailer (2:30, HD)

Enclosed Booklet: the enclosed 25-page booklet contains the chapter listing, cast and crew lists, some stunning stills from the film, an appreciative and insightful essay by author/critic David Ehrenstein, and a summary of the restoration program applied to this film by UCLA preservation officer Robert Gitt.

Overall: 5/5

One of the most magnificent art films of the 20th century, The Red Shoes remains unmatched, and this glorious new ultra high definition transfer offers the zenith in quality for this movie and a treasure trove of bonus features that makes it a must-have for all lovers of great cinema. Highest recommendation!

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Published by

Matt Hough

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Lord Dalek

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Joel Henderson
"The PCM 2.0 audio track seems to have been carried over from the previous Blu-ray only release though my equipment is different now than when I reviewed the Blu-ray over a decade ago, and the mono track seems a bit richer and deeper than I noted in my earlier review."

Its probably your equipment. No new work was done on the existing PCM track.
 

Will Krupp

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Joined
Oct 2, 2003
Messages
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Will
I am kinda surprised you’re on the fence Will. I jumped at this, but still waiting for delivery.

Well, it's only because the existing blu-ray is SO good... I can't quite figure out if I NEED the 4K on this one. I can't upgrade everything, lol.

Since I have the constitution of a tissue, I'm sure I will, though.