What on earth is the director who would soon be one of the major architects of the James Bond series doing making a ballet film? Terence Young not only helmed the first Bond picture, Dr. No (1962), he helped develop it, and went on to make From Russia With Love (1964) and Thunderball (1965), not to mention the classic non-Bond thriller Wait Until Dark (1967). Yet here he is in 1960 directing a kind of sub-Powell-and-Pressburger film showcasing four ballets by Les Ballets des Champs-Elysees founder Roland Petit.
Actually, the stretch isn’t as great as it seems when one considers the often choreographic nature of his handling of Dr. No (remember the Calypso-accompanied blind men?) and Young brings much of interest to bear on the proceedings. The most striking aspect of his direction lies in the fact that he handles the film as much for cinematic impact as a vehicle to record Petit’s ballets — and this in spite of the fact that that the film takes place on obvious (and altogether too clean) soundstage sets that give it the feel of a TV special. It’s unfailingly interesting as cinema, and movie fans will get a bonus in the presence of Cyd Charisse and Moira Shearer, not to mention Maurice Chevalier as the onscreen host. But your appreciation of it will depend a great deal on a fondness for ballet (for me, two-plus hours is pushing it), so bear that in mind.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke