Not the best of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s impressive gallery of movies, still The Red Shoes (1948) is probably the best known—and owing to its fairy-tale romanticism, probably the best loved. As a story, it bears more than a passing resemblance to Michael Curtiz’s horror picture The Mad Genius (1931), with John Barrymore as a ballet impresario coming between a dancer and the woman he loves—but that’s perhaps as much due to the fact that both Barrymore’s character there and Anton Walbrook’s here are fairly obviously drawn from the real-life Sergei Diaghilev. Powell and Pressburger change the sexes—the dancer is now a woman—and bury the subtext, but the story of the conflict between art and romance remains largely the same.
Otherwise, The Red Shoes is an almost relentless exercise in style—brightly Technicolored style. And due to the filmmakers’ penchant for ballet, there’s a good deal of ballet in the film. Don’t let that throw you, even if you’re not that keen on ballet, because this is so thrillingly photographed you’ll like it here. Typical of the filmmakers’ work, The Red Shoes is also a strikingly modern work. There are uses of the camera and editing that were unique at the time, but have since become a part of the cinematic vocabulary still in use today. This is a treasure of film, music, dance, romance and color that shouldn’t be missed.