The Red Shoes (1948 film)

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The Red Shoes
The Red Shoes (1948 movie poster).jpg
original movie poster
Directed by Michael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Produced byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay byMichael Powell
Emeric Pressburger
Keith Winter
(additional 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 date
  • 6 September 1948 (1948-09-06)(UK)
  • 22 October 1948 (1948-10-22)(US)
Running time
133 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Budget £505,581 [1] or £551,927 [2]
Box office$5 million (est. US/ Canada rentals) [3] [4]

The Red Shoes is a 1948 British drama film written, directed, and produced by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as The Archers. The film is about a 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.

Michael Powell English film director

Michael Latham Powell was an English film director, celebrated for his partnership with Emeric Pressburger. Through their production company "The Archers", they together wrote, produced and directed a series of classic British films, notably 49th Parallel (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951). His later controversial 1960 film Peeping Tom, while today considered a classic, and a contender as the first "slasher", was so vilified on first release that his career was seriously damaged.

Emeric Pressburger Hungarian-British screenwriter, film director, and producer

Emeric Pressburger was a Hungarian British screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is best known for his series of film collaborations with Michael Powell, in an award-winning collaboration partnership known as the Archers and produced a series of films, notably 49th Parallel (1941), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).

Powell and Pressburger British filmmaking duo

The British film-making partnership of Michael Powell (1905–1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902–1988)—together often known as The Archers, the name of their production company—made a series of influential films in the 1940s and 1950s. Their collaborations—24 films between 1939 and 1972—were mainly derived from original stories by Pressburger with the script written by both Pressburger & Powell. Powell did most of the directing while Pressburger did most of the work of the producer and also assisted with the editing, especially the way the music was used. Unusually, the pair shared a writer-director-producer credit for most of their films. The best-known of these are The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Canterbury Tale (1944), I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), The Red Shoes (1948), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951).


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.

Moira Shearer British ballerina and actress

Moira Shearer, Lady Kennedy, was an internationally renowned British ballet dancer and actress.

Anton Walbrook actor

Adolf Anton Wilhelm Wohlbrück was an Austrian actor who settled in the United Kingdom under the name Anton Walbrook. A popular performer in Austria and pre-war Germany, he left in 1936 out of concerns for his own safety and established a career in English cinema. Walbrook is perhaps best known for his roles in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and The Red Shoes.

Marius Goring actor

Marius Goring, was an English stage and film actor. He is most often remembered for the four films he made with Powell & Pressburger, particularly as Conductor 71 in A Matter of Life and Death and as Julian Craster in The Red Shoes. He regularly performed French and German roles.

At the 21st Academy Awards, The Red Shoes won awards for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction. It also had nominations for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film Editing. Today, it is regarded as one of the best films of Powell and Pressburger's partnership, and in 1999, it was voted the 9th greatest British film of all time by the British Film Institute. In 2017, a poll of 150 actors, directors, writers, producers and critics for Time Out magazine saw it ranked the 5th best British film ever. [5] Filmmakers such as Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg have named it one of their all-time favourite films. [6]

The 21st Academy Awards features numerous firsts. It was the first time a non-Hollywood production won Best Picture, Hamlet and the first time an individual directed himself in an Oscar-winning performance.

The Academy Award for Best Original Score is an award presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to the best substantial body of music in the form of dramatic underscoring written specifically for the film by the submitting composer.

The Academy Award for Best Production Design recognizes achievement for art direction in film. The category's original name was Best Art Direction, but was changed to its current name in 2012 for the 85th Academy Awards. This change resulted from the Art Director's branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) being renamed the Designer's branch. Since 1947, the award is shared with the set decorator(s). It is awarded to the best interior design in a film.

Original flyer for the film "The Red Shoes". From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives. Original flyer for the film "The Red Shoes." From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives.jpg
Original flyer for the film "The Red Shoes". From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives.


At a performance by the Ballet Lermontov at Covent Garden Opera House, music student Julian is in attendance to hear the ballet score Heart of Fire, composed by his teacher, Professor Palmer. Separately present is Victoria 'Vicky' Page, a young, unknown dancer from an aristocratic background, with her aunt, Lady Neston. As Heart of Fire progresses, Julian recognises the music as one of his own compositions.

During the performance, Professor Palmer receives an invitation to an after-ballet party at Lady Neston's residence, also asking Boris Lermontov, the company impresario, to attend. Julian leaves the performance in disillusionment at his professor's plagiarism of his music. Lermontov and Vicki meet, and he invites her to a rehearsal of the company.

Julian has written to Lermontov to explain the circumstances behind Heart of Fire, but then tries to retrieve the letter. Lermontov's assistant Dimitri thwarts all attempts by Julian to gain entry to Lermontov's suite, but finally Lermontov gives Julian an audience. Julian says that he wishes to retrieve his letter before Lermontov has seen it, except that Lermontov has already read the letter.

Lermontov asks Julian to play one of his own works at the piano. After hearing Julian play, he hires him as a répétiteur for the company orchestra and assistant to the company's conductor, Livingstone Montague (known colloquially to the company as 'Livy'). Lermontov realises that Julian was the true composer of Heart of Fire.

A répétiteur is an accompanist, tutor or coach of ballet dancers or opera singers.

Julian and Vicky arrive for work at the Ballet Lermontov on the same day. Later, Vicky dances with Ballet Rambert in a matinee performance of Swan Lake at the Mercury Theatre, Notting Hill Gate, in a production with a company led by Marie Rambert (who appears in the film as herself in a wordless cameo). Watching this performance, Lermontov realises her potential and invites Vicky to go with Ballet Lermontov to Paris and Monte Carlo. He decides to create a starring role for her in a new ballet, The Red Shoes, for which Julian is to provide the music.

<i>Swan Lake</i> Ballet by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Swan Lake, Op. 20, is a ballet composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1875–76. Despite its initial failure, it is now one of the most popular of all ballets.

The Mercury Theatre was a small theatre on Ladbroke Road, Notting Hill Gate, London, notable for the productions of poetic dramas between 1933 and 1956, and as the home of the Ballet Rambert until 1987.

Marie Rambert dancer and teacher, founder of Ballet Rambert

Dame Marie Rambert, Mrs Dukes DBE was a Polish-born English dancer and pedagogue who exerted great influence on British ballet, both as a dancer and teacher.

The Red Shoes ballet is a resounding success and Lermontov revitalizes the company's repertoire with Vicky in the lead roles and Julian tasked with composing new scores. In the meantime, Vicky and Julian have fallen in love, but keep their relationship secret from Lermontov. Lermontov begins to have personal feelings toward Vicky; he resents the romance between her and Julian after learning of it. The impresario fires Julian; Vicky leaves the company with him. They marry and live in London, where Julian works on composing a new opera.

Original publicity still for the film "The Red Shoes". From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives. Original publicity still for the film "The Red Shoes." From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives.jpg
Original publicity still for the film "The Red Shoes". From The Red Shoes (1948) Collection at Ailina Dance Archives.

Some time later whilst travelling, Vicky receives a visit from Lermontov, who convinces her to return to the company to dance a revival of The Red Shoes. On opening night, Julian appears in her dressing room; he has left the première of his opera at Covent Garden to find her and take her back. Lermontov arrives; he and Julian contend for Vicky's affections, each one arguing that her true destiny is with him only. Torn between her love for Julian and her need to dance, she eventually chooses the latter.

Julian, realising that he has lost her, leaves for the railway station; Lermontov consoles Vicky and tries to turn her attention to the evening's performance. Vicky is escorted to the stage wearing the red shoes and, seemingly under their influence, turns and runs from the theatre. Julian, on the platform of the railway station, runs towards her. Vicky jumps from a balcony and falls in front of an approaching train.

Plot inconsistency

When Vicki jumps, she is wearing the red shoes which we saw her wearing as she is preparing in her dressing room, despite the fact that in the performance her character does not put them on until part way through the ballet. Powell and Pressburger themselves discussed this situation [7] and it has been much discussed since. [8] 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. [7]


Shaken, 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.

While lying close to death on a stretcher, Vicky asks Julian to remove the red shoes, just as at the end of The Red Shoes ballet.

"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, her clothes now 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.

Australian ballet star Robert Helpmann choreographed the ballet, played the role of the lead dancer of the Ballet Lermontov and danced the part of the boyfriend. Léonide Massine created his own choreography for his role as the Shoemaker. Brian Easdale composed the original music for the film, including the full ballet of The Red Shoes. Easdale conducted most of the music in the film, except for the Ballet of the Red Shoes, where Sir Thomas Beecham conducted the score and received prominent screen credit. Beecham's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was the featured orchestra for the film. Easdale received the 1948 Academy Award for Best Original Score, the first British film composer so honoured. [9]


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 with 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.



The Red Shoes received positive reviews, [13] but did not at first earn much money in Britain, because the Rank Organisation could not afford to spend much on promotion due to severe financial problems exacerbated by the expense of Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). [14] Also, according to Powell, the Rank Organisation did not understand the artistic merits of the film, [14] and this strain in the relationship between The Archers and the Rank Organisation led to the end of the partnership between them, with The Archers moving to work for Alexander Korda. [7]

However, it became the sixth most popular film at the British box office in 1948. [15] [16]

The film received only a limited release in the U.S., in a 110-week run at a single theatre. [17] In 1948 it earned $2.2 million in US rentals. [18] 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. [19]


Contemporary reviews from ballet critics in the UK and in the US were mixed. Some wrote positively, [20] but others criticised the film for being clichéd and unrealistic. [21] 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 . [14] After the film became a huge success in the U.S., MGM began plans to make a film titled Red Shoes Run Faster with red-haired dancer Lucille Bremer, but quickly scrapped the idea. [22]

The film is particularly known for its cinematography and especially the 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 and The River to be the two most beautiful colour films.

The Red Shoes underwent a complete restoration which took seven years. With fundraising spearheaded by Scorsese and his longtime editor (and Michael Powell's widow), Thelma Schoonmaker, Robert Gitt and Barbara Whitehead completed the restoration at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. [23] This restored version made its debut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, [24] [25] followed soon after by a DVD and Blu-ray release in the UK by ITV DVD as well as screenings at festivals around the world. [26] The digitally restored print has subsequently been released in America by Criterion on DVD & Blu-ray.


Academy Awards

Golden Globes

BAFTA Awards

National Board of Review

Venice Film Festival

Digital restoration

In 2006, digital restoration of the film was undertaken by Warner Bros. Motion Picture Imaging. The digital copies were restored frame-by-frame at Prasad Corporation to remove dirt, tears, scratches and other flaws. The film was restored to its original look. [27] [28] [29]

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 and its 1985 film adaptation as having inspired several of the characters to become dancers.

Ballet adaptation

The film was adapted as a ballet choreographed by Matthew Bourne and premiered in December 2016 in London. The production used music by Bernard Herrmann, including ‘Vertigo’, in place of Brian Easdale’s Oscar-winning score from the 1948 film.

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. The 1952 film The Firebird , directed by Hasse Ekman, is largely an homage to The Red Shoes.

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 Diaghilev was one inspiration for the character of Lermontov. [30] The 2012 novel Letters from Yelena, by British author Guy Mankowski, was reported to have been influenced by the film. [31] In 2013, Korean singer-songwriter IU released Modern Times, which featured the lead single "The Red Shoes", whose lyrics were inspired by the fairy tale, and whose music video was adapted from the film.

See also

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