The Red Shoes

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Helpmann, Shearer and Massine in The Red Shoes.


The Red Shoes (1948) is a film by the British-based director-writer team of Powell & Pressburger.

The inventive, self-referential plot of this film tells the story of a young ballerina forced to perform in a ballet called The Red Shoes, based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen about a woman who cannot stop dancing. The film stars Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring and Moira Shearer. It was adapted by Powell and Pressburger, with additions by Keith Winter and (uncredited) Marius Goring. The script by Pressburger was originally written for Alexander Korda as a vehicle for Korda's future wife Merle Oberon. After some years had passed with no film having been made, Powell and Pressburger bought the script back, rewrote it to make it a more heavyweight affair and include more dancing, and made it themselves.


To create such a realistic idea of a ballet company at work and to be able to include a 15 minute ballet as the high point of the film, Powell & Pressburger decided to create a ballet company of over 50 dancers. They decided early on that they had to use dancers who could act rather than actors who could dance a bit.

The principal dancers were Robert Helpmann (who also choreographed the main ballet), Léonide Massine, Ludmilla Tchérina and Moira Shearer.

Subsequent history

The film didn't do very well at first in the UK, not because it wasn't liked, more because the Rank Organisation had severe financial problems exacerbated by the expense of Caesar and Cleopatra (1945) by Gabriel Pascal so they could afford to promote it very well. The financial directors also didn't understand a film about the importance of art such as The Red Shoes. It did reasonable business in the UK and was liked by the public. But when it was released in the USA it was only after an independent US distributor showed it for an unbroken 110 week run in an off Broadway theater (The Bijou) that Universal realised that it was a worthwhile film after all. Universal took over the US distribution in 1951. Since then it has continued to be one of the highest earning British films of all time.

When it was first previewed a lot of ballet critics (in the UK and in the USA) wrote very good reviews about it, pleased to see ballet portrayed so well on screen. But when they realised that it was universally popular their reviews suddenly became quite dismissive of the film.

The Red Shoes led to quite a few other films being able to treat ballet and dance seriously. It was only after he made the studio executives watch The Red Shoes a few times that Gene Kelly was able to include the ballet in An American in Paris.

Song and album

There is also a song and an album called The Red Shoes by Kate Bush, in reference to the film.


There was also a Broadway musical The Red Shoes by Jule Styne, author of classics like Funny Girl and Gypsy. The Gershwin Theatre, New York City, showed this musical. Steve Barton played the main role of the ballet impresario Boris Lermontov. Margaret Illmann played the role of Victoria Page, the dance star in this great piece. The choreography was given the Astaire Award of the Theatre Development Fund. The premiere was on Thursday, December 16th, 1993. The musical, after 51 previews, closed after 5 performances.

External links

Template:Powell and Pressburgerde:The Red Shoes


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