Sweat lacquered, brow furrowing, thirsty dudes are on the hunt to destroy everyone’s careers, even their own, in Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 classic, The Red Shoes. Moira Shearer’s Victoria Page is an exquisitely talented dancer, genuine human being, and fearless artist. All she wants to do is perform with the famed Ballet Lermontov, but the self-involved owner of the troupe (Boris Lermontov as played by the fabulously pithy Anton Walbrook) has ulterior motives — as most older, powerful men do.
Boris is the worst kind of person. Even though he’s clearly middle-aged in the film, he carries the very venerable and established male personality trait of “nice-guy-with-hidden-agendas.” This garbage water psyche was as prevalent in 1948 as it is on college campuses in 2017. Right now, there’s some dude at Northeastern named Bryant who is literally Boris Lermontov: Replace the foppish businessman mustache with an affable “I, like, seriously want to be your friend” haircut, and it’s the same person.
The lesser of the two evils is Julian Craster (Marius Goring), an inexperienced – but talented – composer at the Lermontov Ballet. Craster is headstrong, vehemently indignant, and mistakenly taken as a romantic dude because he’s persistent. For some reason, Moira Shearer’s character falls in love with him, even though he repeatedly tells her when she should go to bed for work. Evidently, the “well, actually” was the pinnacle of romance in 1948.
The male characters are pretty exhausting, self-absorbed, and unrelentingly carnal. And despite the movie centering around an indescribably wonderful Moira Shearer, the film still fails the Bechdel test. Like, badly. But Powell and Pressburger aren’t hiding the salivating fangs of the men in the film. There’s some commentary here, even if it’s not fully developed. The real and only star of the film is Shearer. She hits every note, expression, and landing with nuanced – and sometimes theatrical – detail. Flowing behind her seamless pirouettes are shocks of reds, bulbs of blues, and crescents of whites. The colors in this film are absolutely gorgeous. Each shade envelopes, slightly shadows, or perfectly mantles the cast’s every movement. There isn’t a useless frame in The Red Shoes. The crescendos of violins crash against the belly of hot oranges and soft purples. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff was in his wheelhouse for this film. It is, quite honestly, one of the most beautiful movies you’re likely to ever see.
The Red Shoes will stand the test of time for its lithe choreography, inspired costumes, and atypically sad ending — the climax of the film probably had American audiences saying “wat?” into their super oily bag of popcorn. Moira Shearer pushes every chip to the center of the table, kicks her feet up and commits to the film with a devil-may-care lilt. She wasn’t nominated for the movie, weirdly, but the picture did pick up well deserved production design and best original score Oscars. If the opportunity arises, make sure to watch The Red Shoes for the colors and dance numbers alone. It is an experience. Author’s note: Whatever happens, please do not remake this film with Rob Marshall in 2018. I beg of you.