Criterion Review: THE RED SHOES

One of the most beautiful films ever made gets 4K treatment

Moira Shearer in THE RED SHOES.

Criterion recently released a combo 4K/BluRay package of Powell and Pressburger’s classic of Technicolor and ballet, The Red Shoes. Did I jump at the chance to review it even though I already owned the previous DVD released from Criterion? You bet. The British production has been a favorite of mine since I first viewed it as a teen on TCM; the vibrancy of the Technicolor plus the doomed romance at the center of the work drew me in at first sight.

Moira Shearer, a professional ballerina who had to be strongly convinced to try acting in film, plays Vicki, a young woman whose dream is to dance under moody Russian artistic director Lermontov (Austrian actor Anton Wolbrook, La Ronde, The Life & Death of Colonel Blimp). She joins his London corps de ballet at the same time as naive composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring, A Matter of Life & Death) is hired. Their lives move in a sort of parallel trajectory as they come to feature largely in Lermontov’s adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Red Shoes: Craster writing and conducting the score as Vicki is lead ballerina in its premiere.

Anton Wolbrook in THE RED SHOES.

Where other movies would show bits and pieces of a work, here’s where The Red Shoes throws in a full ballet, pre-dating American films that would do something similar, like An American in Paris or Singin’ in the Rain. The masterful cinematography by Jack Cardiff takes the viewer into a sort of creepy dreamscape, where newspapers come to life, knives turn into twigs, and the girl wearing the red shoes cannot stop dancing to save her life.

Themes of creation, ownership and obsession run through Powell and Pressburger’s 1948 film, with Vicki stuck in the middle as Craster fights for her heart and Lermontov yearns for her soul (or at least the soul shown through her art). “You cannot have it both ways,” Lermontov comments to his choreographer as Vicki eavesdrops. Given the foreshadowing of Craster and Vicki flirting surrounded by a cloud of steam as a train passes under them, the haunting, screechy composition by Craster that plays under a pivotal moment between him and Vicki, or the tragedy imbued in Andersen’s original tale, the tragic ending to The Red Shoes isn’t too much of a shock — but that doesn’t make the work any less of a wonder to view. The clarity and beauty of the 2009 restoration is especially undeniable in this new edition.

The special features included with this 4K/BluRay combo pack from Criterion:

  • 4K UHD of the 2009 digital restoration presented in Dolby Vision HDR (along with the BluRay with the film and special features on it)
  • an audio commentary track (from 1994) led by film scholar Ian Christie which includes pieces of interviews with fan Martin Scorsese, performers Moira Shearer and Marius Goring, composer Brian Easdale and celebrated cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Shearer talks about her casting process, Goring shares about his “conducting” experience, Easdale comments on the influences on his scoring, Cardiff discusses his Technicolor training, and Christie adds some dry bits of film history.
  • an audio track of actor Jeremy Irons reading excerpts from the later Powell/Pressburger novelization of The Red Shoes and Andersen’s original story
  • A photo gallery of Scorsese’s collection of memorabilia for the film
  • Notes on the 2009 restoration and a demonstration/comparison video led by Scorsese
  • a 2009 documentary on the making of the film, A Profile of “The Red Shoes”
  • a 1949 animated film, The “Red Shoes” Sketches, which uses storyboards created by designer Hein Heckroth for the Powell/Pressburger movie
Previous post The Austin Film Critics Association Announce their 2021 Award Winners
Next post Arrow Heads #93: Unboxing SHAWSCOPE Volume 1