Eagle-Lion Films

The Red Shoes (1948, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger)

Well. What an incredibly unfortunate experience. The Red Shoes contains twenty of the most beautiful minutes ever put on film, the ballet sequence. It’s a visual feast–the film must be awe-inspiring on the big screen. The story, however, is awful. For a film with a fifty-two minute (of 134 minutes) first act, the idea of constructing a metaphor for The Red Shoes, Hans Christian Anderson’s story, amid a film about a production of a ballet of the same story… It’s incredibly unsuccessful. The final act is silly.

With The Tales of Hoffmann, the Archers just made an opera. They made a filmic opera. Maybe they couldn’t get the money to do a filmic ballet, but that’s all they really wanted to do with this film. The “real” moments still retain the surreal filmmaking techniques of the ballet sequence. Given this method, along with Marius Goring’s terrible performance–and utter lack of chemistry with female lead Moira Shearer (who’s passable, but obviously not an actress), the film is tedious at best.

Anton Walbrook is good as the Svengali ballet producer, I suppose, but he’s playing a type, but a character. There are deep character in this film. When, at the fifty-two minute mark, there’s an attempt at adding a layer to The Red Shoes, it’s so out of place you can see it grappling with the film’s existing structure. Amusingly, both Walbrook and Goring are eye-brow actors. Except Goring can’t do it and no one ever told him. In fact, Goring’s doing an Ernest Thesiger imitation (the Bride of Frankenstein mad scientist). In Tales of Hoffmann, someone else did a Thesiger imitation.

The film–for much of it–is incredibly well-made, incredibly beautiful to look at (again, it all comes apart in the third act, even if the Archers thought it was good stuff, it’s hard to package bullshit). It’s also an amazingly influential film. Bob Fosse lifted quite a bit for Cabaret, but the facehugger (!) from Alien is in here too. And Mel Brooks duplicated a scene here in Young Frankenstein–on closer examination, Gene Wilder’s whole performance in that film seems based on Walbrook’s here.

So, for the second time this month, the Archers failed me. Besides Powell’s Peeping Tom, I haven’t seen anything of their 1950s and after work… except They’re a Weird Mob, which was awful. I guess I’m not upset, because most of the film is watchable (if boring), it’s just that the Archers’ films usually are great. I never thought one (or two or three) wouldn’t be just as great.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger; screenplay by Powell and Pressburger, based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson; director of photography, Jack Cardiff; edited by Reginald Mills; music by Brian Easdale; released by Eagle-Lion Distributors.

Starring Anton Walbrook (Boris Lermontov), Marius Goring (Julian Craster), Moira Shearer (Victoria Page), Robert Helpmann (Ivan Boleslawsky), LΓ©onide Massine (Grischa Ljubov), Albert Bassermann (Sergei Ratov), Ludmilla TchΓ©rina (Irina Boronskaja), Esmond Knight (Livingstone ‘Livy’ Montagne), Jean Short (Terry Tyler) and Gordon Littmann (Ike Tanner).


Dead of Night (1945, Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer)

Dead of Night is an Ealing anthology from 1945. I don’t know where it fits in the history of anthology films–films composed of a number of shorts, with or without a “bridging” sequence to tie them–because I’m not particularly familiar with the genre. I saw Dead of Night because movielens recommended it, recommended it a little too highly.

The four short films that comprise Dead of Night are fine, some quite good. There’s a disturbing ventriloquist one, starring an excellent Michael Redgrave, and a gentle premonition one about a race car driver. The first two stories don’t take up as much time as the second two, since the first half of the film is also establishing the “bridging” story. It’s not enough to have four short films playing one after the other, Dead of Night tries to wrap a fifth story around the others….

The film fails because of that fifth story. It’s predictable and, by today’s standards, relatively cheap. Though maybe not. I mean, Memento was cheap and no one thought so, so maybe Dead of Night has just as much fictive merit as it did back in 1945. But it doesn’t deserve the merit, because it’s cheap. My dread of the anthology film–especially one with bridging scenes–is that the characters are going to be secondary. Dead of Night realized that fear. The characters are all thin, though amiably played by all the actors, and there’s no depth to the film. It’s a collection of some–mildly–uncanny stories and it’s mildly amusing. If it had been just a little bit better, I wouldn’t feel like I stayed up late to scare myself for nothing. It didn’t even scare me.

1.5/4β˜…Β½

CREDITS

Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer; screenplay by John Baines, Angus MacPhail and T.E.B. Clarke, based on stories by H.G. Wells, E.F. Benson, Baines and MacPhail; directors of photography, Jack Parker, Stanley Pavey and Douglas Slocombe; edited by Charles Hasse; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Eagle-Lion Films.

Starring Mervyn Johns (Walter Craig), Roland Culver (Eliot Foley), Frederick Valk (Dr. van Straaten), Anthony Baird (Hugh Grainger), Google Withers (Joan Cortland), Michael Redgrave (Maxwell Frere), Sally Ann Howes (Sally O’Hara), Judy Kelly (Joyce Grainger), Ralph Michael (Peter Cortland), Hartley Power (Sylvester Kee), Barbara Leake (Mrs. O’Hara), Mary Merrall (Mrs. Foley), Elisabeth Welch (Beulah), Miles Malleson (Hearse Driver) and Johnny Maguire (Dummy).


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