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.
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), Léonide Massine (Grischa Ljubov), Albert Bassermann (Sergei Ratov), Ludmilla Tchérina (Irina Boronskaja), Esmond Knight (Livingstone ‘Livy’ Montagne), Jean Short (Terry Tyler) and Gordon Littmann (Ike Tanner).