The Red Shoes (1948)

The Red Shoes has probably been responsible for more little girls (and probably some little boys) wanting to slip on a pair of toe shoes than any other film. Based on a Hans Christian Andersen story, the film tells the story of tyrannical ballet impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), up-and-coming ballerina Victoria Page (Moira Shearer), and the young composer she falls in love with (Marius Goring).

The film is a classic on every level and it all looks splendid under Jack Cardiff’s color cinematography. But it was Brian Easdale’s Oscar-winning score that raised the barre.

Though there are a couple of jazz source cues for restaurants and nightclubs (provided by Kenny Baker) and excerpts from famous ballets (including Swan Lake, Les Syllphides and Giselle), it is Easdale’s “Red Shoes Ballet” that is the focal point of the score. And when we get there, it is glorious.

It is fascinating to hear snippets of the ballet music throughout the film and hear how they all fit together in the seventeen-minute ballet. Shearer recalled in an interview that it was “exotic strange music, a quite advanced modernistic score. But good to dance to, and written with great rhythmic feeling.”

Aware of his own limitations, Easdale asked his producers to approach Sir Thomas Beecham to conduct the orchestra when the score was recorded, believing that the film would be better served by his superior skills. Beecham was impatient of the filmmaking process and simply came to the studio to record the music and left it to the dancers and director to make sure that they danced and filmed to HIS account of the music.

Staccato woodwinds and pizzicato strings convey the mystery of the red shoes. The music takes on a lilting quality when Vicky happily tries on the shoes for the first time. Also memorable is the love music and the chorale used for the funeral sequence.

At the emotional climax of the ballet as Victoria sees the figure of the ballet master (Leonide Massine) turns into Lermontov and then Julian (Goring), the eerie sound of the ondes martennot (which sounds much like a theremin) swoops up to the rafters, conveying the character’s confusion and madness.

Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly have stated that the ballet served as one of the inspirations for their own ballet at the end of An American in Paris three years later. In fact, if you compare the two, there are certain movements of people and camera angles that match and Easdale’s music even has touch of Gershwin here and there.

Though there are other scores nominated in 1948 that delve more into character and situation, there is no denying the impact of Easdale’s music on the The Red Shoes. The score also won a Golden Globe.


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