With the 1940s came the emergence of colour cinema with different directors attempting to utilise the new medium in exciting ways. The Red Shoes was one film that utilised coloured film to full effect by using it to give relevance to the story and in particular the movie’s titular footwear.
The plot itself centres around three characters – aspiring ballet star Vicky Page, ruthless ballet owner Boris Lemantov and naive composer and orchestra coach Julian. The first is almost divided equally into two halves, the first half focuses on Vicky and Julian separately as they try to get to the top of their professions and are occasionally looked down on. Lemantov is able to see potential in Vicky following her performance in Swan Lake and at the same time develops feelings for her. When he loses his prima ballerina he invites Vicky on the road and casts her as the lead in the new Red Shoes ballet, the music for which is being written by Julian. When Julian and Vicky’s paths cross for the first time they begin to quarrel but then they fall in love. What I would consider the second half of the film follows the performance of the Red Shoes Ballet where Lemantov discovers the relationship and gets rid of Julian from the company in a way to have Vicky all to himself but Vicky decides to go London with Julian and marry him but Lemantov owns the rights to The Red Shoes and will not let her perform it again. Later on Lemantov and Vicky meet again and he convinces her to take part in his revival of The Red Shoes, Julian abandons the opening night of his new opera to be with her but Lemantov makes him realise that her one true love is dancing. Just as she is about to go on she impulsively runs away to the train station where Julian is and jumps from a bridge into the path of a train. Vicky has Julian remove The Red Shoes from her while Lemantov announces Vicky’s death to the audience waiting for her but the show goes on with a spotlight in her place.
What I love about The Red Shoes is the attention to detail that the theatrical sets are given, from the very first scene in which students burst in to see the latest production to the red shoes ballet itself the set and costume designers are able to play around with the colour schemes beautifully, down to the haunting red of Vicky’s shoes. The Red Shoes Ballet itself takes up about 15 minutes of the overall runtime and works beautifully as we are shown why Vicky loves dancing so much. For a film that looks and sounds amazing there’s no surprise that it won the Oscars for Best Score and Best Set Design. The acting itself isn’t at all bad Norma Shearer puts in a spirited turn as Vicky while Anton Walbrook also shines as the morally ambiguous Lemontov. Despite these few niggles, The Red Shoes is a wonderfully accomplished film and is one that still dazzles over sixty years after it was made.