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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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I went to see this with Leonard Boucher, one of the many uncredited dancers in the corps de ballet. Leonard's wife Helene Mladova was in TRS as well. Leonard was also in Tales of Hoffmann. - Steve

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Producers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Screenplay: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Additional Dialogue: Keith Winter
Based on the original screenplay by: Emeric Pressburger
Based on a story by: Hans Christian Andersen
Director of photography: Jack Cardiff
Editor: Reginald Mills
Production Designer: Hein Heckroth
Music/ Music Arranger / Conductor: Brian Easdale

Marius Goring (Julian Craster)
Jean Short (Terry)
Gordon Littman (Ike)
Julia Lang (a balletomane)
Bill Shine (a balletomane's mate)
Léonide Massine (Grischa Ljubov)
Anton Walbrook (Boris Lermontov)
Austin Trevor (Professor Palmer)
Esmond Knight (Livingstone 'Livy' Montague)
Erie Berry (Dimitri)
Irene Browne (Lady Neston)
Moira Shearer (Victoria Page)
Ludmilia Tcherina (Irina Boronskaja)
Jerry Verno (George, stage door keeper)
Robert Helpmann (Ivan Boleslawsky)
Albert Bassermann (Ratov)
Derek Elphinstone (Lord Oldham)
Madame Rambert (herself)
Joy Rawlins (Gladys, Vicky's friend)
Marcel Poncin (M. Boudin)
Michael Bazalgette (M. Rideaut)
Yvonne André (Vicky's dresser)
Hay Petrie (Boison)
Alan Carter (solo dancer / assistant maître de ballet)
Joan Harris (solo dancer / assistant maîtresse de ballet)
Joan Sheldon, Paula Dunning, Bryan Ashbridge,
Denis Carey, Lynne Dorval, Helen Ffrance,
Robert Dorning, Eddie Gaillard, Paul Hammond,
Tommy Linden, Trisha Linova, Anna Marinova,
Guy Massey, John Regan, Peggy Sager,
Ruth Sendler
(dancers (The Ballet of The Red Shoes))
Hilda Gaunt
(accompanist (The Ballet of The Red Shoes))
Richard George (doorman) *

Production Companies: Archers Film Productions,
Independent Producers,
J. Arthur Rank Film Productions
Assistant Producer: George R. Busby
Production Assistant: Gwladys Jenks *
Production Secretary: Marjorie Mein *
Assistant Director: Sydney S. Streeter
2ndAssistant Director: Kenneth Rick *
3rd Assistant Director: J.M. Gibson *
Continuity: Doreen North
Assistant Continuity: Joanna Busby *
Colour Consultant: Natalie Kalmus
Associate Colour Consultant: Joan Bridge
Camera Operator: Christopher Challis
Technicolor Composite Photography:
F. George Gunn, E. Hague
Focus Puller: George Minassian *
Clapper Loaders: Bob Kindred, John Morgan *
Stills: George Cannon *
Assistant Stills: Alistair Phillips *
Special Stills: Cornel Lucas *
Liaison Editor: John Seabourne Jr.
Assistant Editor: Noreen Ackland *
2nd Assistant Editors:
Tony Haynes, Laurie Knight *
Art Director: Arthur Lawson
Assistant Art Director: Elven Webb *
Don Picton, V.B. Wilkins, V. Shaw, Alan Withy,
G. Heavens, Bernard Goodwin *
Painting: Ivor Beddoes
Special: Joseph Natanson
Scenic Artist: Alfred Roberts
Miss Shearer's Dresses: Jacques Fath, Mattli
Mile Tcherina's Dresses: Carven
Wardrobe: Dorothy Edwards, Elsie Withers *
Masks: Terence Morgan II *
Make-up supervisor: Ernie Gasser *
Make-up: Eric Carter *
Music of Cafe de Paris Sequence:
Ted Heath's Kenny Baker Swing Group
Music Played by: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Aria Sung by: Margherita Grandi
The Red Shoes Ballet Sequence Conductor:
Thomas Beecham
Music Recording: Ted Drake
Choreographer of the ballet the Red Shoes:
Robert Helpmann
Part of the Shoemaker Created / Danced by:
Léonide Massine
Sound: Charles Poulton
Boom operator: Al Burton *
Dubbing: Gordon McCullum
Dubbing Editor: Leonard Trumm *

United Kingdom 1948
136 mins

* Uncredited
The Last Nitrate Picture Show The Red Shoes

This nitrate print comes from the bfi's National Film and Television Archive.

There have been other movies that espoused art for art's sake, but most were for specialised audiences; The Red Shoes' melodramatic treatment of ballet managed to touch a vast public.

Prior to the film's realisation, director Michael Powell and writer-producer Emeric Pressburger had established an independent company called The Archers. Separately, both men did excellent work; together they were a superb team. The duo had earned extravagant praise for the 1946 films A Matter of Life and Death (released in the U.S. as Stairway to Heaven) and Black Narcissus. Pressburger had written The Red Shoes in 1939 for Alexander Korda as a vehicle for Korda's star and future wife, Merle Oberon. During May of 1946, The Archers bought the script for £9,000 and Pressburger rewrote it as a darker, heavier yarn.

During the project's planning stages at Pinewood Studios, the film's art direction was assigned to Alfred Junge, the great German designer responsible for the superb decor of most previous Archer productions. However, Powell decided that Junge's style was too stolid for the ballet sequence. Without informing Junge, he assigned the ballet sequence to Hein Heckroth, a German artist previously hired by Junge to design costumes and title art for A Matter of Life and Death and Black Narcissus. When Junge became privy to this reassignment, he walked off the production. Heckroth inherited the whole show, with art director Arthur Lawson at his side to provide technical know-how.

Assigned to compose a ballet 'of concert hall quality' was Allan Gray, another past Archers contributor. He was unable to deliver the sort of music the producers had in mind, though, and his work was eventually scrapped. Replacing Gray was Brian Easdale, 38, who had scored Black Narcissus and whose first opera was produced when he was 17. In addition, Easdale conducted all of the score save for the ballet, which he insisted should be conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, who recorded the soundtrack with the Royal Philharmonic.

To depict the joys and terrors of artistic creation required a strong cast and brilliant artists; the film-makers had to form their own ballet troupe and envision a unique world. The Australian choreographer Robert Helpmann, a premier danseur at Sadler's Wells and leading actor at the Old Vic, portrayed Boleslawsky and choreographed the ballet. The legendary Léonide Massine, protégé of the great Sergei Diaghilev and producer-choreographer of numerous ballets, was secured to portray Ljubov, as well as to create and dance the role of the Shoemaker. Dominating the acting is Austrian Anton Walbrook, an international star who gives an unforgettable performance as the almost satanic but ultimately vulnerable Lermontov. Popular assumption holds that Lermontov is based on the tyrannical Russian ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, who died in 1929. Powell and Pressburger both insisted that Lermontov had a bit of Diaghilev in him, but in reality he was more a combination of Alexander Korda, Powell and Pressburger - perhaps with an added dash of Svengali.

The other male lead of the dramatic triangle was oddly cast. Not only was Marius Goring considerably older than the character of Julian Craster, but the actor was famous for his stage and screen portrayals of homicidal psychopaths. Nevertheless, he does a remarkable job as a romantic lead. The film's other players proved equally adept. The great 80-year-old German star, Albert Basserman, brings a realistic presence as the designer, Ratov. Esmond Knight, a pre-war romantic actor partially blinded during his tenure as an officer aboard the ill-fated H.M.S. Prince of Wales - amid the battle in which the Nazi sea-raider Bismarck was sunk [Not quite, when the Bismarck first broke out through the Denmark Strait she was challenged by HMS Hood & HMS Prince of Wales. The Bismarck sank the Hood with nearly all hands. The Prince of Wales got a few good shots in that did some damage & it was during this exchange that Esmond was blinded. The Bismarck was then hunted down over the next few days by a large section of the Royal Navy.] - is excellent as the conductor, Livy. [A playboy baronet - not really based on Sir Thomas Beecham of course <G> ] The beauty and talent of Ludmilla Tcherina, star ballerina of the Monte Carlo Ballet, are strong assets to her role as a dancer named Boronskaja.

In terms of acting, however, the film's true grandeur was provided by the radiant thespian who took the part of the ballerina: Moira Shearer.

Powell discovered his 20-year-old star early in 1946. Shearer was a beautiful red-headed Scot who belonged to the Royal Ballet. Fiercely dedicated to her art, she had no interest in movies, and rejected The Red Shoes because the script -was too unlike the real ballet world. For nearly a year, the producers tried to persuade her, while Mme. Ninette de Valois, the founder and head of the Royal Ballet, insisted that she remain with their company. Powell considered using Ann Todd or Hazel Court with real dancers doubling the ballet scenes, but Helpmann, Pressburger and Heckroth dissuaded him from doing so.

Suddenly, Shearer relented; fed up with Powell's bothersome visits, Mme. de Valois had asked her to accept the offer and then return to the ballet post haste. She performed a screen test in May 1947, and began work on the film the following month.

Principal photography of The Red Shoes commenced on 5 June 1947, at the Gare de Lyon in Paris. After a week, the company moved to the south of France, where Powell and Pressburger searched the coastline between Monte Carlo and Nice for a setting that resembled Heckroth's sketches of Lermontov's villa. They found their site in the Villa Leopolda, near Villefranche, which was approached via the long, weed-choked stairway ascended by Victoria Page in the film.

Shearer arrived at Monte Carlo in late June. One Saturday night she left the stage at Covent Garden, boarding a plane the following morning to make a four a.m. makeup call on Monday. An hour later, she was on-set for her first scene: Victoria's death on the train tracks. Shearer had to lie for hours under the Mediterranean sun, partly beneath a train dripping oil onto her. A battery of huge silver reflectors amplified the heat and glare, causing the actress to suffer a sunburn and sore eyes. When she was placed on the rubber stretcher, which had lain in the sun, her back became blistered. Needless to say, Shearer's first day before the camera did little to improve her attitude toward movies.

Shearer executed the close shots of her death leap at Monte Carlo, doing three takes as she jumped onto a concealed box. (Joy Rawlings was her double her for the long shots.) On one take, Shearer tottered forward and nearly fell. Much later, at Pinewood, she played the scene in which she is shown falling through empty space. Refusing to be doubled, she jumped headlong from a 15-foot parapet onto two mattresses placed over hay. During the first take, she landed on her head and shoulder with no harm done; on take two, however, she struck headfirst and wrenched her neck quite badly.

Upon returning to London, the company filmed exteriors at Covent Garden, beginning workdays at 7 a.m. Posters announcing the Lermontov Ballet were mounted over the Sadler's Wells Ballet signs. Soon thereafter a queue formed, with patrons waiting for the box office to open! Photos and drawings were made of the stage door on Flower Street, which was duplicated in detail at Pinewood.

Jack Cardiff, BSC, who had just won an Academy Award for his Technicolor photography on The Archers' Black Narcissus, was the obvious choice to film The Red Shoes. [Ed. note: Mr. Cardiff was also a member of the ASC at the time, but later withdrew from the organization because he primarily worked in Britain.] When Powell initially asked Cardiff how much he liked ballet, however, the cameraman replied, "Not much. It's so precious all those sissies prancing about." Nonetheless, Powell sent him to Covent Garden every night to watch performances of the Sadler's Wells Ballet Company, and Cardiff soon became intrigued by the possibilities of a ballet film.

"Michael was a cameraman's dream," Cardiff wrote in his autobiographical book Magic Hour. "He nearly always accepted any ideas I put forth with enthusiastic support. He very rarely dithered or had doubts about things. Like all good minds, he possessed a nervous vitality."

After completion of The Red Shoes, the American-born Cardiff [No he wasn't, he was born in Yarmouth, England] offered a London reporter the following comparison regarding the differing types of Technicolor offered on either side of the Atlantic: 'As a member of the American Society of Cinematographers, I wish I could say Hollywood's Technicolor is better than Britain's, but unfortunately, such is not always the case. For several years the British studios' Technicolor has surpassed Hollywood's in many respects. I attribute this superiority not to any greater proficiency or artistry of British cameramen but, oddly enough, to the recent World War. The war-induced coal shortage in England forced rationing of electrical power ... Since Technicolor requires more intense illumination than does black-and-white, many studios eliminated colour photography altogether, but a few struggled on under rationing conditions.

'To the surprise of everyone, Technicolor was improved by, the reduced lighting,' he added. 'Instead of blatant, glaring colours, the underlit film produced soft, pleasing pastel tints. I used the same technique in shooting The Red Shoes, and to good advantage, particularly in recording the beauty of lovely Moira Shearer ... and the gorgeous settings by Hein Heckroth.'

Because many of the picture's interiors were of considerable scope, the 150-amp lights available in England proved insufficient, so Cardiff went to Hollywood to confer with lighting experts. Peter Mole, of Mole-Richardson, told him that M-R had just made a powerful 225-amp arc lamp with a wide beam "the Brute," a name which persists even today. Two prototypes had been built, but the light was not ready for marketing. Cardiff persuaded Mole to ship the prototypes to England, and the Brute made its highly successful debut in The Red Shoes.

Such an abundance of light, however, created another problem: a spotlight would be needed for the ballet sequences, but at the time, there was no spot of sufficient power to register as such through the general lighting of a scene. Conferences with Mole and lens manufacturer Taylor Hobson Cooke led to the design of a new water-cooled, 300-amp spot that could place 1,200 footcandles on a subject some 100 feet away.

Christopher Challis, a distinguished lighting cameraman in his own right (whose credits would later include The Archers' subsequent 1951 picture The Tales of Hoffmann), temporarily demoted himself to operate the camera for Cardiff on The Red Shoes. 'It was a decision I never regretted, for the picture turned out to be one of the most memorable I have ever had the privilege of working on,' Challis says in his book Are They Really So Awful?

Cardiff and Challis experimented together and separately with camera speeds, filters, and means of manipulating the cumbersome Technicolor camera more freely. During a 'Swan Lake' scene in the film, the camera actually spins to show Vicki's point of view as she executes a pirouette.

The 'Ballet of the Red Shoes' itself is an intricately tooled 17-minute sequence played without an audience reaction cut. The ballet was filmed last and took six weeks to shoot. The hard-driven cast and crew were given a welcome two-week vacation in mid-August while the dancers rehearsed in a London studio and the sets and stage effects were prepared. A scratch on Shearer's side developed an abscess, requiring minor surgery and several days of hospitalisation.

Six months before production, Heckroth began working on his sets day and night under a daylight lamp, drafting some 2,000 sketches. For the ballet, he painted 120 scenes which were then filmed in sequence; Easdale's score was adapted to match the paintings, each of which was held for whatever length was needed. Cardiff and Challis then adapted the camera angles and lighting indicated in the paintings, as the dancers performed to musical playback. Each shot, when completed, replaced the corresponding painting.

In his book, Cardiff notes, 'I had a gadget made to change the camera speeds during a scene so I could go from normal speed to double speed [48 fps]. This was used to great effect when a dancer leapt in the air; just before the apex of flight, I slowed the action for a fraction of a second, so that they appeared to hover in the air. I changed speed with pirouettes so that a dancer would start off at normal speed and then, as I changed the speed to only four frames a second, whirl faster and faster until she was only a spinning blur. This [technique] became highly successful in what was called "The Paper Dance" with Moira.'

Other effects were achieved through similarly simple techniques. A shift from day to night resulted from multiple dissolves between five background paintings. The gigantic falling leaves in one sequence were actually bits of cellophane dropped from wires into a set fashioned from transparent sheets.

The stage-set scene of the auditorium being engulfed by huge waves was accomplished by doubling a shot of the raging sea at Cornwall over the studio set, which was augmented with a glass painting.

One particular painting reveals Shearer dancing through space. Towering mountains appear in the background, along with several other ranges in the distance; bizarre, multi-coloured wisps twist past in the foreground. Each of the mountain ranges and clouds were painted on separate glass sheets, in front of which was a flat glass water tank; chemicals that created streaks and trails without clouding the water were dropped from various heights into the tank. A shot of Shearer suspended on wires was photographed separately. In post-production, the dancer was matted into the scenes by George Gunn, a British Technicolor technician who had developed the Gunnshot travelling-matte process.

In January of 1948, a rough cut of The Red Shoes was screened for Rank Film executives; the top brass hated the film. Pressburger then screened the picture for Korda, who made him a purchasing offer. Rank decided not to sell, and extended completion money on the stipulation that Powell and Pressburger would take a £10,000 reduction in their salaries and an increase in their share of the profits from 25 to 37.5%. Rank representatives later sat silently through a private screening of the final cut and stalked out without a word.

Instead of the planned gala premiere and advanced-price presentation, The Red Shoes was sent into general release. Most London critics thought it a lavish flop. The movie was even angrily denounced at a U.S. screening at Universal-International, which had a releasing agreement with Rank. The 'turkey' was then shunted off to little Eagle Lion Pictures (a Pathé Industries subsidiary partly backed by Rank) which opened the film quietly as a reserved seat attraction at New York's Bijou. Overall, the movie remained in release for two years and seven weeks, and did surprisingly well in its roadshow and popular-price exhibitions as well.

Eventually, The Red Shoes made Variety's 'Golden Fifty' list of the top money-makers of all time, and won Academy Awards for Heckroth, Lawson and Easdale, as well as nominations for Best Picture, Best Story (Pressburger) and Best Film Editing (Reginald Mills). This expressionistic fantasy is now generally regarded as The Archers' greatest triumph.

(extracted from) American Cinematographer, February 1998
You can see the full article here.

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Filmographic Services, bfi National Library.
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