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Submitted by Neal Lofthouse
What do we say about 'Hoffmann'?
Picturegoer's leader column
Nov 24th 1951
The "Tales of Hoffmann" goes on trial next week. Is it entertainment?
What are we picturegoers going to think about 'The Tales of Hoffmann', by the time that sprawling, colourful mixture of ballet and opera has got well into its local cinema tour, which starts next week?
Make no mistake. To film lovers this is an important question about an expensive, and in some ways important, film. Much depends on the answer picturegoers provide.
'Hoffmann' is vast, earnest and rather self-conscious in its own cleverness. It is a picture which lacks warmth, but has a rather arrogant efficiency.
It is very long and very different from most films. It plays out the Offenbach opera in three lengthy instalments, in which the ballet dancers appear to do the singing.
The voices are, in fact, supplied by operatic stars who are never seen on the screen. [Apart from Robert Rounseville as Hoffmann & Anne Ayars as Antonia] So the mood of each character in the film consists of not one player but two - the dancer in front of the camera and the singer on the soundtrack.
This device is in some ways effective and in others it defeats its own purpose. For the illusion is shattered by the blast of the profesional voices. No one can believe that the elvin Shearer - who is spotlighted on page eleven - can sing with such gusto as she dances at such speed. [Especially when she forgets to mime when the footwork gets tricky]
The unkind can say the idea of singing dancers is unreal. [and thus is dismissed the whole of the "musical" genre :) ]
But there is much that is good in this rather unusual and rather top-heavy picture. Some of the dancing is lovely. Some of the Technicolor is highly imaginative, and the colour itself is used for dramatic effects in place of mere furnishings and properties. But equally, some of the colour is merely strident, and at times the film has an opulence about it that is quite vulgar.
'Hoffmann' started off with a great rush after a provocative handling from the critics. It then settled down for a long run in London. Tried out in the provinces it did much better than some people expected.
There was a move to shear it of some of its long hair by cutting out the entire third sequence of its trilogy. This was abandoned.
The probability is that the 'Hoffmann' they will offer us next week is the one at which so many critics gasped, possibly a litttle shortened, possibly at full length.
Now comes the test. Will picturegoers see this lordly piece as the logical successor to 'The Red Shoes', or will they turn from the noise and glamour and sigh for a quiet little film that doesn't try to be all things to all people?
The question can be summed up in one sentence. Is 'Hoffmann' entertainment as millions today understand that word?