Filmsite Movie Review
The Red Shoes (1948)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

In Paris, France:

The first performance of "Giselle" was advertised on a Parisian street poster - Saturday, May 24th, at 8:30 pm. A dress rehearsal of Act II was posted - to be held at 6:00 pm. In the midst of her performance, prima ballerina Irina Boronskaja abruptly announced her marital engagement, in broken English: "I am fiancee. I get married." Others happily congratulated her, but the news did not sit well with her Svengali-like, authoritarian director Lermontov, who had suddenly vacated the stage without a response. She made a poignant comment: "He has no heart, that man." However, Lermontov sat in darkness in his office - presumably deeply affected by her declaration and feeling that she had wasted herself for love, without full dedication to her art.

During an office meeting with Lermontov, young composer Julian Craster expressed his long-time career goal to move up from coach to main conductor. Lermontov offered him the opportunity to work on an upcoming project - to rewrite the musical score for The Red Shoes (with music by Felipe Bertran), an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale. He described the plot about a young girl overtaken by her obsession to dance in red shoes:

The ballet of The Red Shoes is from the fairy tale by Hans Andersen. 'Tis the story of a girl who's devoured by an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of red shoes. She gets the shoes, goes to the dance -- At first, all goes well and she's very happy. At the end of the evening, she gets tired and wants to go home. But the red shoes are not tired. In fact, the red shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the streets. They dance her over the mountains and valleys through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by. Love rushes by. Life rushes by. But the red shoes dance on.

Craster asked about the ballet's ending: "What happens in the end?" Lermontov matter-of-factly answered:

Oh, in the end, she dies.

Backstage during a performance of Act II of the "Giselle" ballet, Lermontov responded publically to Grischa about Irina's decision to seek romance - his philosophy (designed to be overheard by Vicky) was that an artiste could only be dedicated to one thing, either balletic dance or romance, but not both:

I'm not interested in Boronskaja's form anymore, nor in the form of any other prima ballerina who's imbecile enough to get married...She's out, finished. You cannot have it both ways. The dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love will never be a great dancer. Never.

He added that the only way to overcome romantic feelings, common in "human nature," was to "ignore" them.

At the Paris train station as the Ballet Lermontov Company departed for Monte Carlo, their next tour stop, Lermontov (with dark sunglasses) bid goodbye to Boronskaja without a kiss, and with an emotionless and curt: "Adieu." Grischa assured her: "Well, Irina, now you'll be able to sleep as long as you like and eat sweets all day and go to parties every night." She mentioned further benefits of her dismissal: "And you, now you will be calm. The class wiIl start on time. No more shouting. No more hysteria backstage." The two hugged tearfully as the train pulled away - she waved a sad goodbye with a white handkerchief.

In the Principality of Monte Carlo:

In Monte Carlo, Lermontov introduced Victoria Page to Monsieur Boudin, the Director General of the Opera - a sign that he was grooming Vicky to ascend the ranks as the new prima ballerina after Boronskaja's exit. He compelled her to stay in the troupe's elegant Hotel de Paris, and soon after invited her to meet in the evening after having his chauffeured semi-open car pick her up. She was wearing a flowing, elaborate light-blue party or ball gown with a tiny crown perched on her head. After being delivered to a rented country chateau or villa, she climbed a long series of steep stone stairs (overgrown with weeds) with gorgeous views of Monte Carlo, to meet in a story "conference" with Lermontov and others, including costume design/set director Sergei Ratov (Albert Bassermann). Lermontov announced his new project - The Red Shoes ballet, in which she would be the new star, although he cautioned that the decision to cast her in the lead role was not unanimous:

We are preparing a new ballet and I've decided to give you a chance and let you dance the principal part in it....We shall start work early tomorrow morning.

After Vicky departed, in the company of Lermontov and his crew, Craster continued to propose modifications and changes to the original musical score of The Red Shoes, specifically in the "Church Scene." He also played his new version of "The Dance of the Shoes." Lermontov made new autocratic demands of him for a complete new score with orchestration:

This time, I want you to change everything. I want a new score...You said you wanted to work, didn't you? Then go home and work. I don't want to see your face anywhere until you've finished it.

Both Vicky and Julian met at midnight at that night's party celebration - overjoyed with the news of their mutual advancements for the new ballet. Foreshadowing the film's tragic ending, they overlooked the balcony as an ominous, steam-powered train passed by underneath them. Craster wondered to himself about how they both were becoming bonded together on the verge of greatness:

Julian: I wonder what it feels like to wake up in the morning and find oneself famous.
Vicky: You're not likely to know if you stay here talking much longer. So, good luck.
Julian: (shaking hands) Good luck.

A French-language newspaper blew against Vicky's leg - as she stepped on it, her foot fatefully rested next to a picture of herself and Lermontov.

The selection of the pair of red shoes for the ballet was made from a long line of displayed slippers. During dance rehearsals, Vicky's co-dancer Ivan Boleslawsky (Robert Helpmann) complained about her working too hard - and possibly overshadowing his own performance:

She's putting too much into it... She can't dance everything full out. She ought to know that.

Lermontov was pleased by Vicky's mastery, dedication, and energy for her part: "I know nothing about her charms, and I care less. But I tell you, they won't wait till the end. They'll appIaud in the middle." Grischa was less complimentary:

Miss Page, we are trying to create something of beauty. Might I suggest that while you continue to wave your arms like a scarecrow and bend your knees like an old cart horse, we are unlikely to succeed!

In two weeks' time, the ballet would be opening, and Vicky was experiencing opening-night jitters - she was struggling and finding her role challenging and difficult. But during a lunch break, Lermontov encouraged her to strive even more for perfection: "I hope you'll appear to be finding the whole thing supremeIy simple. And don't forget, a great impression of simplicity can only be achieved by a great agony of body and spirit." He invited both Craster and Vicky to have lunch in his office, where he said he would fully immerse her for two weeks in the ballet's musical score, not realizing that he would bring them closer together to form a relationship:

Mr. Craster is going to play The Red Shoes music for you at every lunch, tea and dinner you take until we open....In this way, you should become quite familiar with the music....The music is all that matters. Nothing but the music.

Julian waxed poetic about his developing score:

And when you're lifted up into the air by your partner, my music will transform you....(into) A flower swaying in the wind. A cloud drifting in the sky. A white bird flying.

She was less imaginative and more worried about opening night - she predicted: "A wall between me and the audience." He turned supportive and asserted: "My music will pulI you through it." The final dress rehearsal for The Red Shoes ballet was scheduled for June 22nd, promptly at 9:30 am, with Julian Craster conducting. He abruptly criticized Vicky's pacing and timing: "Miss Page, I am not a circus conductor, and you are not a horse." Lermontov smiled at Craster's admonitions.

Opening Night: The Red Shoes Ballet

The start of the ballet was prefaced by the flipping of the large pages of the program, with full-page black and white pictures of the principals, and a cast list:

  • The Girl.............................Victoria Page
  • The Shoemaker...............Grigory Ljubov
  • The Boy............................Ivan Boleslawsky

Just before the ballet commenced, Julian burst into Vicky's dressing room to assure her: "Dance whatever tempo you like. I'll follow you." Likewise, when Julian had opening night jitters, Livy encouraged him: "What the devil have you got to worry about? It's a fine score...A magnificent score." The tuxedoed Lermontov surveyed the chaos backstage behind the curtain, as Craster began to direct the orchestra in the playing of the ballet's theme. Vicky, in a white-chiffon tutu with a large blue ribbon in her hair (matching her blue-trimmed bodice), was nervously beside herself: "I can't even remember my first entrance." The impresario calmed her by reminding her of how the music would guide her memory, and he further encouraged her to dance with "ecstasy":

Since you are undoubtedly going to hear the music, it's undoubtedly going to be all right. The music is all that matters and nothing but the music. If I had any doubts about you at all, I should be nervous.... You're not dancing for an audience. You are dancing for Ljubov, Ratov, myself - people for whom you've been dancing many times before. I believed in you from the very beginning. But now everybody does. I want you to dance tonight with the same ecstasy I've seen in you only once before....Yes, at the Mercury Theatre in London on a wet Saturday afternoon....Good luck, my dear.

Both Ivy and Sergei congratulated Lermontov as a "magician": "You're a magician, Boris, to have produced all this in three weeks, and from nothing. Not even the best magician in the world can produce a rabbit out of a hat if there isn't aIready a rabbit in the hat." After taking their box seats, Lermontov predicted: "What we are creating tonight, the whole world will be talking of tomorrow morning."

The Red Shoes Ballet: (17 minutes) - The Movie's Centerpiece

The ballet started from the POV of a member of the audience with an unobstructed view, but then the camera quickly moved on-stage to take a more intimate view. Vicky's beautiful, expressive, and vibrantly-photographed ballet dancing was essentially for two people: Lermontov observing from his box seat on the side, and Julian as the conductor in the orchestra area. The essential sequences included:

  • the introduction of a Shoemaker - a weird, demonic shopkeeper with long, curly-hair, danced in front of his town's shop, with a red pointe shoe/slipper in each hand - [Note: he symbolically represented Lermontov who controlled Vicky with the red shoes.]
  • the introduction of a young Girl, escorted by a Boy - they were enticed to window-shop in front of the store; they both admired the featured 'red shoes' footware on display
  • as the shoes magically glowed, the Girl imagined wearing them - a mirror reflection allowed her to view herself, and she was tempted to have them for herself
  • the Shoemaker brought the shoes out of the shop and put them on the ground, where they stood up by themselves; with a quick jump-cut, she magically jumped into them, and danced in a single spotlight
  • the Shoemaker locked up his shop and joined other dancers in the street; the background changed to different colorful make-believe settings: first, a carnival or circus atmosphere with a roulette wheel, and then a dance floor with many costumed dance partners; the Girl had abandoned her Boy-friend for many other men; after an energetic expenditure in an alleyway, pieces of colored cellophane and posters from the backdrops fell to the ground along with her exhausted and spent dance partners, including her shape-shifting Boy-friend
  • the Girl continued her frenzied dance over the littered ground, returning to the town square with cloudy skies and a mountain peak in the distance; elongated shadowy arms and hands reached out for her; she was unable to touch or reach out to help her blind adoptive mother as the shoes controlled her direction
  • she imagined the Shoemaker as Lermontov and then as Julian - begging for her to choose them
  • the Girl became enveloped in darkness and then appeared before an empty desert sky and a ghostly bluish backdrop; she flew downwards in mid-air and then danced in a netherworld with a disembodied newspaper (the Boy); when it eventually faltered and collapsed, the Shoemaker returned to briefly dance with her before a jagged impressionistic sky
  • the Girl entered a night-time street corner where monkey-headed savages were coupled with streetwalkers; she was first surrounded and then lifted up by the grotesque creatures
  • she entered a stately ballroom (with long draped curtains and chandeliers) where a few other couples danced behind her
  • in one of the few glimpses of the theatre, she pirouetted toward the front edge of the stage where Julian was conducting; she imagined Julian walking on-stage and dancing a pas de deux with her; with two other dancers on either side, they miraculously dissolved or transformed into a trio of flowers, then birds and white clouds
  • in a second glimpse of the theatre, the Girl saw Lermontov in his side opera-box; the audience became a roaring ocean coastline behind Julian; the audience applauded, but she didn't hear the cheering and acclaim as she briefly danced off-stage
  • as church bells tolled, the Girl spun back on-stage into a long line of similarly well-dressed church-going couples marching in step into the place of worship for a funeral; she imagined Lermontov as the Church's minister or priest (the Boy) and embraced him; he and the parishioners backed off from her as she collapsed on the church's front steps
  • the Shoemaker offered the Girl a knife to cut off her red shoes, but they were ineffective; a reddish hue or glow suggested flames consuming her, and her ballerina costume had turned soiled and dirty
  • the Church's minister returned and she begged him to remove her shoes; as he did so, she died of exhaustion in his arms; a spotlight was directed onto the deadly pair of shoes; the Church minister carried the Girl's limp body up the front steps, as the Shoemaker grabbed the shoes and returned them to his shop, to be enticing for his next victim; the curtain closed on a close-up of the shoes in the Shoemaker's hands

The three principal cast members took their bows before the curtain, and the audience loudly applauded and cheered, before the screen went black.

After the bravura hit performance, the three performers congratulated themselves on the ballet's success in the practice room, as Grisha personally praised Vicky: "All that clapping, bravos, roses...Now I tell you truth. It was - good." Monsieur Lermontov was inundated with praise by cable, phone calls, and personal messages for the show "with a most distinguished score." The impresario promised that Craster would be tasked with more work, beginning with a new ballet score "full of gaiety and charm" for the next season, based upon the book by Marcel Lucien titled La Belle Meuniere. He also spoke with Vicky about her future dancing opportunities with the repertoire company. He reminded her of the question he had first asked her at Lady Neston's party, and stressed how important it was for her to give up everything in her life to further her career - he stressed how difficult it would be to choose between her career or art (ballet) and her personal life:

Lermontov: I want to create - to make something big out of something littIe - to make a great dancer out of you. But first, I must ask you the same question: What do you want from life? To live?
Vicky: To dance.

The arrogant impresario spoke about how there were only a few months left in Monte Carlo, but afterwards, he would make her the prima ballerina in many lead roles in Ballet Lermontov, but she would have to yield to his autocratic control and guidance. He hinted that her balletic art would consume her life:

Not much time, but enough - two months. Then we go on tour. Rome, Vienna, Copenhagen, Stockholm, then America. Then next year, London again. All the big parts for you. Coppelia, Lac des Cygnes, Giselle, The Sleeping Princess, Les Sylphides, La Boutique. We will create them all afresh with you. You shall dance. And the world shall follow...I will do the talking. You will do the dancing!

Further performances were held in Monte Carlo, including Rossini's one-act La Boutique Fantasque. The show was another hit for Vicky as a "Dresden Shepherdess." The principality's Opera Director Monsieur Boudin was extremely complimentary: "She's a flame, a spirit!" Then came more successes:

  • the comic ballet Coppelia about a life-sized dancing doll
  • Petrouchka with music by Igor Stravinsky, about three puppets brought to life
  • the Russian ballet Carnaval with music by Robert Schumann
  • the romantic Les Sylphides with music by Frederic Chopin

An excerpt from the ballet performance of Les Sylphides dissolved into a view of the backside of a nude stone gargoyle immortalized outside maestro Lermontov's office window. He was beginning to have personal romantic feelings for his star dancer, but was unaware that she had secretly fallen in love with Julian over their many weeks together. He was planning to surprise Vicky by taking her to "the very best restaurant this year on the coast," but via his butler Dmitri, he learned that most of the troupe was not at the hotel, but were celebrating male dancer/choreographer Grischa's birthday with supper at the Old Port of Ville Franche. Just as a giant champagne bottle and a gateau (cake) were brought out for the partiers, the bright headlights of Lermontov's car blinded Grisha.

The head impresario asked for permission to join the "entire family" for the festive occasion, but then noticed that "the great Miss Page" was conspicuously absent. Sergei informed him of the great "little romance in our midst" - and others provided the lovers' names: "Romeo Craster! And Juliet Page" - it was a romance that had begun with The Red Shoes performance. Lermontov reacted with the word "Charming!" but was completely stunned. Sergei recommended to Lermontov that the lovers should be left alone:

What does it matter where they have gone? They are young, they are together, and they are in love.

Instead of attending the birthday dinner, Julian and Vicky were being escorted in a moonlight horse-carriage ride by the shimmering ocean and coastline, obviously in love and hugging and kissing each other. Vicky expressed her feelings to Julian: "I've decided I do believe in destiny after all." He responded affectionately:

One day when I'm old, I want some lovely young girl to say to me: 'Tell me, where in your long life, Mr. Craster, were you most happy?' And I shall say, 'Well, my dear, I never knew the exact place but it was somewhere on the Mediterranean. I was with Victoria Page.' 'What?' she will say. 'Do you mean the famous dancer?' And I will nod. 'Yes, my dear, I do, but then she was quite young and comparatively unspoiled. We were, I remember very much in love.'

Later during a performance of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (Lac des Cygnes), while conducting, Julian threw a kiss to the on-stage Vicky, and the obsessed and jealous Lermontov saw the gesture from his private box. He was disgusted and downgraded his opinion of her: "A debutante at a charity matinee."

Julian was summoned to Lermontov's office, and thought it was regarding his latest work on the score for La Belle Meuniere, but he was confronted with questions about his relationship with Miss Page. He admitted: "Yes, we're in love." Lermontov took the opportunity to criticize Miss Page's dancing as "impossible" -- because she had now given her life and career over to her love-sick heart:

Because neither her mind nor her heart were in her work. She was dreaming. And dreaming is a luxury I've never permitted in my company. Miss Page wants to be a great dancer. Perhaps she has spoken to you about her - ambitions?...She's not, however, a great dancer yet. Nor is she likely to become one if she allows herself to be sidetracked by idiotic flirtations.

And then the imperious, dissatisfied and incensed Lermontov turned his upset and vitriol toward Caster - to deride his musical compositions:

I have had time to look at your latest effort...and find it equally impossible....Childish, vuIgar and completely insignificant....There are, of course, so many first-class ballet companies to which you may take it with advantage.

Caster responded with a criticism of ballet as an art-form: "I don't know that it's my greatest ambition to work for the ballet. Some of us think it's rather a second-rate means of expression." As a result, Caster was dismissed (or fired) by Lermontov, but paid his last two-weeks salary. And the new ballet was to be scrapped. Choreographer Grischa disagreed with his decision - he thought that Craster was "gifted" and had written "one of the finest scores we ever had." Aggravated by the haphazard whims of Lermontov, Grischa angrily resigned in protest: "I've had enough of this fantastic lunatic asylum! I am through with it! I resign!" Later that night, Sergei told Grischa that Lermontov had second-thoughts about Grischa's departure and had apologized, and he was invited back. However, he was unflappable about Julian's dismissal:

I have never seen him quite as bad as this. He talked a great deal about ingratitude and, uh, disloyalty, and he said when personal relations started to interfere...

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