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A masterpiece restored: “The Red Shoes” – The Criterion Collection

Updated: Mar 3, 2022


Australian dancer Sir Robert Helpmann plays Russian dancer Ivan Boleslawsky and Scottish dancer Moira Shearer, as star ballerina Victoria Page. Both are the principal dancers for the Lermontov Ballet Company.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray; 1948; Not Rated

Best extra: Actor Jeremy Irons provides a dramatic rendition of the novelization of “The Red Shoes” (4K disc)

MARTIN SCORSESE LOVES this movie – and he’s not alone.

Director Brian De Palma (“Carrie,” “Scarface”) got the filmmaking bug after he saw this Technicolor masterpiece from the British team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Their use of color is nothing short of magnificent, especially with Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Cardiff behind the camera.

“Color itself becomes a character,” Scorsese explains in the commentary on the 4K disc, originally recorded for laserdisc during the mid-'90s. He’s also joined by Cardiff, film historian Ian Christie and several cast members.

The inspiration was Hans Christian Andersen’s dark fairy tale of a girl and her red shoes that forced her to dance. The landmark film follows the backstage dramatics of a British ballet company and the seduction, sacrifice, and luck of a young ballerina Victoria Page played by Moira Shearer, a striking redhead. A rising star at the time, Shearer rejected the role for more than a year until renowned dancers Robert Helpmann and Léonide Massine joined the production.

(1) “The Red Shoes” premiered on September 6, 1948. It received five Academy Awards nominations including for Best Picture. It won for Best Art Direction and Best Music. It played at the New York City Bijou Theater for 110 weeks. (2,4) Center, fledgling composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring) and his student friends rush to the Covent Garden Theater balcony to see Ballet Lermontov perform “Heart of Fire.” (3) Inspiring dancer Victoria Page watches from a box seat. (5) Dancers from the Ballet Lermontov Company.


The Blu-ray includes a 25-minute making-of featurette taped in 2000 with interviews from camera operator Chris Challis, Christie, and Cardiff, who admits he had never seen a ballet until Powell asked him to film “The Red Shoes.” The two had previously worked together on “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (1943), “Stairway to Heaven” (1946), and “Black Narcissus” (1947).

The enclosed booklet includes an essay from writer David Ehrenstein, who tells how “The Red Shoes” influenced actor/dancer Gene Kelly before Best Picture winner “An American in Paris.” He and his collaborators, including director Vincent Minnelli, watched it 15 times before the cameras started rolling. The film also inspired Michael Bennett’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “A Chorus Line,” which opened on Broadway in 1975.

Ehrenstein said, “The Red Shoes” was created at a “crucial junction in history,” just after World War II. As Powell said in his 1980s memoir “A Life in Movies,” “We had been told for ten years to go out and die for freedom and democracy… and now that the war is over, ‘The Red Shoes’ told us to go and die for art.”

The film’s idea first took shape in 1934 by Hungarian-born British filmmaker Alexander Korda, who wanted to center a project on the tumultuous life of Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinksy. Pressburger, a Hungarian Jew hired to write the script, got his start as a script-writer in Germany, leaving for England when Hitler took power. But as WWII approached the project was put off. However, Pressburger resurrected it in 1946, having already formed an alliance with British director Powell.

(1-3) The ballet company’s director, Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) and Professor Palmer (Austin Trevor) have been invited to a party after the ballet, hosted by Lady Neston (Irene Browne). (4) The next day Julian Craster shows up at Lermontov’s apartment to confront him that his work had been stolen for the production of “Heart of Fire.” He plays a composition. (5) Lermontov listens and offers him the opportunity to join the company as a coach for the or.

They decided to bypass Nijinksy and focus on his former lover Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario who took Russian ballet to Paris. The character Boris Lermontov, played by Anton Walbrook, an interpretation of Diaghilev, isn’t depicted sexually or romantically in “an ordinary way,” says Ehrenstein. “But, his obsession with dancer Victoria Page goes right to the heart of the Diaghilev-Nijinsky story.” He wants to make her more than a star; he wants to “control her life in every possible way.”

The 17-minute fantasy ballet sequence choreographed by Helpmann became Kelly’s incentive for similar scenes in “An American in Paris” (1951) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952).


Time has not been kind to “The Red Shoes’” since its premiere over 70 years ago. The three-strip color negatives (red, blue, and green, 1.37:1 aspect ratio) were in desperate need of restoration. Mold was a major culprit, eating away film emulsion and causing huge cracks. Also, shrinkage caused off-registration between the three colors, creating red and blue shadow rings. Uneven film processes created varying degrees of flicker and brightness.

Scorsese and The Film Foundation, which he oversees, came to the rescue first. Funds are always an issue, but with Scorsese at the helm, it all came together for “The Red Shoes” with huge a gift from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (recently under fire for lack of voting diversity for its Golden Globes).

(1) Victoria Page performs during a matinee at the Mercury Theatre. (2) Lermontov selects Page and another dancer to join the company during its tour of France. (3) Victoria auditions for the lead ballerina, since the star left to get married. (4) Lermontov and Ivan Boleslawsky watch from backstage. (5-6) The ballet company arrives in Monte Carlo.

Next, he picked Robert Gitt, preservation officer at the UCLA Film & Television Archive to supervise the painstaking two-and-a-half-year project that started in 2006, while Warner Brothers provided the computer technology, scanning nearly 600,000 individual frames at 4K resolution.

Powell’s widow Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s longtime film editor, provided invaluable notes. She describes her involvement during a 20-minute interview recorded after the restoration’s big-screen debut that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2008. Scorsese also details the process with before-and-after clips.

The recent HDR10 and Dolby Vision grading are created from the 2009 restoration. Added resolution over the previous 1080p is most apparent in Cardiff’s many close-ups, where the grain is more pronounced. An expanded color palette gives the impeccable Technicolor an extra level of richness and texture, while toned with more detail for the brightest highlights and mid-shadows. Overall, the picture is slightly darker.


The original mono track was also restored removing pops, hiss, hum, and other audible distractions. The change gives the dialogue and music score from Brian Easdale a front and center sound. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra provides the music during the ballet sequence.

“The film is voluptuous in its beauty and passionate in its storytelling. You don’t watch it; you bathe in it.” — Roger Ebert, film critic

— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1) Victoria Page rehearses for the upcoming “The Red Shoes” ballet to premiere in Monte Carlo. (2&3) Victoria listens as Julian composes the music.

“The Ballet of the Red Shoes”

The 17-minute fantasy ballet sequence became Gene Kelly’s incentive for similar scenes in “An American in Paris” (1951) and “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952).



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