Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes poster

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top:  this is a blog about American films made in Hollywood in the 1930s-1950s.  The Red Shoes is neither American nor made in Hollywood.  It did, however, receive several Oscar nominations and wins, and is considered one of the greatest British films ever made, so I hope readers will forgive this brief excursion into foreign cinema.

The Red Shoes isn’t for everybody.  With a runtime of 2 hours and 15 minutes—including a seventeen minute ballet sequence—The Red Shoes will try the patience of modern audiences.

But those who stick with it will be rewarded with a magical tale of the ecstasy and agony of great talent.

Based on a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, The Red Shoes tells the story of Victoria Page (real life dancer Moira Shearer), an inspired ballerina who ultimately cannot choose between love and art.

Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes
Moira Shearer as Victoria Page

She’s plucked from obscurity by Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), a ruthless producer who cares for nothing but making the best ballet possible.  He’s a mad genius, consumed with perfection and obsessed with creating great art.

Like Hitchcock looking for his cool blonde muse, Boris is searching for a ballerina with enough raw talent that he can mold her into the best ballerina that’s ever danced.  He believes that to become the best of the best, one must dedicate themselves entirely to one’s art.

When his top ballerina announces she’s getting married, Boris cuts her out of the show without a second thought.  One must choose between love and art.

Anton Walbrook sits behind a desk in The Red Shoes
Anton Walbrook as Boris

This is when Victoria gets her chance—to star in the ballet The Red Shoes produced by Boris and composed by the (young and handsome) Julian Craster (Marius Goring). 

In this show-within-the-show, The Red Shoes, Victoria’s characters longs for a beautiful pair of red ballet shoes.  When she finally gets them, she finds that she can dance beautifully.

But the shoes are cursed, and she soon learns that she cannot stop dancing, and she dances herself to death.

The ballet parallels Victoria’s own life, as she soon falls in love with Julian Craster and is forced to choose between love and art.

Marius Goring and Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes
Victoria and Julian (Marius Goring) find love

There are many films that tackle this general theme—love vs. art, love vs. career—but perhaps none with the intensity of The Red Shoes.

As one who watches way too many Hallmark Christmas movies, I’m primed to believe that the woman will always find her highest fulfillment in love.

But as a Taylor Swift fan, I also wanted Victoria to rock that stage (ballerina style) and deal with love later.

But the film resists such easy resolutions.

The Red Shoes ultimately becomes a tale of Victoria’s agony—and in the end, she cannot choose between the two and instead leaps to her death while wearing the red shoes.

Marius Goring, Moira Shearer
A tragic ending.

The Red Shoes is an artistic film, and the 17-minute ballet is a masterpiece of film.  Beloved by some and criticized by others, it’s a fantastical interlude and not meant as a realistic portrayal of ballet.  There’s magic in the shoes, and magic in the ballet.

Nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture, The Red Shoes won for Best Art Direction and Best Musical Score.

Though perhaps not for the casual film viewer, The Red Shoes is a delight for film buffs and anyone who’s struggled with the role of creativity in their life.

The Red Shoes (1948) Verdict:  Film Buffs Only