In a way I was quite surprised that when Derek Malcolm chose his favourite Michael Powell film he chose The Life & Death Of Colonel Blimp (the first classic film I ever saw at The Cornerhouse in Manchester), but then perhaps I wasn’t surprised as The Archers made so many great movies.
The partnership started in 1941 when Michael Powell directed and Emeric Pressburger wrote “49th Parellel”, however the first film created to The Archers was “One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing”, a popular, enjoyable, but forgettable war time film. It was during the war years that they crafted a series of memorable dramas (and surprisingly for the war, most were in the very expensive Technicolor process)including “The Life & Death Of Colonel Blimp”, “A Canterbury Tale”, “I Know Where I’m Going”, “A Matter Of Life & Death”, “Black Narcissus”, “The Small Back Room” and this film “The Red Shoes”.
The beautiful ballet dancer, Moira Shearer made her film debut in a film which follows the ballet troupe that are trying to recreate the Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the Red Shoes in which the girl can’t take off the shoes and they dance her to her death, in this film Vicky (Shearer) must choose by her impresario (the wonderful Anton Walbrook as Boris Lermontov) between her career and her lover (Marius Goring (who twenty years later would appear as Maxtible to bring a final end to Skaro’s Daleks in the now missing Doctor Who story “The Evil Of The Daleks”) as Julian Craster). The film was a massive box office success and the music (Brian Easdale) & production design (Hein Heckroth) won the film Oscars and it was nominated for Best Picture, but lost out to another British film, the rather lesser film, Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet”.
The Archer’s would never scale these heights again, they tried the music film again in the early 50s with Opera in “Tales Of Hoffman”, despite a critic’s favourite, it flopped and they tried to return to the Second World War with “The Battle Of The River Plate” and “Ill Met By Moonlight”, successful at the box office, but forgettable, the partnership ended. His first film without Emeric Pressburger was another ballet film “Honeymoon”, a complete disaster so Powell made “Peeping Tom”, a film which was a very British “Psycho”. Over the water, the same year as “Peeping Tom”, Alfred Hitchcock had a massive success with “Psycho”, however nobody knew what to make of Powell’s film, Dilys Powell in The Times said “It should be flushed down the nearest sewer” and it ended Powell’s career. By the mid-70’s, he couldn’t even afford a bottle of whiskey, however Martin Scorsese resurrected his career, through a series of re-releases and he married Thelma Schoonmaker (Scorsese’s editor) and discovered a new life, he died in 1990.
One last word should go to Jack Cardiff, he was the cinematographer who brought The Red Shoes to life and it is his film, as much as Michael Powell’s.
London Release 06/09/48
DF Viewing 26/06/1992 on VHS