Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
USA, 1947. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Screenplay by Myles Connolly, based on the story La Morte Du Cygne by Paul Morand. Cinematography by Robert Surtees. Produced by Joe Pasternak. Music by Herbert Stothart. Production Design by Daniel B. Cathcart, Cedric Gibbons. Costume Design by Helen Rose. Film Editing by Douglass Biggs.
Decades before Black Swan indulged a hyper-surreal investigation of female egos clashing in the world of ballet, and a year before a woman would be torn destructively between love and dance in The Red Shoes, Henry Koster made this fascinating melodrama starring Margaret O’Brien and Cyd Charisse. O’Brien plays a little girl who is the bane of her ballet school’s headmistress, constantly skipping class to watch her beloved Charisse practice her solos. When an internationally famous dancer is brought in to take a number of lead roles in the company’s season of performances, thus pushing Charisse into the background, O’Brien feels her sense of loyalty put to the test and intervenes. What she intends as a harmless prank to get the new woman out of the way ends up causing a huge accident with devastating consequences, which guides this rich movie not into Children’s Hour fireworks but to something much richer. Women’s conflicting desires are pitted against each other and they go nowhere near destroying one another by the story’s conclusion, a rare case of such an intelligent and positive outcome to what could have been second-rate cattiness. The colour cinematography anticipates The Red Shoes as much as the dancing does not, since if there is one major flaw to the whole thing it’s the fact that the choreography (including Charisse, who was always better at the jazzier stuff) is awkwardly situated between classical ballet and modern musical moves, and the dancers seem unsure of themselves the entire time (nervous studio executives likely feared that pure ballet would not play well beyond urbane audience members). It also features a warm performance by Danny Thomas in his film debut, though his opportunities to sing are gratuitous and take away from the heat of the central drama. By the time you get to Karin Booth as the beleaguered dancer who grows a fondness for O’Brien, however, you have struck gold.