Starring: Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring
Not Rated (probable PG for Mild Sensuality and a Brief Disturbing Image)
Love or career? It's a question that everyone, in their own way, has to decide upon. How do you find the balance between your work and your personal life? Everyone struggles to find the correct balance, but few (especially these days with constant connectivity and economic insecurity) ever achieve it.
Victoria Page (Shearer) is a ballerina who has just attended a ballet by the legendary Lermantov company. She meets the head of the company, Boris Lermantov (Walbrook), who initially rebuffs her when her aunt invites him to watch her dance at the after party. He thinks she wants to get noticed but she just likes to dance. He's impressed by her attitude and credentials and invites her to train with his company. She quickly rises through to ranks to become a major star. Also a newcomer is Julian Caster (Goring), who got a job working on the music after he alerted Lermantov that his college professor (and the company composer/conductor) had ripped it off his own work. The company's season is a rousing success, until Victoria and Julian have the gall to fall in love. Lermantov, who demands absolute loyalty and focus to the company, views this as a betrayal.
In a way, this is like a ballet with dialogue. There's a lot of dancing and music, the plot is simple and melodramatic but nonetheless effective, and the characters are played for dramatics. I like over-the-top drama when it is earned, and that's the case here. This story, which is based upon one by Hans Christian Anderson, is not meant to be told with subtlety.
The performances are uniformly excellent. The filmmakers wanted a ballerina who could act for the lead role, and that's what they got. Ironically, when initially approached, Shearer turned the role down, and it took a year of convincing to get her to accept it. It's a great debut; the camera loves her and there's no sense that this is her first performance. I certainly had no idea until I read it on iMDb. Anton Walbrook is certainly heartless enough to be a villain, except that he's anything but a complete bastard. He's arrogant and petty, but at least his motives are reasonable (if short-sighted). Marius Goring is great as the lover. From naïve kid to savvy showman, Goring doesn't miss a beat. He has good chemistry with Shearer as well.
The film was directed by Michael Powell, a legendary British filmmaker whose career was essentially destroyed by the controversial horror film, "Peeping Tom" (also starring Shearer), released 12 years later, and Emeric Pressburger. This is a literal feast for the eyes. Painstakingly restored with the efforts of many, including Powell's admirer and protégé, Martin Scorcese, this is a visually sumptuous motion picture. Every frame is rich with light, color and shadow. And the innovative ways of shooting the dance numbers are stunning. This is one movie where it's worth it to see it on Blu Ray.
There are some flaws, but they are either forgivable or not noticeable. There are times in the big dance number where magic seems to occur for no reason. It's easy to guess that this is because Powell and Pressburger are showing that Victoria is imagining that she is dancing in real places and not on a stage, but things can get a little confusing. A line of dialogue to clarify would have helped. And Julian doesn't get as much screen time as Boris, which upsets the balance a little.
Like I said. Small quibbles. Certainly nothing that would prevent me from giving this a recommendation of the highest order.