The Red Shoes

The film - little known facts

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recalled by Leonard Boucher

Made in Monte Carlo and Pinewood Film Studios, England, The Red Shoes quickly became, and still is, one of the most successful films of all time. In filmic terms it was, and still is, a Box Office smasher yet it was almost never completed.

Some three or four months after the production commenced at Pinewood, J ARTHUR Rank or his financial advisors, decided that finally the film would run over budget and cost too much money and, in any case, cinema patrons did not want a story about ballet, it was not (then) a popular form of entertainment and the film would be a flop. We, the dancing cast, were informed that production would cease immediately. Our director, Michael Powell, was distraught; he had great faith in the production, he saw Moira Shearer as a new, bright shining star, the ballets choreographed or re¬arranged by Leonide Massine and Robert Helpmann were undoubtedly spectacular and the story, it was thought, did have appeal for the general public. Michael Powell then considered buying what had been so far made and finishing the film at his own expense. But there were still several months of filming to be done, and when adding up the cost, Michael Powell felt he could not take on such an expensive risk. The Red Shoes was doomed to face a definite halt.

For contractual reasons, the dancing cast contacted Equity, the entertainment artists Trade Union. A representative of Equity contacted Mr. Rank. At least one month's notice should be given to the cast prior to termination. Mr. Rank calculated the cost and added it to the impending loss of money already spent. He agreed (although reluctantly) to continue with the production providing the cast accepted new contracts with almost 50% cut in salary.

Equity presented this offer to the dancers and most refused to even consider such a cut. But, it was pointed out; at present there were few openings in the ballet theatre and at even half the money to be earned by continuing with The Red Shoes, it was far more than the normal income from theatre ballet contracts. This was true, and finally we accepted the offer. The Red Shoes production went on for over another six months and has made an enormous amount of money. If we had signed the new contract with a proviso stating that in view of the cut of salary we would take even a small percentage of the Box Office receipts, we would today be quite wealthy. But in those days percentages were unknown.

The first shots for The Red Shoes film were the final shots seen in the finished film, the scene where Vicky dies on the railway track at Monte Carloand asks that the red shoes should be taken off her feet.

The first shots made at Pinewood Film Studios were parts of The Red Shoes ballet, the fairground scene which extended a great length over the studio, along which the dancers went in and out and around. This called for an enormous battery of lights. We rehearsed the scene during the morning. Once seeing the set and how it was lit, the choreographer Robert Helpmann
wanted several changes. The changes were rehearsed during the afternoon when more lights were added and set in place. At 5.30 in the afternoon the situation was hurried along as quickly as possible. The studio crew was due to finish at 6.00 p.m. and overtime was not allowed. At 5.45
p.m. all was ready; there was just enough time to shoot the scene if it could be done in only one 'take' and we were rehearsed enough to ensure that nothing could go wrong. Lined
up and ready to go we were alarmed by a loud ringing which echoed through the studio. The heat from the lamps had caused the fire alarm system to go off and to prevent the sprinklers from going into operation; all the studio doors had to be opened to let the studio cool down. I cannot remember if we waited and then completed those first scenes (and Rank had to pay out overtime cash) or if we finished at 6.00 p.m. and went on with the dance the following morning. Considering the complexity of the film and all it's dancing, there were, however, remarkably few delays after that and the studio crew usually completed their daily work at 6.00 p.m. Not so with the dancers; to prevent any mishaps the next day, often it was necessary to rehearse until later in the evening.

Some of the dancers had agents who were well versed in dealing with film was contracts, and on their contracts was credit clause, regardless of what or how little they did in the film. Other agents, like my own, were out of the film world and dealt mainly with contracts for stage performances. They did not think of a credit and neither did we; the ballet was not a business, to appear, to work successfully was enough. With several other dancers my wife Helene Mladova and I worked on The Red Shoes for over one year; under Leonide Massine's direction I was cast as the Shopkeeper in Massine's ballet 'Le Boutique Fantasque', I appeared as one of the two clowns in The Red Shoes ballet, in most of the classroom scenes and rehearsal scenes, and my name does not appear in any credits. Lesson: choose a very good agent well aware of the value of publicity.

Over a long period spent at Pinewood Studios from early in the morning until late evening there was not time to attend the essential daily ballet classes, and after some weeks we realized that our careers as dancers were in jeopardy.

We consulted Robert Helpmann who agreed that classes were absolutely necessary the dance scenes in the film could suffer if we became stiff and out of practice. Bobby Helpmann then arranged with Michael Powell, the director, that whatever the shooting schedule we would be allowed to spend one hour each morning for class in the studio. The classes were given by Bobby Helpmann or Leonide Massine.

When shooting on The Red Shoes commenced, Moira Shearer often seemed extremely unhappy. The studio atmosphere, the waiting, dancing in bits and stopping to wait again, the hustle and bustle, the lack of continuity, were very different from life in the theatre. It was her first film, she
was nervous, it all appeared to be extremely strange. But after a while Moira took to filming naturally. There were no temperaments, no arguments, just a lot of hard work, and the quality of her performance was a great part, I think, of the astounding success of The Red Shoes.

Personally I did not like the film and if, on seeing it again, I enjoy it this is due to seeing again many old friends several of whom are no longer with us.

© 2007

Home | Cast | Cast photographs | The film | The ballet | The story | Making the film |
Little known facts abiout the film
| Moira Shearer | Posters and stills| Links | My father's Red Shoes Diaries | Letters from Moira | After the Red Shoes | e-mail and comment | Home