Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger follow up their sock Red Shoes ballet picture with as distinguished an opera-ballet film in Tales of Hoffman. The Jacques Offenbach fantasy opera has been transformed to the screen with great imagination and taste, with an unusual amount of inventiveness and effects, for a lush, resplendent production that’s a treat to eye and ear.
Hoffman is a better picture than Shoes, with more imagination and story structure. But the story lines in the second and third episodes are confusing, except perhaps to the inveterate operagoer. Hoffman lacks the everyday romance of Shoes, is sung throughout instead of having spoken dialog, and lacks humor.
Film is a brilliant integration of dance, story and music. Fantastic nature of its story is brought out more sharply by the excellent use of Technicolor.
Prolog has Hoffman (Robert Rounsevville) watching a ballet and in love with the prima ballerina, Stella (Moira Shearer), who appears to him as the embodiment of his past loves. When he thinks Stella has spurned him, he moons in a tavern, and relates to a group of students ‘the three tales of my folly of love’.
One concerns the time, in Paris, when he fancied himself in love with Olympia (Shearer), who turned out to be a life-size doll created by a magician. Second act, set in Venice, has Hoffman bewitched by a beautiful courtesan, Giulietta (Ludmilla Tcherina), whose master is trying to acquire Hoffman’s soul through the girl. Third act, set on a Grecian isle, has Hoffman in love with Antonia (Ann Ayars), daughter of a singer and conductor, who is in danger of dying from consumption if she herself attempts to sing.
Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Ludmilla, Tcherina and Leonide Massine, all of them dancers who appeared in Red Shoes, are distinguished again here.
1951: Nominations: Color Costume Design, Color Art Direction