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United Kingdom 1951
Directed by
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
128 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Tales Of Hoffman

Not for the artistically faint-hearted, Powell and Pressburger's stunning sequel to their much-acclaimed ballet film, The Red Shoes (1948) does not have the accessibility of that film and divided critics at the time of its release, Pauline Kael famously describing it as "the product of an aberrant, second-rate imagination that confuses décor with art". That may sound irresistibly attractive to some but the problem is that as the story is entirely told as light opera, that is with no normal dialogue, unless one is familiar with it or has a good ear for deciphering lyrics, one can only grasp its broad strokes, much like watching an unsubtitled film in a language of which one only has scant knowledge.

So, although the décor is ravishing (production design is by Hein Heckroth who also did The Red Shoes) and the visual compositions (cinematography is by another P & P regular, Christopher Challis) often rival anything that Hollywood achieved (there is a defiant flourish at the very end of the film when "Made In England" is stamped on the closed program), at a cerebral level many viewers will feel frustrated at not understanding Offenbach's libretto (although the original was written in French it is here sung in English but this is only a slight help).

Robert Helpmann, Leonide Massine, Moira Shearer and Ludmilla Tcherina return from the earlier film, whilst Pamela Brown from I Know Where I'm Going! (1945) plays the valet, Nicklaus.




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