Combustible Celluloid
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With: Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tchérina, Anne Ayars, Pamela Brown, Léonide Massine, Robert Helpmann, Frederick Ashton, Mogens Wieth, Robert Rounseville, Lionel Harris, Philip Leaver, Meinhart Maur, Edmond Audran
Written by: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Directed by: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 128
Date: 04/03/1951

The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Dolled Up

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's beautiful, colorful opera film is a nice companion piece to their ballet film, The Red Shoes, although this one is more "pure," containing no spoken dialogue. (It's from a 1880 Offenbach opera.) Based around the life and doomed loves of the poet Hoffmann (Robert Rounseville), it tells three stories of fantasy (plus a prologue and epilogue): in the first, Moira Shearer plays a dancer who is actually a mechanical doll. In the second, Hoffmann's soul is trapped in a mirror. In the third, Hoffmann falls for a dying singer living on a remote Greek island. As with The Red Shoes, the Archers achieve a truly amazing fantasy world, almost like a cartoon in which anything is possible. The restored, 128-minute version has its dry patches, but it's like nothing else you'll see.

Long ago, two youngsters named Martin Scorsese and George A. Romero apparently took turns renting a 16mm print, neither knowing who the other one was. Scorsese's commentary 1992 track graces the glorious 2022 Criterion Collection Blu-ray release, which also offers a new 4K restoration that is one of the beautiful things in the world. There's also an essential interview with Romero, from 2005, plus a short film by Powell, a collection of sketches and designs, a photo gallery, a trailer, and optional subtitles. Ian Christie provides the liner notes essay. Highly Recommended.

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