Friday, August 18, 2017

Das Herz Einer Frau ( 1951 )

This past month my sister and I have been exploring German films of the 1950s, and in doing so we came across a popular genre that we were unaware of called Heimatfilms. These films were set in the mountainous areas of southern Germany, Switzerland, or Austria and often featured sentimental stories of love and friendship that centered on the traditional "heimat" ( homeland ) rural way of life. Many of them focused on the difference between this old German way of living and more modern progressive ways.

Since we have been enjoying these films so much we will review them as part of a new series - Heimatfilme and other Deutsche Films of the 1940s-1960s. If you ever feel in the mood for some sweet romance and yodeling than simply click on the banner on the right sidebar and you will find plenty of German films to enjoy for yourself. 

To begin... Das Herz Einer Frau. This is not a Heimatfilm, rather a sehr schön family musical from Nova-Film, which was an Austrian production company that lasted only a few years in the early 1950s. It features Marianne Schönauer, that beautiful Viennese actress/singer, in the role of a musical stage star who befriends Konrad ( Kurti Baumgartner ), a little boy who is looking for a mother. 
One day this boy happens to see an advertisement that has a picture of a mother with her child and, dissatisfied with his stern governess, he decides to find a woman just like the one in the ad. He does a little window shopping, comes across Theo Moreno ( Schönauer ) having a cup of coffee, and asks her to come home with him and be his mother. She finds him irresistible ( he is! ) and agrees to take him home, whence she meets Konrad's papa ( Stefan Stodler ), a widowed engineer. She continues to visit them on a daily basis, until papa finds out that she is a popular stage star and he gets the notion in his head that she may have been visiting his son merely for publicity purposes. 

Das Herz Einer Frau has a number of lovely Nico Dostal tunes, all performed by Marianne Schönauer, including "Fur Jedes Herz Scheint ein Stern in der Welt" and "Das Schönste an der Liebe". I was more interested in the story plot than the musical numbers, so some of the songs Theo Moreno is performing on stage seem a little long, but then the audiences probably came to hear her sing so that's what the director focused on. And she does indeed have a beautiful singing voice. 
Kurti Baumgartner is wonderful as little Konrad and he doesn't display any of that self-conscious cuteness that many modern child actors do. He only made three films, one of which was made right after this picture featuring Marianne Schönauer again - Maria Theresia.

Also in the cast is Walter Müller as Theo's publicity agent, Hella Ferstl, and Rudolph Brix. 

Want to watch Das Herz Einer Frau right now? It's available on Youtube...just click here. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

From the Archives : The Go-Between ( 1971 )

Julie Christie is here pictured on the set of The Go-Between ( 1971 ). Some people have their "prime" as Miss Brodie would say and, for Julie Christie, I think the early 1970s was her prime. She never looked lovelier than in this film. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Good News ( 1947 )

"I wish that someone loved me as much as you love you!"

All the gals are crazy about Tait University's cocky football hero Tommy Marlowe ( Peter Lawford ), but Tommy only has eyes for the new student, beautiful society vamp Pat McClellan ( Patricia Marshall ). When Pat plays too hard to get he turns his attentions to the school's assistant librarian, Connie Lane ( June Allyson ), who quickly succumbs to his charms, only to find out that what he wants from her is merely a brief lesson in French in order to impress Pat! 

College never was so fun as it is in Good News, one of the most jubilant films to ever come out of the Arthur Freed unit at MGM....and also, one of the most underrated post-war musicals. This unpretentious little musical is a delightful mixture of 1920s snappy humor and 1940s sassiness. Never mind that the flapper and sheikh fashions of the 1920s is non-existent. The film's simple story-line provides a few excellent excuses for some exuberant song-and-dance numbers, including "Pass that Peace Pipe" and "The Varsity Drag", and lots of fun-filled collegiate hi-jinks. 
Good News was based upon the popular 1927 Henderson/DeSylva stage musical of the same name. It was brought to the screen for the first time in 1930 in an Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer pre-code adaptation starring Bessie Love and Cliff Edwards. However, that film removed most of the songs that made the stage musical such a big hit. Naturally, when producer Arthur Freed decided to bring the film back in a Technicolor version, he wanted the songs re-instated and, so, five numbers from the stage production were kept intact ( albeit shuffled around a bit ) for this frothy remake and two more added - "The French Lesson" and "Pass that Peace Pipe" - courtesy of Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. 

For Good News, the songwriting team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green put their heads together for the first time to pen its screenplay, and they discovered that they had quite a knack for it! The duo would go on to script some of the best MGM musicals of the 1950s, including Singin' in the Rain and The Band Wagon, and also share seven Tony Awards over the years for their work on Broadway. 

Peter Lawford and June Allyson made a wonderful team in Two Sisters from Boston ( 1946 ) and are equally good in this film ( they would play together again in Little Women two years later ), while their characters were joined by a great bunch of friends who include Joan McCracken as Babe, Ray McDonald as Bobby, and a young Mel Torme as Danny.

Joan McCracken was a fabulous dancer/singer who should have went on to have a great musical film career but didn't. She is especially sensational in the "Pass that Peace Pipe" number and her scenes with Ray McDonald provide much of the humor in Good News
All-in-all, Good News is a breezy film that leaves you with a light-hearted joyful feeling.....after all, if college students could chuck away all their cares, why can't you? The Best Things in Life are indeed Free.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Girl Who Takes Jean Harlow's Place

When I was assigned to interview Marjorie Woodworth, the girl Hal Roach has tabbed to take Jean Harlow's place--and the girl Harvard undergrads recently used as a target for a soft orange---I thought, "Just another hopeful. I'll bet she doesn't look any more like Harlow than my redheaded granddaughter does." 

Then I sat down to luncheon with her (chaperoned by publicity chief Jules Seltzer of the Hal Roach Studios, where's she's starring in "Broadway Limited"). I took one look, opened my mouth-and ate my words! 

Marjorie is a natural blonde with heliotrope eyes, long lashes and features not exactly like Harlow's, but close enough-and plenty good! Her figure is a little larger, proportionately, but just as trim as was La Belle Jean before her untimely death. Marjorie measures five feet five inches tall (in stocking feet); hips, thirty-four inches; bust, thirty-four; waist, twenty-four; shoe, 5-B; hat, twenty-one and one-half; weight, 117 pounds. I didn't get her phone number because Seltzer was eavesdropping and besides, her dad, Clyde Woodworth, is the city attorney of Inglewood, Calif.! That's where Marjorie was born, June 5, 1921, and reared. Funny thing about that June 5 date. It was on her nineteenth birthday last year she was signed by Roach. 

Margie Starts Harvard Riot 

About her trip east on a bid from the president of the Harvard Lampoon, she was jubilant-in spite of the orange blitz, which happened when a rival Harvard Crimson faction tried unsuccessfully to kidnap Margie from the Lampoon executives. "They were just college boys having a little fun," said the honored guest and victim. "I'm a college girl and I understand them." She had two years at the University of Southern California. 

Is the Athletic Type 

Margie's favorite sports are ice-skating, swimming and horseback riding. She eats almost anything but dotes on prime roast beef rare. After a year of preliminary training, she's still studying dramatics and voice modulation at Max Reinhardt's school between picture calls. Asked if she had ever been told before Roach discovered her that she resembled Jean Harlow, she said, "Yes, many times in high school and college. But I don't know. I only saw her once---in 'Saratoga,' I believe." That was Harlow's last film. As for Marjorie's future success, she says, "I'm having fun!" and leaves the rest to movie-goers.- E. P.

Marjorie never came near the level of success that Jean Harlow had in Hollywood. She did a number of films in the 1940s but didn't catch enough attention from the movie-goers to become a star. This article originally appeared in the June 28th, 1942 issue of Movie Radio Guide. 

Movie Magazine Articles, another one of our ongoing series, feature articles like this reprinted for our reader's entertainment. Links to the original sources are available within the body of the text. In the future, simply search "Movie Magazine Articles" to find more posts in this series or click on the tag below. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Russian Ballet Films of the 1940s-1960s

Some of the most beautiful films ever made came out of Russia during the 1940s-1960s, so it is not surprising that a number of these films also featured that exquisite form of dance that has become associated with Mother Russia herself - ballet.

Even though ballet has long been considered a lovely export of Russian culture, it actually originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 15th century where it later developed into a concert dance in France. During the late 17th century, Peter the Great, in an effort to create a new Russia which rivaled the society of the West allowed classical ballet to enter Russia....not as a form of dance, however, but to showcase the standard of physical comportment that the emperor hoped his people would emulate. Ballet was taught to the sons of nobility in military academies up until the early 19th century when state-supported theatres began to open offering tickets that the public could afford.

Prestigious ballet troupes sprung up from various cities across Russia, the oldest and most famous being the Bolshoi Ballet company, founded in Moscow in 1776. In the early 1900s, Russia's unique style of the ballet was introduced to the Parisian society where it was called Ballet Russe

For those who were unable to obtain a ticket to see a live Ballet Russe performance during the 20th century, there were several Russian film studios that brought this passionate form of dance to the silver screen. These films were distributed throughout Europe but were rarely seen in the United States. Fortunately, due to today's convenience of online streaming ( and thanks to some considerate uploaders ), ballet enthusiasts are able to watch such legends as Nureyev, Ulanova, and Dudinskaya performing in their most renowned roles while they were at the peak of their careers. 

Below we have gathered a selection of some of the most famous Russian films of the 1940s-1960s, along with links to where you can view these films online for yourself. Tickets are free, so enjoy! 
Russian Ballerina (1947)

This is a sweet story of a young singer ( Viktor Kazanovich ) who meets and falls in love with a student dancer ( Mira Redina ) at a music conservatory. It was directed by Aleksandr Ivanovsky for Lenfilm Studios, the studio that outputted some of the Soviet Union's best films. Redina was at the time a solo ballerina with the Stanislavski and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Academic Music Theatre, where she remained until 1965.

View the film here.

Swan Lake ( 1953 ) -

Galina Ulanova's most famous performance is undoubtedly that of Odette in Swan Lake, which she performs here alongside Konstantin Sergeyev as Prince Siegfried and Natalia Dudinskaya as Odile. This Kirov Ballet production is magnificently set and features some amazing special effects ( especially considering this was made in 1953 ). It is well worth watching! 

View the film here

Stars of the Russian Ballet ( 1954 )

In any compendium of Russian ballet performances, you are bound to see Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in the program. In this classic color production from 1954, it is none other than Galina Ulanova who performs as the White Swan Odette. Ulanova also appears in the second sequence with that other legend Maya Plisetskaya in a performance of B.V. Asafiev's ballet, The Fountain Of Bakhchisarai. This was the only time these two ballerinas shared the stage. And finally, B.V. Asafiev's The Flames Of Paris makes up the third sequence with Vakhtang Chabukiani flexing his muscles in some glorious dance moves. It's a visual feast for the eyes and ears.

View the film here.

Romeo & Juliet ( 1955 ) - 

Another very beautiful adaptation of Romeo and Juliet ( those Russians certainly know how to make lovely films! ). This was a typical big-budget epic production featuring Yuri Zhdanov as a very handsome Romeo and Galina Ulanova as Juliet. While Ulanova probably ranks as the most celebrated ballerina in the history of dance, at the age of 45 she looks a little old for the young lover. But who can critique the performance she gives? It's fabulous. 

View the film here

Giselle ( 1956 ) -

Once again Galina Ulanova takes center stage to impress audiences with her graceful dancing in this production of Giselle, filmed in 1956. This was one of Galina's most famous roles, and indeed, her performance is peerless. In 1974 Natalya Bessmertnova also did a beautiful performance of Giselle in a production that features some breathtaking sets. 

View the original film here.

Swan Lake ( 1957 ) -

Maya Plisetskaya is one of the most exquisite ballerinas of the 20th century and in 1957, at her artistic and technical peak, she was filmed in a color production of the Bolshoi Ballet's four-act Swan Lake in the dual roles of Odette and Odile.
The ballet also starred Nicolai Fadeyechev and Yuri Fayer. While this was released as a film it is more like a television documentary interspersing the balletic performances with shots of the audience applauding. 

View the film here

Cinderella ( 1961 ) -

Prokofiev's Cinderella, first performed as a ballet in 1945, is a production that has been staged as many time as Sleeping Beauty, and yet never seems to tire audiences. In this 1961 classic, Raisa Struchkova takes on the leading role of the tender-hearted maiden who finds her Prince Charming ( Gennadi Lediakh ) with the aid of a fairy godmother. Lediakh had a late start in his career as a dancer, beginning at the ripe old age of 20, and yet what talent he possessed!

View the film here. 

The Little Humpbacked Horse ( 1962 )

Maya Plisetskaya stars as the Queen Maiden in this made-for-TV children's production of Shchedrin's The Little Humpbacked Horse presented by the Bolshoi Ballet. This lovely coming-of-age fairy tale includes animation sequences for the wee ones, and features some stunning performances by Plisetskaya ( whose movements were always extremely fluid ), Vladimir Vasilev and Alla Shcherbinina, as the little horse.

View the film here

Bolshoi Ballet '67 ( 1965 )

This 75-minute film features an astounding array of beautiful performances along with many behind-the-scenes sequences of the dancers practicing prior to the shows, but not in an all-together structured way. In place of a plot, there is a narrator who is a dancer reflecting back on her decade spent with the Bolshoi Ballet, allowing for a showcase of talent. Some of the dancers you will see are Natalia Bessmertnova, Sergei Radchenko, Natalia Kasatkina, Yekaterina Maksimova, Mikhail Lavrovsky, Yelena Kholina, Anatoly Simachev, and Raisa Struchkova. Performances include Ravel Waltzes ( Maximova ) and Bolero, Giselle, Don Quixote, Swan Lake, The Stone Flower ( Kasatkina ), and Paganini ( Bessmertnova ).

View the film here

Sleeping Beauty ( 1965 ) -

Alla Sizoya stars in this classic color film adaptation of Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty performed by the Kirov Ballet. The New York Times considered this production to boast "some of the finest choreography ever produced", referring to the work of choreographer Marius Petipa. It was the role of Aurora that made Sizoya a legend among dancers. Yuri Solovyow and Natalie Dudinskaya are also in the company. 

View the film here
Swan Lake ( 1966 ) -

Rudolf Nureyev is probably the only ballet dancer whose name is familiar to American audiences ( at least, to those who are unacquainted with the world of ballet ). He performed, at one time or another, in productions of some of the most famous ballets ever written, including Swan Lake in 1966. Nureyev choreographed this ballet himself - naturally, giving his character ample opportunity to dance - while also showcasing the prima ballerina - Margot Fonteyn.

View the film here.

Swan Lake ( 1968 ) - 

If you weren't impressed with Nureyev's performance ( ! ) you can always compare it to this 1968 Kirov Ballet production that featured John Markovsky, Yelena Yevteyeva, and Valery Panov in the principal roles. And believe it or not, you'll probably walk away thinking this was a better version ( which it is! ). 

View the film here.

This post is our contribution to the En Pointe Blogathon, a three-day event hosted by Christina Wehner which celebrates ballet on film. Be sure to head on over to the master page to read more articles about ballet films!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Annual Great Hollywood Auction - This Sunday!

Every year in August, Silverbanks Pictures ( the modest little business my sister and I operate ) launches the Great Hollywood Auction offering a unique selection of rare candids, publicity photos, and original stills. 

This year we have over 300 photos going up on auction, and we think it is a particularly swell collection. All of the images start at just $9.95 ( and many remain at that price ) so if you never owned a piece of original Hollywood memorabilia, buying photographs is a great place to start. Here is a small selection of what will be going up Sunday evening beginning at 8pm EST. 

If you like these images, check out this link to see all of the rest. Viewing is free! Bidding is free, too ( unless you win, then we expect you to pay ). 

Hitchcock didn't trust Edith Head to make sure all of Grace Kelly's safety pins were in place so he's giving Ms. Kelly a once over before they go back to filming the grand ball finale of To Catch a Thief ( 1955 ).

Did Una really faint, or is she faking it? Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray are certainly looking concerned in True Confession ( 1937 ).

Maureen Sullivan is enraptured by Greta Garbo, who doesn't "vant to be alone" in this scene from Anna Karenina ( 1935 )

Warren William ( the dashing Perry Mason of film ) posing with a horse and not Della Street for photographer Irving Lippman

Romance was blossoming between Marian and Shane in Shane ( 1953 ) but off the set, Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur were sharing happy hungry looks over salami sandwiches. 

Jane Russell shimmying all that she has to shimmy in Gentleman Prefer Blondes ( 1953 )

Now here's a very rare photo. Ralph Crane was a photographer for many years for LIFE and TIME magazine and this candid of Debbie Reynolds and Fred Astaire he captured in 1960, when these two actors were behind the scenes during the making of The Pleasure of His Company. Crane photos are very hard to come by, and this one actually appeared in the March 21, 1960 issue of LIFE. We have a reserve price set for it, but it's a low reserve so a good deal can be had!

Robert Wise directs Ruth Roman in a scene from Three Secrets ( 1950 ). "Give me a dying look, Ruthie"

Madge Evans looking lovely in a publicity photo for Espionage ( 1937 ). Who would guess she's a spy?

The principal cast of Brooklyn Orchid ( 1942 ). That's William Bendix with Grace Bradley ( Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy, folks ) clasping him. 

Two cuties enjoying the splendid West....this is before they get lost in the woods. Van Johnson and Esther Williams in Thrill of a Romance ( 1945 ).

Paul Muni and Anne Baxter in Angel on My Shoulder ( 1946 ). Anne is wondering why her sweetheart changed so much....she doesn't realize his body was inhabited by the spirit of a dead gangster!

Ooh, look at those dark eyes of Nils Asther, and can you believe that's Walter Huston he is glaring at? Kay Francis looks unimpressed. Storm at Daybreak ( 1933 )

Mildred Natwick is posing as "the witch" in this rare publicity photo from The Enchanted Cottage ( 1945 ).

Kindly Angela Lansbury certainly knew how to play vixens when the part called for it. Here she is with Keenan Wynn and Ethel Barrymore in Kind Lady ( 1951 ).

This is a fabulous photograph from Down to Earth ( 1947 ) taken by that marvelous still photographer Ned Scott. That's Larry Parks and Rita Hayworth standing center stage. 

My favorite Legionnaire...Errol Flynn! Olivia de Havilland is giving him google eyes while he issues orders to the entrapped soldiers and their families in The Charge of the Light Brigade ( 1937 ).

Hollywood's youngest grandmother, in a candid with her daughter. Can you believe Lenore Lombard is only 30 here? Her daughter was expecting a baby at the time. This was taken on the set of Johnny O'Clock ( 1947 ).

During the wrap party for Anastasia, Cary Grant stopped by to wish Ingrid Bergman the best of luck. What a gentleman. Can you guess who that blonde is behind Grant?

George Sanders was such a dashing actor. Here, he is sharing a concerned look with Alan Napier, wondering about the killer roaming loose in Hangover Square ( 1945 ).

Johnny Weissmuller, sans Cheetah, in Savage Mutiny ( 1953 ), one of the many Jungle Jim films Weissmuller made in the 1950s. 

"Hold me, Thrill me, Kiss me"....Robert Taylor is intent on doing all three to Greta Garbo in this publicity photo from MGM's Camille ( 1936 ).

Hard to believe, but that's Helen Hayes tapping toes with an unknown gentleman. This was taken during her Ziegfeld Follies days. 

Silverbanks Pictures holds auctions on eBay every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night, usually starting around 8-9pm EST. Be sure to check out our other photos if you miss this auction! 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Death of the Swan : The Unfinished Dance ( 1947 ) and Ballerina ( 1937 )

This weekend Christina Wehner is hosting the En Pointe Blogathon, a three-day event celebrating films that spotlight that beautiful and centuries old form of dance known as ballet. One of the most overlooked Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films of the 1940s The Unfinished Dance - just so happens to revolve around ballet, and so I have chosen to call attention to this rarity as well as to Ballerina ( 1937 ) which is based on the same story. 

Both pictures are about a ballet student who accidentally cripples a famous ballerina when she throws the switch to the onstage trap door, plummeting the dancer to her career-ending doom. 

"Is she dead?"
"She broke her leg..... For a dancer, it is worse than death"

In The Unfinished Dance ( 1947 ), Margaret O'Brien stars as Meg Merlin, the passionate little dancer who quickly becomes wracked with guilt for the dreadful deed she committed in haste. This orphaned child loves ballet and, particularly one ballerina - Ariane Bouchet ( Cyd Charisse ) whom she worships as an idol. When La Darina ( Karin Moore ), a guest ballerina, arrives to perform the lead in "Swan Lake" in place of Bouchet, Meg plans to humiliate the prima ballerina by turning off the lights during the performance, leaving Darina to grope in the dark. Instead, she - oops! - pulls the wrong switch causing Darina to literally perform her swan song. Meg, then, struggles with her conscience and attempts to muster the courage to confess her crime to La Darina, the woman she once hated but is quickly coming to love...especially when she discovers that Bouchet isn't the grand idol she thought she was. 

The Unfinished Dance was based on a novella by Paul Morand entitled "La Mort du Cygne" ( "The Death of the Swan" ). This intriguing story was first filmed in 1937 as La Mort du Cygne aka Ballerina, a French production directed by Jean Benoit-Levy and Marie Epstein. It was a box-office sensation in Europe, won the Grand Prix du Cinèma francais award, and earned equal critical acclaim in America. Over the years, a legendary aura has been cast around it, primarily because it was considered a lost classic; it was only in 2000 that a surviving print was discovered. 
While The Unfinished Dance bears some resemblance to the original film, it cannot - and should not - be compared to Ballerina as a remake. They are two separate films with marked differences. One major contrast between them is the underlying theme of the pictures. In Ballerina, it is all about the dance. To dance is to live; to dance is to breathe.

"The Dance is greater than all our personal troubles," remarks Karine in one scene. 

In The Unfinished Dance, Meg's guilt takes center stage. Ballet becomes Meg's redemption. Director Henry Koster did a wonderful job of creating a disquieting atmosphere of tension in all of the scenes featuring O'Brien. Meg is a hapless victim of a foolish and childish prank that she herself conceived and her guilt causes her to see the jail bars closing in on her. Every whisper is a personal threat to her safety. Every policeman an agent of Justice out to capture her. Margaret O'Brien plays out the psychological tension that Meg feels with great skill, especially considering she was only nine-years-old at the time of filming, while Koster treats these sequences as though it were Robert Mitchum on the screen, running from another thoughtless crime he committed in haste. 

However, audiences didn't appreciate this peek into the mind of a child criminal, and the film lost nearly $1,800,000 upon its release. It was the only Joe Pasternak production to ever lose money. This may have been due to false marketing. Posters displayed happy images of O'Brien and Charisse performing grand jetés while the subtitles heralded "Romance! Spectacle! Music!" Audiences were undoubtedly expecting a saccharine MGM musical featuring the always adorable Margaret O'Brien and, in the opening sequences, this is what they were treated to....but then, the real story of The Unfinished Dance begins to unfold and the film becomes a unique blend of a Technicolor family drama and a Columbia Pictures film noir. It was a mixture too heady for youngsters, and too juvenile for adult audiences. 
Ballerina, on the other hand, was marketed as a haunting melodrama, which indeed it was. Ballerina evokes, through long shadows and striking camera angles, the atmosphere of the Opera de Paris as the dancers saw it. It was not the glittering Parisian palace that came alive only at night, but a working studio where the dust of wood shavings and talcum powder filled the air. Blanche-Levy had the cast and crew live at the Palais Garnier for weeks prior to filming so that they could feel that majestic atmosphere that the ballerinas felt and convey it to the screen. The result is an engrossing peek at the all-consuming world of ballet. 

Throughout the film, we are given scenes of the backstage life: "flies" in their perches, crewmen setting a stage, and ballerinas in class and in their dressing rooms stretching, leaping, flexing their feet, and adjusting their shoes and tutus. In one scene we witness prima ballerina Yvonne Chauviré placing padding on her toes and then slowing tying her pointe shoes. 

Ballerina also contrasts against The Unfinished Dance by portraying the children as unsentimental little savages - which they are. In the tradition of the Opera de Paris, young student ballerinas are referred to as "rats", and Meg Merlin is here cleverly named Rose Souris ( souris meaning mouse in French ).

Rose is no mere child who accidentally moves a wrong lever. She is a twelve-year old girl who deliberately sets to put an end to the career of Karine ( the character of La Darina in The Unfinished Dance ), slowly moving the heavy wooden supports that keep the trap-door closed and then waiting to hear the music of the swan as Karine approaches the trap. After her deed is done she feels occasional pangs of guilt ( this is eerily conveyed to the audience through the sound of a violin-solo playing the Swan theme ), but she has no desire to confess her crime to her victim. It is only when Karine discovers what she did via an anonymous letter that Rose asks for her forgiveness. Seeing the grand ballerina hobble on her cane every day is her punishment. 
Perhaps in order to satisfy the Hayes Code, MGM made the lead character much younger and dampened her act of viciousness by making it an accident. The screenwriters also attempted to give reason to Meg's consuming adulation of Mademoiselle Bouchet by making her a motherless child. In the French film, Rose lives with her mother. Meg's only relation is her flighty aunt whom we glimpse just twice. To atone for this lack of parental guidance there is "Uncle" Paneros ( Danny Thomas in his screen debut ), a kindly Greek who operates a watch shop below Meg's apartment. He becomes a father figure for Meg while we are to assume that Mlle. Bouchet - and, later, La Darina - is the mother that Meg wishes she had. 

"In you, I'm going to dance again. You're not going to fail me, are you?" - La Darina
"I'd die first." - Meg
Danny Kaye was originally cast in the role of Mr. Paneros and indeed would have been ideal because he would have lent some comedy to the film, which it sorely needed. The dramatics are too heavy in certain scenes. In spite of the noir tone of the original Ballerina, that film's drama was interspersed with bits of typical French humor. Instead, Danny Thomas was given the opportunity to perform and he quickly steals every scene he is in, adding warmth to the picture if not comedy. He also boasts a fine singing voice. 

Most of the dancing in The Unfinished Dance focuses on O'Brien ( a merely adequate dancer ) and Cyd Charisse, a true ballerina turned actress. She displays her spectacular terpsichorean talent in six production numbers, including a performance of David Rose's "Holiday for Strings". Charisse's best dance is to the music of Bedrich Smetana's "The Bartered Bride", where, among a gold-and-purple corps de ballet, she makes a grand entrance in a gold costume pirouetting into the camera. 
Karin Booth was not a dancer and so, in her two ballet sequences, a professional dancer took her place for the long shots. La Darina's highlight performance is "Swan Lake" which was a pastiche of the second and fourth "white" acts of Tchaikovsky's classic staged to create an ethereally beautiful effect with a bevy of Cygnus-like ballerinas dancing atop a mirrored floor. David Lichine was the choreographer for all of the ballets in The Unfinished Dance. 

In Ballerina, the dance sequences are exceptional, which is not surprising considering all three principal characters were portrayed by celebrated ballerinas. Janine Charrat ( Rose ) was a child prodigy, choreographing her first ballet at age 14. She had a long career as a dancer and choreographer. Charrat was only 13 when Ballerina was made. 

Yvette Chauvi ( Mlle. Beaupre ) was a famed étoile of the Paris Opéra Ballet and still considered by many to be France's greatest classical ballerina. Mia Slavenska ( Karine ) was an international star and a renowned ballerina from the 1930s-1960s, after which time she became a much sought-after ballet instructor here in the States. In 2014, PBS aired Mia: A Dancer's Journey, a fascinating documentary by her daughter Maria Ramas, which is well worth viewing. 

Considering that these dancers had no formal acting training they are quite good in their roles in Ballerina. However, Benoit-Levy should have filmed them in a more natural continuous style of filming. Instead - like most pictures of the 1930s - he uses close-ups excessively. In many scenes, it is obvious that these close-ups were filmed separately from the medium-shots. These abrupt edits block the fluidity of the film. And, unfortunately, an additional twenty minutes was cut from the original print for the US release, so connecting elements of the story are missing. 

Nevertheless, Ballerina is a classic in its genre, noted for being one of the best ballet films of the 1930s. Ballet enthusiasts today are grateful to be able to see performances from Slavenska and Chauviré captured for posterity on camera. 

Both The Unfinished Dance and Ballerina showcase the art of ballet in a wonderful manner and hopefully have inspired audiences then and today to embrace this beautiful form of dance. Personally speaking, these two titles alone have elevated my appreciation of ballet to new heights and introduced me to dancers I was previously unaware of. 

Ready to explore more ballet films? Check out all the great posts at the headquarters of the En Pointe Blogathon being hosted by Christina Wehner. Also, take some time to watch the two films you just read about: The Unfinished Dance ( also available on DVD through Warner Archives ) and Ballerina aka La Mort du Cygne. 
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