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The Tales of Hoffmann ***
Moira Shearer      Robert Helpmann

Picturegoer: May 19 1951

All praise is due to Powell and Pressburger for their courage in combining ballet and opera and presenting them in a highly intelligent and artistic manner on the screen.

Whether Offenbach's fantastic opera was really a very happy choice is a matter of personal opinion, but it has been treated with imagination and artistry.

The basic idea challenged the inginuity of the producers. The result will certainly challenge audiences, and it is by no means certain that picturegoers on the lookout for an evening's relaxation will consider that this is their cup of tea. For make no mistake on this point, there never was a film like this before, a fact for which some people may be mildly grateful.

After all, this is a colour film told in peratic song, with full chorus and orchestra; and told, too, in ballet and mime. There is not a line of natural dialogue, not a scene which isn't posed in an attitude of high extravagance. This is a length fantasy, pitched in the world of mime, and it demands a lot of it audience.

The ballets, as one would have expected from an outstanding cast which includes Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Ludmilla Tcherina and Leonide Massine [and Sir Fred Ashton], are sequences of grace and beauty.

I would put Moira Shearer's interpretation of the mechanical doll in "The Tale of Olympia" episode as the most outstanding.

In the second episode, in which Hoffmann nearly loses his soul to the Devil, Ludmilla Tcherina justifies the eulogies that have been heaped on her.

The third tale is about a robust girl singer who dies prettily of a wasting disease. Anne Ayars sings with a richness and sense of character which does her credit. There is no ballet in this sequence. [Apart from Massine as the deaf gardener and the way Helpmann moves]

All through the piece the miming of the dancers compels attention, but more especially that of Robert Helpmann who plays the spirit of evil in each episode.

Robert Rounseville plays Hoffmann, who loses to his enemy every woman with whom he falls in love; he has a fine voice and a very good stage presence.

One of the notable features of the production is the stylized décor. It has been made to convey the fantasy of the opera to the fullest effect. Indeed, if there is one thumping success in the film it is the designing by Hein Heckroth. He creates a world, brilliantly coloured and cunningly economical. He gets his effects with the simplest of materials.

The orchestra is conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, who is seen in the fade-out - an odd intrusion of reality into the world of make-believe. [Or a return to reality?] The scoring has the confidence of a good gramophone recording. Indeed, everything about the picture is confident. If there is anything missing it is emotional content. Hoffmann is clever, but very cold.

[Lionel Collier]

British Lion - London Films.     British     "U" certificate.
Runs 127 minutes.
Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Release date not fixed.
[Trade Show: 17 May 1951
Released: 26 November 1951]

The cast list was appended to the review but it's easier to see it at the IMDb

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