(1948)5Bruce EderMichael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's 1948 film The Red Shoes was, for nearly four decades, the most successful British movie ever released in America. Movies had used ballet as a subject before -- including a pair of Hollywood bombs, Spectre of the Rose, which had the virtue of being bizarre and humorous, and The Unfinished Dance, which was itself a remake of a pre-World War II French film called Ballerina -- but the public had mostly ignored them. The Red Shoes, by contrast, seemed to draw audiences into its spell, virtually one theater at a time. In New York, it played to sell-out crowds at a single theater in Manhattan for almost two years before going into wide release, by which time word of the film had spread sufficiently to make it a hit throughout the country. Powell described attending The Red Shoes as a ritual for middle-class mothers and their daughters, although it was sufficiently well-known by 1949 to rate an oblique mention in a Three Stooges short, "Some More of Samoa." The movie had started life as a proposed screenplay, written by Pressburger for Merle Oberon before World War II, which never saw production -- the intervening war and its aftermath led to a major change in its focus, from romantic melodrama to art. Powell and Pressburger sincerely believed that having spent four years dying in the name of freedom and liberty, the world was ready to see a movie that suggested it was now alright to die in the name of art. The public (outside of England, where critics panned the movie and it closed very quickly) responded in kind, in what was the first huge "art-house" success in postwar cinema.