Fifth about The Seventh

The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)

The Tales of Hoffmann: if cinema truly is La Settima Arte, rarely the other six are used so intensely together as in this film. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s famous opera mixes ballet, opera, and a good deal of theatrics as it tells about the failed love stories of a young poet. The stories are larger than life, belong to fantasy, and are ultimately tragic. The protagonist is a hopeless romantic, someone easy to relate to given his eagerness. This is not filmed theatre, or opera as the case may be; Powell and Pressburger make full use of the cinematic instruments to enhance the storytelling. It’s a fascinating film, but one’s appreciation depends on their opinion of opera.

Visually, this is striking: production and costume designer Hein Heckroth and co-costume designer Ivy Baker create a quartet of memorable sets, all colorful and different, making use of all sorts of painted backdrops and foreground props. Everything matches well and is used to enhance the visual narrative, which also includes practical photographic effects. Cinematographer Christopher Challis captures it all beautifully. Offenbach’s music is rendered by Sir Thomas Beecham’s orchestra rather effectively.

Acting is over-the-top, very theatrical in that sense. Most characters are played by a pair: an acting performer-dancer and a singer. Robert Rounseville plays well the romantic hero and has both a pleasing voice and an appealing visage. Robert Helpmann plays all the villains, and he has an amazing face for the role. Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tchérina, and Ann Ayars play the romantic interests, all talented and attractive in their own ways.

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