The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)
Most baby-boomers are familiar with the Powell-Pressburger production of the Offenbach opera Tales of Hoffman only through the full-color stills from the film which were reproduced in the "Motion Picture" section of The World Book Encyclopedia. If this is your only memory of the film, we advise you to seek out a copy of this lengthy but visually enthralling picture as soon as possible. Metropolitan opera star Robert Rounseville plays Hoffman, a university student who is spectacularly unlucky in affairs of the heart. Each of his love affairs with Olympia (Moira Shearer), Giulietta (Ludmilla Tcherina) and Antonia (Ann Ayars) is doomed to failure due to circumstances far beyond our hero's control (Olympia, for example, turns out to be nothing more than a life-sized mechanical doll). As in the previous Powell-Pressburger collaboration The Red Shoes, the film's best moments are its ballet sequences, choreographed by Jane Ashton. Offenbach's score is given a splendid rendition by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under the baton of the legendary Sir Thomas Beecham. Most prints of Tales of Hoffman run 118 minutes, eliminating the closing "Tale of Antonia" sequence; the laserdisc version has been restored to 127 minutes, while the search goes on for the complete 138-minute negative. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi … More
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Critic Reviews for The Tales of Hoffmann
One of the most completely realized marriages of color, movement, and music in the medium's history.
Hard to take, despite the clear personal commitment of director Michael Powell and the enormous amount of talent on display in the photography, set design, and choreography.
As intensely expressionistic as any film since Caligari, and at the same time a veritable nova of springtime élan, the movie inhabits a unique puppet-theater universe, and could seduce a eunuch.
While the dizzying array of design elements and magnificent vocal performances is impressive, 138 minutes is just too long to keep the interest of any but the pure opera devotee.
Lavishly mounted with some of the same actors of The Red Shoes, this filmed operetta is more impressive in its production design (Oscar nominated) than emotional impact.
As with The Red Shoes, the Archers achieve a truly amazing fantasy world, almost like a cartoon in which anything is possible.
For all the spectacle, it is more abstract than involving and the film never pumps with the blood of romantic passion that flows through so many Powell movies.
The result is a testament to both [Powell and Pressburger's] creativity and the inherent limitations of trying to transform one medium into another.
An unusual, magical, cinematically brilliant movie that deserves to be seen.
Audience Reviews for The Tales of Hoffmann
During the first intermission of a ballet in Nurnberg, students and other members of the audience retire across the street to a tavern for a quick beer before Act 2. While there, Hoffman(Robert Rounseville) starts to tell his stories of woe. So compelling are they, that his audience decides to skip the rest of the ballet, with the pipes being broken out, to hear what else he has to say; starting in Paris before the Eiffel Tower was built where he encountered Olympia(Moira Shearer).
"The Tales of Hoffman" is a highly entertaining mix of ballet and opera, where Moira Shearer dances her legs off while everybody else sings their hearts out. Visually, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger pull out all the stops with the aid of cinematographer Christopher Challis who makes the perfect use of Techicolor for these dreamlike fantasia, each set in a different locale. As such as the movie is about the different expressions of art(Hoffman is a famed poet by the end), these settings also resemble paintings and are works of art in themselves. It is no wonder then that Hoffman gets so lost in them, missing what is right in front of him all the time, the constant companionship of his faithful friend Nicklaus(played by Pamela Brown, thus even adding a bit of genderblending into the equation) through thick and thin.
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