Tales of Hoffman, The (1951): Powell-Pressburger Masterful Version of Offenbach Opera

The Michael Powell-Emir Pressburger production of the Offenbach opera Tales of Hoffman is lavish in its production design and enchanting in its emotional power.

Visually and musically enthralling, the movie was made in 1951, at the peak of Powell and Pressburger’s careers as producers, writers, and directors.

The New York Metropolitan opera star Robert Rounseville plays the protagonist, Hoffman, a university student who always seems to fall in love with the wrong woman.  Hand of fate, bad luck, circumstances?

Each of his love affairs—chronicled in three acts– with Olympia (Moira Shearer), Giulietta (Ludmilla Tcherina) and Antonia (Ann Ayars) is doomed to failure due to circumstances that are far beyond his control.  Olympia, for example, is a life-sized mechanical doll.

As in the previous Powell-Pressburger collaboration, the Oscar-winning “The Red Shoes,” the film is equally good in its ballet sequences, here choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, as well as in its dramatic moments, and there is smooth transition between the two elements.

Offenbach’s score is given a splendid rendition by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, under the leadership of Sir Thomas Beecham.

Most prints of Tales of Hoffman run 118 minutes, eliminating the closing “Tale of Antonia” sequence.  There’s a longer version of the 138 minute negative.

Of the three or four film versions of the Offenbach opera, this is by far the strongest. Director Martin Scorsese has done a lot to bring this film as well as other Powell-Pressburger collaborations to the public consciousness.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Hein Heckbroth

Costume design (Color): Hein Heckbroth

Oscar Awards: None

Credits

Running time: 125 Minutes

Cast

Moira Shearer as Stella.

Robert Rounseville as Hoffmann

Robert Helpmann as Coppelius

Pamela Brown as Nicklaus

Frederick Ashto as Cochenille

Leonide Massine as Spalanzani

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