Tales of Hoffman, The (1951)

Tales of Hoffman, The (1951)

“I have lost my reflection!”

A poet (Robert Rounseville) enamored with a ballerina (Moira Shearer) recounts tales to his friend Nicklaus (Pamela Brown) about three previous loves: a mechanical dancer (Moira Shearer) created by a scientist (Leonide Massine) and operated by a devious magician (Robert Helpmann); a seductive courtesan (Ludmilla Tcherina) who steals his reflection for a magician (Robert Helpmann); and a consumptive young Greek woman (Ann Ayars) forced to sing to her death by an evil doctor (Robert Helpmann).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Dancers
  • Episodic Films
  • Fantasy
  • Michael Powell Films
  • Obsessive Love
  • Operas

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger produced and directed this Technicolor opera fantasy based on Jacques Offenbach’s 1881 opera of the same name. It tells a series of episodic musical tales centered around Hoffmann (Rounseville) himself, with a recurring roster of evil characters all played by Robert Helpmann.

The sets and costumes (by Hein Heckroth) and cinematography (by Christopher Challis) are consistently a wonder to behold:

… as are the enjoyably clever yet low-tech special effects.

Unfortunately, the film’s major and significant downfall (leaning me towards only recommending it rather than calling it must-see) is that, as noted in Bosley Crowther’s review for the New York Times, “it sates the senses without striking any real dramatic fire.” Lead actor Robert Rounseville is notoriously stiff throughout (though of course his vocals, for those who enjoy opera, are impeccable):

… and the final sequence is overall quite dull. With that said, most film fanatics will likely be curious to check this unusual, visually vibrant film — a favorite of both Martin Scorsese and George Romero — at least once; but don’t feel bad if it’s not quite your cup of tea.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Robert Helpmann as Lindorf, Coppélius, Dapertutto, and Dr Miracle

  • Pamela Brown as Nicklaus
  • Highly creative production design

  • Fine special effects
  • Gorgeous Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
No, though it’s unique enough to be worth a one-time look. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


3 thoughts on “Tales of Hoffman, The (1951)

  1. Not must-see.

    I’ve seen it. Had real trouble staying awake, as I recall. Not my cup of tea. I don’t feel bad about it. 😉

  2. There is also… that response. 😉 Which to be honest was my own initial response when I tried watching it years ago. Opera isn’t my thing.

    This time around, I focused purely on the visuals, and that helped.

Leave a Reply