The Tales of Hoffmann (1951)

Fantasy, Music, Musical
Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tchérina, Ann Ayars, Pamela Brown
A melancholy poet reflects on three women he loved and lost in the past: a mechanical performing doll, a Venetian courtesan, and the consumptive daughter of a celebrated composer.
  • Rialto Pictures Company:
  • NOT RATED Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 13 Jun 1952 Released:
  • 22 Nov 2005 DVD Release:
  • $85.4k Box office:
What a gorgeous film!5/10
I saw this film when it first came out and was overwhelmed by the music (by Jacques Offenbach) and the gorgeous 3-strip Technicolor. I even bought the LP soundtrack album (twice). When the Criterion laserdisc version came out, I forked out beaucoup bucks for it -- and was not disappointed! I suspect this film was the first music video, for all the sound (singing and music) was pre-recorded, which gave it a more pure quality. Nearly all the on-camera players were ballet stars, who lip-synced singing by opera stars! It is an opera, after all, so perhaps it could be accused of being a bit stagey, but so what!! It is a pure delight, and I am now happy to report that Criterion has released the DVD! It has been restored and digitally remastered for a truly glorious presentation. Comments by Martin Scorcese only add to the release!
I've never seen anything like it10/10
"The Tales of Hoffmann" (1951) - a beautifully photographed film version of Jacques Offenbach's opera, his final masterpiece is a magic (and there is no other word to describe it) blend of Adventure / Romance / Fantasy / with an endless stream of gorgeous melodies, seductive and tender love scenes, bizarre characters - comic, romantic or villainous, and tragic climaxes. The film was a follow-up to "The Red Shoes" (1948) a fantasy/musical/romance/drama set in the world of ballet with the same directors, stars, and production designers.

In "The Tales of Hoffmann", Robert Rounsevill stars as E.T.A. (Ernst Theodore Amadeus) Hoffmann, the poet and writer who tells three stories of his great but unhappy loves all ending tragically thanks to the meddling of his enemy, a supernatural villain (Robert Helpmann as quadruple evil, Lindorf, Coppelius, Dapertutto and Dr Miracle). Objects of Hoffmann's love and admiration include Olympia the wind-up doll (Moira Shearer who also plays Stella the dancer, the fourth and yet another Hoffmann's misadventure), Giulietta, the Venetian courtesan who sails away after trying to capture Hoffmann's soul (Ludmilla Tcherina -absolutely brilliant as the siren and the seductress who elegantly walks over the dead bodies, literally), and Antonia the beautiful opera-singer with the fatal voice and deadly illness. One of the greatest choreographers and dancers of the last century, Leonide Massine shines in three absolutely different roles demonstrating his talent as a dancer, strong emotions and tremendous humor.

What makes "The Tales of Hoffmann" not just an ordinary screen adaptation but the stunning unforgettable event, the film which had inspired the future famous directors George Romero and Martin Scorsese to become the filmmakers is the perfect combination of fantasy, classical music, ballet, singing, stunning visual effects, imaginative and often bizarre and even disturbing images that would fit a horror movie (deconstructing Olympia –the doll is horrifying), incredible but calculated feast of colors, their mixture, the unique color palette to match each story, camera work that is so innovative and dynamic that even now, 56 years after the film was made, looks fresh and modern. The feast for eyes, ears, and feelings, "The Tales of Hoffmann" is the love child of incredibly talented people from different epochs and countries. The opera by Jacques Offenbach, the French composer is based on the dark romantic fairy tales by the German E.T. A. Hoffmann. The team of two directors known as "The Archers", the British Michael Powell and the Hungarian Jew Emeric Pressburger who had to flee his country before the WWII, and their international team of stars, color consultants, choreographers and production designers made this miracle happen. The last but not the least is legendary Sir Thomas Beecham conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Bravo, Tales of Hoffmann!10/10
What a splendid film is this combination of opera and ballet for those partial to this type of fare. The performance of Robert Helpmann in four roles is exceptional and dancer Leonid Massine makes a chilling villain as Schlemil in the utterly fantastic "Tale of Giuletta". Ludmilla Tcherina as Giuletta is an alluring sex-goddess and enslaver of men. I am totally absorbed whenever I watch this episode. Having said all this, I must also say that the "Tale of Antonia" is a severe letdown after the two preceding episodes. It is not just the film version that is bad -- it was actually a letdown the first time I saw the opera live at the old Metropolitan Opera 45 years ago. Actually, there have been suggestions that the "Antonia" episode be moved from last to first episode sequentially in the opera, however I doubt if this would make a significant improvement. If I am correct, the "Antonia" episode was completed by another composer, Offenbach having died before completing Tales of Hoffmann. Ahhh...that hauntingly beautiful "Barcarolle"....nothing can compare to it!! And the film version is just icing on the cake.
Breathtaking Total Theater.10/10
Rational? I cannot be rational about this mad cinematic gem. I was spellbound as a child watching it over and over again on the Million Dollar Movie (on B&W TV, no less!) Like Martin Scorcese's mother, mine too would call from the kitchen (when I was sneaking yet another look) "Turn that off! You watched it yesterday and the day before. Now we've heard enough of that thing!"

Run, do not walk, to purchase the newly released Criterion DVD. It is worth every penny. Never has the color been so lush and the detail so finally delineated. And I know, I have pursued (rare) showings of this film nearly all my 50 years. If you think you've seen Hoffman before, wait until you see this!
A magnificent filmic version of the Offenbach opera10/10

A magnificent spectacle. A truly filmic version of a classic opera. Often mentioned as a favourite movie and constant inspiration for young Martin Scorsese.

With the audacity that Powell & Pressburger were famous for we are presented with a wonderful performance of a truly "composed" film. All the soundtrack was recorded by Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and then the filming was all done on the open stage (it didn't need a sound stage) at Shepperton.

With choreography by Sir Frederick Ashton and performances by ballet luminaries such as Moira Shearer, Ludmilla Tchérina, Robert Helpmann, Léonide Massine and Sir Frederick Ashton himself. Assisted by opera stars such as Robert Rounseville and Anne Ayars and the Sadler's Wells Chorus. All this backed by the designs of Hein Heckroth and the experienced team of technicians that worked regularly under the banner of The Archers leads to a treat to behold.

The plot - from a 1951 (year of release) programme.

The Prologue : The Opera House in Nurnberg (Nüemburg). Hoffmann sits in the auditorium watching a performance of the Dragonfly ballet. He is in love with Stella, the prima ballerina, who seems the embodiment of all his past loves. In the interval Hoffmann goes to Luther's Tavern. Here young students greet him. He sings them the ballad of Kleinzack. But the sight of Stella has reopened old wounds. "Would YOU hear the three tales of my folly of love?" lie asks. The students gather round the punch bowl, with Hoffmann's companion, Nicklaus, who has accompanied him throughout his adventures, and his enemy Lindorf.

The Tale Of Olympia : As an inexperienced student in Paris, Hoffmann was tricked by two puppet-makers, Spalanzani and Coppelius, into falling in love with their latest creation, the doll Olympia. Spalanzani passes Olympia off as his daughter and hopes by this means to get some money from Hoffmann. At a ball given for her, Olympia sings the "Doll Song" and dances a ballet. Hoffmann is entranced. Only when Spalanzani and Coppelius fall out, and Coppelius destroys the doll in revenge does Hoffmann realise how he was fooled.

The Tale Of Giulietta : As a young man of the world, he was enslaved by a beautiful Venetian courtesan, Giulietta. Acting under the influence of the magician Dapertutto, Giulietta captures his reflection and so gains possession of his soul. Hoffmann kills her former lover Schlemil in a duel, to get the key to her room. He hurries back to her, but finds she has left with Dapertutto. Mad with rage, he flings the key against her mirror. It cracks, and his reflection reappears. He has regained his soul.

The Tale Of Antonia : As a mature artist and poet, Hoffmann falls in love with Antonia. Her mother, a singer, has already died of consumption (Tuberculosis). Crespel, her father, through grief at his wife's death, is now the half-mad wreck of a formerly great conductor. Crespel keeps his daughter in seclusion on an island in the Greek Archipelago and forbids her to aggravate her own weakness by singing. He also forbids his deaf servant Franz to admit either Hoffmann or the quack Dr. Miracle who killed his wife. Franz misunderstands, and in turn shows them in. Hoffmann realises Antonia is ill, and she promises him not to sing again. Dr. Miracle persuades her it is her mother's wish she should disobey. She does so, and dies in his arms.

The Epilogue : On the stage of the Opera House, it is the finale of the Stella Ballet. In the tavern Hoffmann's audience is spellbound. Hoffmann's tales are told and with the telling Hoffmann finds his true destiny as a poet. Stella appears at the door of the tavern and looks down at him. But Lindorf, who has also understood the meaning of the Tales goes to meet her and together they pass out into the town.