in 1950 dick wrathall received his official discharge from the black watch, in which he had been serving his 2 years’ national service, latterly as a lieutenant. he enrolled as a student at corpus christi college, cambridge, a short distance away from trinity hall, where his grandson alex is now a student.
he soon discovered ‘the red shoes’, a film that was still playing 2 years after it was released; a film so splendid in its technicolor and its vision of a war-free south of france that it became the *ultimate* film for dad. he saw it at the arts cinema in a falstaffian rising figure, at least 10, 15, no, 20 times. for those who – amazingly – *haven’t* seen it, i’ll give you a taste.
we’re at a party where the impresario boris lermontov, played by the sublime anton wahlbrook, is talking to lady neston:
– how would you define ballet, lady neston?
– ooh well, one might define it as the poetry of motion, perhaps, or…
– one might. but for me it is a great deal more. for me it is a religion. and one doesn’t really care to see one’s religion practised in an atmosphere such as this.
lermontov stalks off, prompting lady neston to sigh: attractive brute!
for the more romantic: taking a moonlit ride by the mediterranean in a horse-drawn carriage, julian kraster – music-student-turned-resident-composer for the ballet lermontov, played by marius goring – says to victoria page, played by moira shearer:
– one day when I’m old, I want some lovely young girl to say to me: where in your long life, mr kraster, were you most happy?
and I shall say: well, my dear, I never knew the exact place. but it was somewhere on the mediterranean. I was with victoria page.
what?! she will say. do you mean the famous dancer?
yes, my dear, I do. but then she was quite young. comparatively unspoiled. we were, I remember, very much in love.
fast forward to the end, when tragedy takes over. as she’s about to dance the ballet ‘the red shoes’, boris purrs in victoria’s ear: vicky, little vicky. there it is, all waiting for you. sorrow will pass, believe me. life is unimportant! and from now onwards you will *dance* like nobody ever before!
but it’s too late. she’s doomed. it’s monte carlo station. vicki has thrown herself from the terrace – and been hit by a train.
a frenchman says: pas d’espoir.
the crowd gasps.
– yes, my darling.
– take off the red shoes.
what did ‘the red shoes’ mean to dick wrathall? *not*, as you might guess, the wonders of the ballet. elsewhere in life dick quoted winston churchill’s definition of ballet as ‘buggers dancing’.
to penetrate the mystery of ‘the red shoes’, maybe we have to look at boris lermontov himself. he is – to use another churchill phrase – ‘a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma’. not unlike a certain dick wrathall. perhaps he recognised himself?
a final anecdote: dick was on his way off set. he knew he liked movies, but he didn’t any more know what *kind* of movie.
– ‘violent saturday’. 1955! *in colour*!!
– oh, lovely!
– it’s got *lee marvin* in it!
cue vigorous nodding of the head.
(the discovery – since dick’s death – of a 2008 list showing his top 25 movies, compiled in 2008, has revealed that among them was marvin’s best film, point blank.)
at the end of 90 minutes of ‘violent saturday’, he looked at me with a half-smile and said:
– lee marvin.
and I looked at him and said: *lee Marvin*!
and I realised then that was the point of watching all those films together: we didn’t have to say any more than that.