A Story of Three Loves (1953) is an anthology film containing three unrelated short, romantic stories, all of a bittersweet nature. One story follows the romance between Leslie Caron (who sadly does not dance) and Farley Granger, except that Granger is really a boy turned into a man by fairy godmother Ethel Barrymore. Another is the romance between a suicidal Nazi prison camp survivor and a reckless trapeze artist played by Kirk Douglas.
But it was the first story – “The Jealous Lover” – that I was especially interested in viewing. It stars James Mason, Moira Shearer, and Agnes Moorehead and features a lovely dance by Shearer, set to Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.”
Paula is an aspiring dancer who is told that she must quit dancing at the cusp of a breakthrough in her career. She has a bad heart and is told that if she dances, she will die. James Mason is Charles Coudray, an impresario searching for a way to improve his most recent ballet, something that seems to elude him. When he sees Paula, he believes he might have found what he’s been looking for.
The plot is, it must be admitted, a bit of a pastiche of other ballet works. Paula (Shearer) has a weak heart that could kill her if she dances, rather like the title character of the ballet “Giselle.” But she feels that life without ballet is not really life at all, rather like her character in Red Shoes (fortunately, James Mason is no Lermontov). And the idea of a dancer/artist as inspiration for an impresario or dancer/artist in need of an impresario? That’s been done many times, including in the film starring James Mason: The Seventh Veil.
There are so few opportunities to see Moira Shearer dance, however, that I am grateful for every single appearance on film she made (rather like Wendy Hiller, an actress who generally shunned film and preferred stage). And James Mason, it must be said, is probably the best actor at acting opposite magnificent artists. He does so in A Star is Born with Judy Garland, and here, with Moira Shearer. He is able to be a part of the scene, reacting to the artist, and yet defer to the artist. Not many people are able to do that (click here for a scene between Mason and Shearer, when he catches her dancing on stage).
The other thing that interested me about “The Jealous Lover” is that the choreography is done by Frederrick Ashton, who is credited with creating a distinctive English, lyrical style of ballet (Moira Shearer danced in his Cinderella before making Red Shoes). He choreographed many ballets that now form English ballet’s core repertoire and I couldn’t help but wonder if his work on the film in 1953 provided the inspiration for his ballet to the entire “Rhapsody to a Theme of Paganini” in 1980, which was created for Mikhail Baryshnikov.
If you like ballet, I would definitely recommend you give it a viewing. And if you want more Moira Shearer and Frederrick Ashton, then you can’t go wrong with Powell and Pressburger’s Tales of Hoffman, which Ashton actually appears in as a character.
This has been part of the “En Pointe: A Ballet Blogathon.” Be sure to check out all the other posts about ballet, which can be found here.
Below is a clip of Moira Shearer dancing to part of the Rhapsody. It begins at 3:27 minutes into the video.
Below is an introduction to “Rhapsody,” choreographed by Ashton in 1980, and being performed by The Royal Ballet.