Michael Powell (director)
Network on Air (studio)
107 min (length)
19 July 2021 (released)
19 July 2021
This final entry of Michael Powell’s ballet films is considered by many to be one of his least commercially appealing ones although it has a fair bit going for it and for a certain kind of person - the endangered aesthete - it has somewhat more than a 'fair bit' going for it!
The plot is a comparatively simple one: Honeymooners Kit Kirby (Anthony Steel), an Australian sheep farmer, and his glamorous wife Anna (Ludmilla Tchérina) are honeymooning on a tour of Spain before going to live on Kirby's sheep farm in Australia - clearly the man has money. There is however a little more to it than that. Anna was, before she met Kirby, an acclaimed ballerina but she has given up her career (in her prime as well) to marry Kirby and be a boring old housewife in Australia (one most suppose that Kirby's good looks and 'magnetic' personality offer more than adequate compensation). No sooner do they arrive in scenic Spain for a motoring tour in their open-deck Bentley (it even got lifted from a ship) and hey presto, they pick up a hitchhiker. This is actually the bloke who was driving the flash American car that nearly had them off the road earlier and whose wife had driven off without him after a stoppage for a punctured tyre. This, however, is no run of the mill hitchhiker. We know from the earlier sequence when he was temporarily stranded that this man is one helluva of Flamenco dancer (cue for a solo dance sequence in a Spanish street). He is in fact the great Antonio - the finest dancer in the country! The passionate Antonio (as opposed to the staid and rather stiff Kit) invites the couple to the Tavern Del Toro where he is known and revered. After partaking of a delightful meal the couple get to see the great man dancing a pas de deux with the daughter of the tavern keeper.
Somehow the couple cannot escape Antonio who has realised just who Anna really is and wants this great ballerina in his dance company. They next meet him at the hotel where they are staying and he invites them to a rehearsal where Anna finds herself, to her delight, very much a part of it. Later Kit goes to a Spanish cattle ranch alone and Antonio calls Anna on the telephone, which leads to another pas de deux in an opulent Spanish jardin. They meet Kit relaxing and sunning himself at the ranch. Kit informs Antonio that he has little chance or none of persuading Anna to join his revered Dance Company. Both of these men are really quite arrogant and Antonio quite naturally talks about himself in the third person. The great Flamenco dancer invites the Kirbys to the premiere of his latest extravaganza, a production of Manuel De Falla's 'El Amour Brujo'. This really is a film within a film and we even have credits for it rolling up on the screen. Quite an inspired touch (but not unexpected with Powell) and it is directed and choreographed but the great (ex-Diaghilev dancer) Leonide Massine - a Powell favourite who appears all too briefly and is still looking trim dancing well into his 60's. There are those who might consider this sequence to be the highlight of the film. If that is not good enough it is complimented by Ivor Beddoes (who worked with Alfred Junge) imaginative sets. Amid the action we see the Kirby's virtually sitting on the set. Powell zooms in for a close up of a yearning Anna who we know would dearly love to be part of the action.
Soon after watching this production Anna becomes ill and has the most amazing dream in which she finds herself dancing in a new military-style romantic ballet (composed by Mikis Theodorakis) with Antonio as her lover... well, who else? Interesting also that they both represent different schools of dancing. This scene is very imaginatively conceived and ends with Kit saving her life on a historic rooftop. When next we see Anna she is in a hospital bed with Kit beside her, inundated with huge bouquets of flowers all from Antonio. The dancer appears and tells them his agent has arranged a tour of Australia for him. Kissing Anna's hand as Kit looks on he departs dancing with a smile on his face…
This, it would seem, was supposed to be some kind of Spanish version of what was one of Powell's best films 'The Red Shoes' (albeit working with his erstwhile partner Emeric Pressburger on that one). Powell wrote Honeymoon in collaboration with the Spanish nobleman Luis Escobar Kirkpatrick. We even have a similar (but less developed) plotline. Here it never actually evolves. One can't help feeling this could have been a much better film with regards to what was written earlier and it deserves more respect than previously given. Anthony Steel does precious little for the film (admittedly it is not much of a part anyway) and comes over like a stilted version of Kenneth More. Quite why Powell (who didn’t want Steel in the film to begin with) cast him in the end is a mystery unless the production company insisted. Tcherina was, like Massine, an old Powell favourite. The real star here is the now little known Antonio whose skills as a Flamenco dancer are to be marvelled at. In many respects the film is a travelogue and will look better on a big screen.
Special Features on this restored Blu-ray release include an interview with possibly the last surviving crewmember: nonagenarian Judith Coxhead who has a number of amusing anecdotes in store for us though the interview should have been better edited, what with Coxhead’s constant allusions to the, er, the ‘Swedish Lady' as she clearly couldn’t remember statuesque Anita Ekberg’s name - Steel's then wife.