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Friday Film Review : The Glass Slipper

The Glass Slipper (1955)
Genre: Ballet/Fairy Tale
Grade: B-

Somebody recommended this a while back as their favorite Cinderella film version. And since I can’t resist a challenge to find a rare film, off I went to look for it. And look for it. And finally find it through ebay as an import from SE Asia. Bare bones only I’m afraid and the transfer to DVD isn’t dazzling but the job got done. But if you’ve been looking for it and hoping for another TCM showing, check your cable listings for tonight because it’ll be on again.

Ella (Leslie Caron) is poorly treated by her stepfamily as well as the townspeople of the small Principality where she lives. Mocked because she sweeps the cinders at home and is thus slightly dirty, she lashes out and carries a chip on her shoulder. When Prince Charles (Michael Wilding) finally returns home after years abroad, Ella is shooed to the background by her stepfamily and can’t even see him as he rides through the town.

Disheartened, she flees to her private sanctuary where she meets the delightful kleptomaniac Mrs. Touquet [the fancy pronunciation of Took It] (Estelle Winwood) who offers the girl no nonsense acceptance without sappy sentimentality. The two form a friendship and agree to meet same time, same place tomorrow.

The next day the Prince and his valet/companion Kovin (Keenan Wynn) arrive at the same glade. Charles tells Kovin of how memories of his childhood are returning to him, including one in particular of a young girl of about five with large, expressive eyes who wept from a horrible loss on a day when the Prince was being driven through town (and of course we know this is Ella mourning the death of her mother). Since then, weeping women have been his soft spot. Ella arrives and, not knowing who they are, talks with the men until she thinks Charles is laughing at her at which point she pushes him into the pond and flees.

But Charles is curious and has Kovin ask around town about her. When they meet again, he realizes she’s just afraid of rejection and gently begins to draw her out of her shell. Dance lessons follow and the two talk about their hopes and dreams. Fearing she’d run if she knew he’s the Prince, Charles lies and tells her he’s the son of the palace cook then gives her an invitation to the coming ball.

Frantic preparations for her stepsisters follow but Ella has no intention of going to the ball until she tells Mrs. Toquet who then “produces” a dress, Venetian glass slippers and a borrowed coach. Ella is a hit at the ball but no one can get her to speak until Kovin alerts Charles that she’s there. He whisks her away, confesses his real identity and dances with her until the stroke of midnight. But even as she flees and leaves a slipper, he grins since he knows who she is.

The next day the town is abuzz with the news of the Prince’s engagement to a foreign beauty. Heartbroken, Ella decides to run away but stops at their favorite glade where Mrs. Toquet tries to cheer her up. Ella weeps after Mrs. Toquet leaves and it’s then that Charles arrives, glass slipper in hand to claim his love for their HEA.

There are quite a few things different about this version from many others. Firstly it’s a ballet – which only makes sense as Leslie Caron is a trained ballet dancer. You can easily take or leave those dream sequence ballet dances depending on your taste. Caron is backed by the Ballet de Paris but it’s obvious that Wilding isn’t quite up to their standard. But I bet viewers will come away humming the song that Charles sings as he daydreams about Ella.

Ella also doesn’t take her stepfamily’s abuse lying down. Instead she’s a fiery, rebellious little thing. And as for magic, there are only a few hints that any might be taking place. You could almost view it more like “Ever After” which tried to make the story seem like it could have happened.

Leslie Caron displays her usual gamin charm and grace. I’ll be honest and say that she’s not a favorite actress of mine and here her hair looks like she chopped it off with a kitchen knife but then according to the plot, that’s what Ella did! Watch for a funny sequence during which she dreams of living in the palace, gets bored, changes her dream dress, gets bored, starts to play with the hangings around the enormous throne she’s sitting in, gets bored, then jumps for the highest one only to pull the whole thing down on herself. She has great chemistry with Winwood – their scenes are charming – and even manages to make me think she’s falling in love with the much older Wilding.

Michael Wilding is nice in a bland sort of way but despite the fact that he’s still good looking at age 43, I have to wonder why he was cast. His voice is dubbed for the song and he’s no dancer so perhaps the producers were looking to add a touch of European sophistication with him. Or maybe they didn’t want him to overshadow Caron since this is obviously her vehicle.

My favorite character though, is Mrs. Toquet. Estelle Winwood is marvelous as the slightly klepto Fairy Godmother who delights in words – apple dumpling, windowsill and pickle relish are favorites – and has a tendency to “borrow” things – which comes in handy the night of the ball. She has an almost childlike directness and will ask any question that comes into her head. She also reads – though the bratty stepsister Serafina says this has turned her batty. Listen for Mrs. Toquet’s opinion on how men view women’s fashions.

Barry Jones is delightful as Charles’s father the Duke and Keenan Wynn has some fun with his role but Elsa Lanchester is almost wasted as the stepmother. TV show Gunsmoke fans should watch for Amanda Blake as stepsister Birdena – Miss Kitty’s hair is still that vivid red.

Having finally seen the movie, I am surprised that it's not been released on DVD. There are VHS tapes to be found but I think all the DVD-Rs for sale are taped from these or taken from TV/cable broadcasts. Perhaps people don't like Caron's un-sweet portrayal of Ella, or maybe it's Wilding's low key Prince, or possibly the long - and less than inspired - dance numbers slow the movie too much. Who knows but far worse movies have been released so one day it might happen. I think the whole of the movie is better than its parts and it's certainly a change from the standard way Cinderella is done. B-

Remember, if you have TCM on cable, check for the broadcast time tonight.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

16 Comments

  1. Mireya
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 08:06:20

    My younger sister and I LOVE this movie. I have it on tape, but I never bought a CD. Time to check!

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  2. Jayne
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 08:13:17

    @Mireya: I was very surprised to see the CD available but still no DVD from the film studio.

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  3. Kelly L.
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 10:10:04

    Oooh, I’ve seen this, and liked it! I think it was on TV one day when I was home sick from school. But over the years I’ve conflated parts of it with The Slipper and the Rose. Now I know which one had the angry Cinderella and those particular stepsister names.

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  4. Claudia Dain
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 10:29:28

    Thank you for this. I’m astounded that I’ve never even heard of this movie before! Where (and why) has it been languishing? I’m setting my DVR to tape right now. I’ll just fast-forward through the boring ballet sequences, assuming I find them boring.

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  5. Estara
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 12:23:38

    OH this is one of my favourites, too! Now you only have to review Lili to have reviewed all my favourite Leslie Caron movies ^^ (she had much better chemistry with Mel Ferrer). … if I remember correctly you did review An American in Paris? And Daddy Long-legs?
    She is NOT my favourite female musical star, but I think she’s the best at the ballet scenes and the naive ingenue role

    Also: I loved the Fairy Godmother character, too – and the ballet around the huge wedding cake ..

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  6. MaryK
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 13:09:54

    Thanks for the heads up, Jayne. I don’t pay enough attention to TCM’s schedule.

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  7. Bonnie Dee
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 18:18:34

    What was with Leslie Caron being paired with much older men in many of her roles?
    The Glass Slipper is an old family fav which we still have a VHS of (taped from TV), but the Prince? No. None of us ever got that casting choice. Still it was fun to make fun of him which we did at length. And the fairy godmother made the whole movie worthwhile.

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  8. Jayne
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 18:24:47

    @Kelly L.: I think the best – and funniest – scene with the stepsisters is when Cousin Lulu comes to tea and gets buttered up. Walter Pidgeon’s dry narration of the plot here is a scream.

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  9. Jayne
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 18:27:25

    @MaryK: I scan through it about once a month to see what’s coming up and was hoping that this film would eventually be shown again so I could do the review.

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  10. Jayne
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 18:29:50

    @Bonnie Dee: I don’t know about the age difference either. The one where it really squicks me out is “Gigi.” I know he doesn’t really “notice” her until she’s been dolled up in adult clothes but the opening schoolgirl scenes coupled with the “training her to be a courtesan” plot are horrible to me.

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  11. Jayne
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 18:31:22

    @Claudia Dain: I had heard of it and (I think) caught some parts of it on TV before but had never watched the whole thing until recently.

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  12. Jayne
    Apr 29, 2011 @ 18:34:16

    @Estara: No, I haven’t reviewed any of those other films you mentioned. I don’t think I’ve even seen all them. But I’ll keep an eye open for them.

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  13. Estara
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 09:17:02

    @Jayne: Huh… I could have sworn I had read a review of An American in Paris by you here on DA… Oh well…
    In that she is paired with Gene Kelly, and in Daddy Long-legs with Fred Astaire ^^

    Hmm, if you’re not sort of okay with the power difference in Gigi, then Lili is probably also not a film you’d enjoy. As a matter of fact most her famous roles seem to start out with her in the hands of an older or more powerful man and then she takes over the relationship by becoming aware of how much the men need her love – or in the case of An American in Paris, she decides to go away with the man she actually loves.

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  14. Mireya
    Apr 30, 2011 @ 11:02:11

    Gigi is, I think, my favorite of Leslie Caron’s. @Estara: She did marry Mel Ferrer, though they divorced. I can’t say “Lili” engaged me the way “Gigi”, “The Glass Slipper” or even “Daddy Longlegs” did. I have to watch it again, though. It has been over 2 decades since the last time I watched that one.

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  15. Estara
    May 01, 2011 @ 09:24:13

    @Mireya: I was a bit startled that Mel Ferrer was supposed to have been married to two famous actresses, but when I checked Wikipedia it was in fact Audrey Hepburn who married him, he never was married to Leslie Caron. I remember seeing them in Tolstoy’s War & Peace and I think after that movie they married.

    Lili, I guess it’s the natural way Caron’s Lili interacts with the puppets and the depth of her emotion and betrayal when she realizes that all that glitters isn’t gold. That movie always has me in tears. I’m fine with her going back to Mel’s character in the movie in the end, though.

    I’ve always thought it’s a bit of a Beauty & the Beast aspect in there.

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  16. Kath/turnip girl
    Mar 22, 2014 @ 07:15:30

    Thanks for providing the explanation. I did see The Slipper and the Rose a million years ago and loved every bit of it. Last night when I saw The Glass Slipper on TCM, I kept thinking there were things that were wrong. I had always loved the Slipper/Rose version, above all others (Disney, the broadway musical), but there were things that were different and I kept seeing unexpected actors (Leslie, Michael), not to mention dance scenes, and a narrator, but was still able to see my most favorite actress in the movie, Estelle Winwood. Who knows the real resolution to my confusion? Did they really morph the two together? I say that because I could have sworn I never saw a good part of the movie on TCM. What a great idea to morph two movies together though. Movie Sleuth

    ReplyReply

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