The Glass Slipper (1955)
Genre: Ballet/Fairy Tale
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.