The movie consists of three short stories that are presented as the memories of three passengers on a liner crossing the Atlantic to the U. S.
The first story, The Jealous Lover, focuses on James Mason, as a ballet choreographer, and Moira Shearer as a ballet dancer. Nietzsche once spoke of the Old Testament by saying that there was a certain consecration of passion, and that even the Greeks could have gone to their school. The passion that Nietzsche spoke of, that drove Jacob to labor 14 years for Rachel, and that consumed Ruth, David, and other Old Testament figures is in this story. Shearer’s character is a dancer who has a heart condition, and she has been cautioned that dancing might kill her. She quits dancing until one night, when she believes she is quite alone, Mason’s character sees her dancing on the stage. He takes her home, and she dances for him, as she dances he sees his ideal encapsulated in her, and falls in love with her. Does he fall in love with her, or with her dance? Can you, as Yeats asked, “tell the dancer from the dance?” Camille Paglia has said that Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and some other artists were so driven by their art, consumed by the artistic impulse, that their sexuality was not an issue. The sexual drive was sublimated into the artistic impulse. In the case of Mason’s performance here we see a man who, whatever his sexual desires for the dancer, is driven to transform her performance into a masterpiece of art.
In the second story, Mademoiselle, we have Ricky Nelson, Leslie Caron, and Ethel Barrymore that anticipates the later Tom Hanks movie, Big, by about 30 years. Now while Hanks is a likable guy in his movies, many of them are frankly forgettable. In this episode Ricky Nelson plays a 13 year old boy who is in Italy with his family, and a nanny, played by Leslie Caron. He yearns to be an adult, and an encounter with an American witch, played by Ethel Barrymore, enables him to have his wish. Leslie Caron, needless to say, becomes a big part of that wish.
The third story, Equilibrium, centers on an acrobat, a trapeze artist, played by Kirk Douglas, and a Holocaust survivor, played by Pier Angeli. He rescues her from a suicide attempt, and convinces her to partner with him as an aerialist. Some may feel that the training segments go on a bit too long, but the story has a satisfying ending.
This is a passionate, beautiful film. If you liked Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes, or even in Peeping Tom, you’ll love the first episode. The other two episodes are also quite good.