Pleasure & Pain: Shoes on Film

The V&A’s current exhibition Shoes: Pleasure & Pain looks at the extremes of footwear, examining the allure of shoes both past and present. The shoe in cinema makes an early appearance: the eponymous slippers of Powell & Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) are presented in the very first showcase. Later, the curators show a collection of film clips which includes Joe’s boots in Midnight Cowboy (1969), Gene Kelly splashing around in his brogues in Singin’ In The Rain (1952), and Bruno’s black-and-white spectators in Strangers On A Train (1951).

Here, in no particular order, are a few more great shoe moments in film.

River of No Return (Otto Preminger, 1954)

Otto Preminger’s Rocky Mountain western sees Marilyn Monroe star as saloon girl Kay, who sings in local bars wearing a series of scanty outfits. Kay falls in with Matt (Robert Mitchum) and his son Mark (Tommy Rettig) as they chase her fiancé downriver to Council City. Losing most of her luggage in the rapids, Kay is left with only one piece of her costumes left: a pair of red satin shoes with rhinestone embellishment. ‘Pretty elegant, aren’t they?’ she says to Mark as he watches her clean them, ‘gotta take care of them. They’re all I got left.’ Kay’s gaudy shoes represent her life in the saloons; at the end of the film, starting a new (and presumably more wholesome) life with Matt and Mark, she discards them.

From Russia With Love (Terence Young, 1963)


Rosa Klebb’s sensible lace-ups with handy poisoned blades are all about pain and not in a sexy way (well, I suppose they could be – whatever floats your boat). A stellar example of the cartoon-ish Cold War gadgetry featured in the Bond franchise.


Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

48c797f358896277db1dfc6180972aa6Costume is integral to character in Vertigo. In his desperate attempt to resurrect Madeleine, Scottie (James Stewart) buys Judy (Kim Novak) a whole new wardrobe. This includes a pair of high, brown leather stilettos, which we see in close-up as Judy tries them on.

In her scenes as Judy, Novak was released from the confining costumes she wore as Madeleine, donning more comfortable clothes and shoes: ‘it was wonderful for Judy because then I got to be without a bra and felt so good again. I just felt natural. I had on my own beige shoes and that felt good.’

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

ShoesPreston Sturges’ immaculate screwball comedy follows the romance between awkward herpetologist Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) and con-artist Jean Harrington (Barbara Stanwyck). Setting her sights on Pike’s fortune, Harrington endeavours to seduce him. Inviting him back to her cabin, she lets him choose a pair of evening shoes for her to wear and then asks him to help her put them on. Needless to say, the proximity to Harrington’s shapely legs leaves Pike flustered and more awkward than ever.

Chungking Express (Wong Kar-wai, 1994)

ShoesIn the first half of Wong Kar-wai’s slick story of urban loneliness, Brigitte Lin plays a mysterious woman on the run, decked out in blonde wig, sunglasses, trench coat and Manolos. After a drug deal goes wrong, the woman frantically searches for a way out of Hong Kong, meeting lovesick policeman He Qiwu (Takeshi Kaneshiro) along the way. The pair share a hotel room and, as the woman sleeps, He Qiwu removes and cleans her shoes. ‘A pretty woman like her should always have clean shoes,’ he thinks as he wipes them down with his tie, carefully placing them by the bed before he leaves.

The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938)


As Iris (Margaret Lockwood) and Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) try to find out what happened to Miss Froy, the titular vanishing lady, they discover that their fellow passengers are not all what they seem. In a scene which manages to be both silly and genuinely sinister, a would-be nun’s robe lifts to reveal a pair of black, glossy high heels.



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