The Barefoot Contessa 1954

 

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

 

Writers: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Rôle: Alberto Bravano

Release Date: 29 September 1954

 

Synopsis: At Maria Vargas' funeral, several people recall who she was and the impact she had on them. Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) was a not very successful writer/director when he and movie producer Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) scouted her at a shabby nightclub where she worked as a flamenco dancer. He convinces her to take a chance on acting and her first film is a huge hit. PR man Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O'Brien) remembers when Maria was in court supporting her father who was accused of murdering her mother. It was Maria's testimony that got her father off and she was a bigger star than ever. Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring), one of the richest men in South America, sets his sights on Maria and she goes off with him - as much to make Edwards angry as anything - but he treats her badly. When she meets Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi), they fall deeply in love. They marry but theirs is not to be a happy life.

 

Comment: It's a shock to see Marius with his beautiful auburn hair dyed black but it does make his blue eyes really stand out. He hams it up a lot in the role of Alberto Bravano but he's very amusing. Apparently the character of Bravano was based on Porfirio Rubirosa, the Dominican diplomat and international playboy.

The cinematographer was Jack Cardiff with whom Marius had worked on several Technicolor films previously, most notably 'A Matter of Life and Death' (1946) and 'The Red Shoes' (1948). Ava Gardner looks absolutely stunning in it.

 

The plot summary I found says that Alberto Bravano treats her badly but he's the one that ends up with a black eye (administered by Maria) and when he confronts her at the casino over her attitude, (I think he looks adorable in his pale pink tuxedo) he gets assaulted by her new admirer, Count Torlato-Favrini. Then Maria and the Count just walk off together but it ends very badly for them both. I might be biased but I find Bravano the least objectionable of the many men in her life. Humphrey Bogart's character is a world weary sad sack, Kirk Edward's character is rude, abrasive and unlikeable, Edmond O'Brien's character is a sweaty, sleazy PR man (he got a best supporting actor Oscar for his role) but Rossano Brazzi's Count Torlati-Favrini is the worst. He is the only one that Maria really loves but he cruelly deceives her and ends up killing her!

 

Availability: DVD (MGM Vintage Classics) Release date: 19 June 2001; Blu Ray (Eureka: The Masters of Cinema Series) Release Date: 12 March 2018.

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Reviews: Good review of the film The Ace Black Movie Blog: "A rags to riches to misery tragedy, The Barefoot Contessa is an epic story of a life that starts in earthy poverty and ends in rich desperation.

On a miserable rainy day in Italy, Hollywood director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) attends the funeral of Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner), and starts narrating her story in flashback. Maria is a Spanish dancer plucked by Harry from the obscurity of a glum household to star as a fresh face in films for novice but rich producer Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens). Harry directs Maria in three films, and the marketing machine orchestrated by publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O'Brien) turns her into a star.

Harry slips into the role of Maria's mentor and confidant. While he finds happiness with script girl Jerry (Elizabeth Sellars), Maria is always looking for true love, and finds Edwards too cold and the world of film stardom too fake. She turns her back on the industry and goes back to Europe with rich South American Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring). When Bravano reveals the depth of his shallowness Maria flees into the arms of Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi), who is desperately looking for a life companion. But just when Maria comes close to finding the happiness she has always craved, fate reveals more unwelcome surprises.

 

A frothy story, The Barefoot Contessa is Hollywood at its glamorous best, filled with the conceited rich finding ways to fritter away their money while pretending they have problems. The film is an uncomplimentary look at Hollywood types and the international set, particularly functionally useless tanned men who drink, smoke, gamble, sail, and seek women for entertainment or added wealth.

Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote and produced The Barefoot Contessa, lovingly creating a profound tragedy built on human insensitivity and focussing on transformations in the shadow of life's main events as promises are made and broken and spirits soar only to be shattered.

Time and again Mankiewicz focuses his cameras not on what is happening but the reaction to it. The film opens with Maria's dance at a nondescript club; only the dance is not on film. Instead the behaviour of the audience members speaks volumes about Maria and her impact on men. The same is applied to Maria's screen test, her star-making films, her affairs, the trial of her father, her honeymoon, and her death - they all occur off-screen or in summary form, as Mankiewicz captures the outward motion of the waves that propagate from each crucial milestone.

 

There is a surprising amount of heart-to-heart dialogue, particularly in long scenes between Maria and Harry, as Mankiewicz announces early he will invest the time to delve into vulnerable emotions, the operatic pursuit of fairytale-like hopes and dreams, and the passionate quest for true destinies."

The Barefoot Contessa review in The Tatler 17 November 1954
The Barefoot Contessa in The Times Dispatch (Richmond Virginia) 11 November 1954