The Barefoot Contessa, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s satire of Hollywood, is a second-rate film, which doesn’t begin to compare with other showbiz melodramas, including Mankiewicz’s “All About Eve”and Vincente Minnelli’s “The Bad and the Beautiful.”
Even so, the three central performers, Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, elevate the satire and make it more enjoyable that it has the right to be.
The tale begins at the funeral of a former Spanish peasant, cabaret dancer and movie star named Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner, at her most gorgeous), who at the time of her death was a contessa.
As was the norm in the early 1950s, her comedic-tragic, bitter-sweet life story unfolds in flashback recollections from her mourners.
Prime among them is Harry Dawes (Bogart, in top form), the movie director, who recalls how his very own career was saved when he discovered Gardner on behalf of Howard R. Hughes-like mogul Warren Stevens.
Press agent Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien, excellent) remembers how Ava was wooed and then abandoned by various beaus, such as millionaire Marius Goring (Alberto Bravano).
Italian count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrin (played by the Italian heartthrob Rosanno Brazzi) reflects on how he was able to wed the tempestuous femme, only to watch his world shattered after revealing on their wedding night that he was “only half a man.”
Mankiewicz claimed that he base his Oscar-nominated scenaiou on the gorgeous and tempestuous Rita Hayworth, Columbia’s reigning star in the 1940s and 1950. But it doesn’t matter, as Gardner is equally beautiful and her own real life and career paralleled many aspects of the woman she played on screen.
Life imitates art:
In 1957, having divorced Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner moves to Madrid.
Oscar Nominations: 2
Supporting Actor: Edmond O’Brien
Story and Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Oscar Awards: 1
The winner of the Story and Screenplay Oscar was Budd Schulberg for Kazan’s “On the Waterfront,” which swept most of the Oscars that year.
Mankiewicz is one of te few filmmakers in the Academy’s history to win two consecutive Diecting Oscars: for “A Letter to Three Women” in 1949 and “All About Eve” in 1950.
Running time: 128 Minutes
Directed and written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Released January 1, 1954.
DVD: June 19, 2001
Humphrey Bogart as Harry Dawes
Ava Gardner Maria Vargas
Edmond O’Brien as Oscar Muldoon
Marius Goring as Alberto Bravano
Valentina Cortese as Eleanora Torlato-Favrin
Rossano Brazzi as Vincenzo Torlato-Favrin.