Barefoot Contessa, The (1954): Mankiewicz Oscar-Nominated Hollywood Satire, Starring Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien in Oscar-Winning Performance

The Barefoot Contessa, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s satire of Hollywood, is a companion piece to his own 1950 All About Eve, a far superior film, with strong references to Vincente Minnelli’s 1952 inside-Hollywood melodrama, 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 than 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, this time around 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 to have based his Oscar-nominated scenario on the gorgeous and tempestuous Rita Hayworth, Columbia’s reigning star in the 1940s and 1950s.

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 moved to Madrid, where she spent most of the rest of her life.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Supporting Actor: Edmond O’Brien

Story and Screenplay:  Joseph L. Mankiewicz


Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actor

Oscar Context:

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 the few filmmakers in the Academy’s history to win two consecutive Directing Oscars, for “A Letter to Three Women” in 1949 and “All About Eve” in 1950.



Running time: 128 Minutes

Released January 1, 1954.

DVD: June 19, 2001