Excellent screenplay. Great acting. Fine directing.
Linda Linguvic | New York City | 01/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This 1954 film was written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who sure does know how to make movies. In one of the very first scenes, Ava Gardner is dancing in a nightclub in Spain. We know she's great even though the camera isn't on her for one minute. All we do is hear the music and watch the faces of the people watching her. By the time we do see her, she's already in her dressing room. She's absolutely gorgeous and lights up every scene she's in. We see her character's rise to movie stardom and share the unfulfilled life she leads. And then, just when we think she's finally found happiness, tragedy strikes. It's a modern day classic drama with a story that pulled me right in.Humphrey Bogart plays a movie director who befriends this "barefoot Contessa", nicknamed that because she was once so poor that she didn't have shoes. She prefers going barefoot and this theme is emphasized all the time, showing her barefoot whenever possible. Rossano Brazzi, who doesn't appear till late in the film, is cast as the true romance in her life. All of these actors do a good job, but I was particularly impressed with the performance of Edmund O'Brien, cast as a public relations man for a studio executive. It's a small part but I just kept thinking how good he was. Later I discovered that he won an Academy Award for this role.It's the screenplay that moves the action. It never lagged and I sat there with my eyes glued to the screen wondering what would happen next. Considering that this is basically just a love story, that's saying a lot. I totally enjoyed the viewing experience. It's too bad though, that there were no features included on the DVD. It would have been nice to have a little more background. "The Barefoot Contessa" gets a high recommendation from me just because I enjoyed it so much."
Memorable Examination Of Hollywood And It's Down Side With A
Simon Davis | 03/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Throughout her famous acting career actress Ava Gardner had many heavy crosses to bear. Hounded by the press probably more than any other actress of her generation, she was forced to live in an emotional goldfish bowl as she married a succession of famous men and pursued an acting career that included many highs and lows. Labelled with daunting titles such as "The most beautiful woman in the world", and "The world's most beautiful animal", it's not a surprise to read that she suffered from an inferiority complex all her life and really never regarded herself as a good actress. Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "The Barefoot Contessa", contains one of those fine performances that proves beyond a doubt that Ms. Gardner was indeed a very fine actress capable of great depth when a character and story actually challenged her. Cast as the simple, self questioning Maria Vargas who rises to the lofty heights of Hollywood stardom only to encounter the down side of the business and the people who run it, Ava Gardner has never been better and coming on top of her Academy Award nominated performance in "Mogambo", the previous year proves that the earlier performance was no fluke. Interestingly teamed with veteran actor Humphrey Bogart, Gardner and he have an unusual chemistry onscreen based not so much on a passionate love between their characters but from a deep understanding of each others characters and foibles that really drives this story along to it's tragic conclusion.
As the story opens we witness the funeral of a woman who was once a great Hollywood star and through the narration of one man present; Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), we are told in flashback the woman's sad story. Firstly winding back the years we see a rag tag team of Hollywood personnel scouting for locations in Europe for an upcoming production to be shot in Italy. While there they journey to Madrid to check out the much reputed charms and talents of a local dancer by the name of Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner) as a possible choice for the lead in the new story. The visiting group consists of washed up, reformed alcholic director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), who has been given the responsiblity of directing the new film, producer Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) the cold and emotionless robot who makes and breaks people in Hollywood over night, and public relations yes man Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O'Brien). Totally captivated by Maria's beauty and magnetism the group persuade her to accept the lead role in the movie which Maria sees as not only a perfect escape from the unhappy life she lives in Madrid, but as a way for her to achieve her dreams of a better life full of love and meaning. Maria goes from strength to strength in Hollywood and has great success in three films all directed by Harry however along the way she begins to see that Hollywood stardom, despite all the perks it brings her such as beautiful clothes, jewellery, and a fine house, also comes at a high price which includes her very soul which she is not prepared to give. Now the potential victim of men like Kirk Edwards and Oscar Muldoon, Maria can only express who she is and what she really wants from life to the always sympathetic Harry who is the only individual who sees Maria as far more than just a beautiful money making movie star, but instead as a sensitive, intelligent woman seeking honesty and appreciation of her inner qualities. Dissatisfied with her empty movie career existence Maria flees back to Europe and picks up with a sucession of men including gambler Albert Bravano (Marius Goring), who treats her as simply a beautiful possession, and finally with Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossan Brazzi) a rich Italian who is the last of his titled line but who carries a dark secret of his own. Filming in Europe Harry falls back into contact with Maria who points out to Harry the continued lack of meaning in her life. During Harry's stay in Europe Vincenzo offers to marry Maria who now thinks that all her dreams of love and fulfillment have come true. However her wedding night comes as a rude awakening when Vincenzo reveals that he cannot father children upon which Maria seeks solace elsewhere resulting in a pregnancy. Telling her husband of her condition owever is not the solution that Maria believes it to be and the course of events that happen simply lead to further tragedy for all parties concerned.
"The Barefoot Contessa", marked a particular high point in the career of Ava Gardner where for once she was able to work with a character that had many layers to it in the self questioning Maria Vargas. The way a character is written most often decides whether that character will come across to an audience as a real person or as a piece of fiction and in the capable hands of writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz the character of Maria is an unusual one for that period. Ava Gardner despite the often difficult working relationship she experienced with Mankiewicz off camera here fully understands what motivates Maria and she delivers a finely etched performance that doesn't rely on the usual Hollywood tricks to gain sympathy. Anyone who only thinks of Ava Gardner as a beautiful mannequin walking through her acting assignments needs to view her perfomance here to see just what she was capable of when given a good story and challenging character to play. Humphrey Bogart is also in fine form here and despite his not so chummy relationship with Gardner off screen, the two combined well here in the depiction of their character's platonic but highly supportive friendship through many vicissitudes over many years. Nearing the end of his amazingly successful career in 1954 Bogart attempted in his later years many different types of roles outside of his tough guy persona with often very pleasing results as is seen here. His character is honourable and really the only genuine support Maria's character experiences in her life. Sadly to die of cancer within two years Bogart here has left a pleasing tribute to his range of expertise in acting which is often forgotten in the light of his more famous earlier performances. Edmund O'Brien of course scored the coveted Best Supporting Actor oscar for his role as the slimy, constantly sweating, publicist always out for a great headline or story and his performance really illustrates the cynical, deglamourised feel of much of "The Barefoot Contessa", to perfection. Indeed Bogart's character seems to be the only voice of reason or decency in a sea of corrupt, selfish individuals all living out their dreams in the tinseled Hollywood of old. The film itself benefits greatly from extensive on location shooting in Europe where much of the story takes place with the photography courtesy of Jack Cardiff done though many of the Italian coastal areas a real stand out. It succeeds in really capturing to perfection the lush backgrounds essential for this story about the rich and powerful but not so happy "beautiful people".
"The Barefoot Contessa", has become with time one of those staples of the late night movie channels, reduced to being seen only by bleary eyed insomniacs. It however deserves a much more responsive audience than that. Long a curiosity item because of Humphrey Bogart's distinct change of pace here in one of his last film roles, or to see the matchless beauty that was Ava Gardner in her prime, the film deserves to be better remembered than for just those features. Instead it is an interesting examination of how Hollywood can quickly consume people with its promise of the fulfillment of all their dreams only to often have those dreams become a nightmare with ultimately tragic results for all parties involved. Movie making of the old Hollywood kind "The Barefoot Contessa" most certainly is however it is one of the shining lights in the often maligned career of the legendary beauty Ava Gardner. For that reason alone it makes highly recommended viewing."
What will be, will be...
Rebecca Johnson | Washington State | 02/14/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Yes, this is a much more mature movie than most are used to these days and the story takes a bit longer to gain momentum.
The characters actually have depth and they can act! How refreshing. While watching I found myself just intrigued with Ava Gardner and think she is perhaps one of the most beautiful women ever to grace the earth. The dialogue is simply deliciously revealing as the characters speak from their hearts.
"There's more to talking than just words..."
Ava plays the Barefoot Contessa, Maria Vargas who is discovered in Madrid. I expected there to be much more dancing in this movie, being it was about a dancer. However, there is just really one scene of her dancing out in the open with her gypsy friends where she sees the man she falls madly in love with. He is a nobleman and can provide everything for her. She sees him as the man who has seen more in her than any man ever has before.
The scenes where Ava and Bogart converse are the most meaningful. Bogart has a way of bringing out Maria's natural curiosity. When anyone tells her "no" she says "yes." She is determined to be owned by no one and yet, everyone seems to want to own her. She fears being exposed and unprotected. Emotionally, she is still a child in many ways and believes in fairy tales. The harsh realities of loving someone and not receiving it in return seem foreign to her.
The first scene is in a graveyard and from here, the scenes flash back to the past in a continuous fashion throughout with narration. Each part of the story is revealed at just the right moment.
The rest of the movie seems to deal more with her career and love interests. The theme of Cinderella and "shoes" plays out well and is very significant in many ways. I thought that even though it wasn't really mentioned, when Maria says she didn't forget her shoes in one scene and Bogart picks them up for her, this symbolizes her complete trust in him. Watch for the significance of the shoes in one of the last scenes as well.
The prince in this story loves Cinderella, there is just something he can never give her. While Maria says she needs someone to love her and make her feel safe, she wants the entire "Prince" package. What she finds is someone who doesn't love her enough at first, to tell her he can't make her completely happy.
Che Sara, Sara
~The Rebecca Review"
Bogart as Oracle, Gardner as Screen Goddess
William Hare | Seattle, Washington | 01/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Joseph Mankiewicz was a dialogue master as well as a brilliant director, as evidenced by hits such as "All About Eve" and "A Letter to Three Wives." He is on top of his game once more writing about a familiar area, the world of film, in "The Barefoot Contessa." This film is the number one showcase vehicle in the career of the astoundingly beautiful Ava Gardner, cast in this drama as Maria Vargas, a dancer from Madrid who is discovered by film director Bogart on behalf of his then producer boss, Warren Stevens, a humorless, ruthless financial giant modeled somewhat on the persona of Howard Hughes. From there she goes on to a brief and meteoric career as an international film star before meeting an untimely death at the peak of her beauty and screen renown. Mankiewicz pulls out all stops to display her beauty at every angle, showcasing that beautifully chiseled face accented by the elegant cheekbones.Bogart plays the role of a world-wise oracle, delivering pungent Mankiewicz one-liners, along with snappy first person narration. He serves as a surrogate father for the restless Gardner, who detests the superficilialities of the film world. A free spirit, she loathes stardom's confinements of living in a glass house, seen by all. Bogart serves as a convenient buffer from Stevens, who Gardner, as well as everyone else, detests with a passion. Eventually Gardner meets the handsome prince of her exotic dreams in Italian nobleman Rossano Brazzi, but the tragedy is that he is compelled to love her "with all my heart" and is unable to provide her with the kind of physical fulfillment she desires due to a war injury that has left him impotent. When she endeavors to fulfill his desire for an heir by having an affair with another man, he fails to see things her way and believes she has betrayed him when she had launched the affair to please him. Disaster results.Fans of Edmond O'Brien, who performed with great accomplishment in the film noir classic "D.O.A." as well as in many other films, were overjoyed to see this fine actor honored with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in playing nervous, palm-sweating public relations man Oscar Muldoon in "The Barefoot Contessa." O'Brien is at his best in reading Stevens, who had treated him as hired baggage, the riot act when he is offered a position by a South American playboy with designs on Gardner."
A well written witty melodrama from the 1950's.
Simon Davis | 08/18/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is Ava Gardner's best role. She plays a dancer from the Spanish slums who is "discovered" by film director Bogart and taken to Hollywood where she becomes a star. The film is told in flashback and is narrated by three characters who play a part in her life: Bogart, Edmond O'Brien (an agent), and Rossano Brazzi (an Italian Count who becomes her husband). The film's title refers to the fact that she only feels at home with her feet in the dirt, despite her marriage into nobility. The dialogue is very witty and satirical. A lot of the fun comes from trying to match real names from "cafe society" with characters in this film. Today's movies seem very childish in comparison. They just don't make em' like this anymore."