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The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Mystery | 29 September 1954 (USA)
At Maria Vargas' funeral, several people recall who she was and the impact she had on them. Harry Dawes was a not very successful writer/director when he and movie producer Kirk Edwards ... See full summary »

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Won 1 Oscar. Another 1 win & 3 nominations. See more awards »
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Cast overview, first billed only:
Eleanora Torlato-Favrini (as Valentina Cortesa)
Kirk Edwards
Pedro Vargas
Alberto Rabagliati ...
Maria Zanoli ...
Maria's Mother
Renato Chiantoni ...
Maria's Father
Bill Fraser ...
J. Montague Brown


At Maria Vargas' funeral, several people recall who she was and the impact she had on them. Harry Dawes was a not very successful writer/director when he and movie producer Kirk Edwards 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 remembers when Maria was in court supporting her father who was accused of murdering her mother. It was Maria's testimony that got him off and she was a bigger star than ever. Alberto Bravano, 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 they fall deeply in love. They are married but theirs is not to be a happy life. Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

29 September 1954 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La condesa descalza  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

,  »
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Technical Specs


| (dvd release) (TCM print)

Sound Mix:

(Perspecta Sound encoding) (Western Electric Recording)



Aspect Ratio:

1.75 : 1
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Did You Know?


The statue of Ava Gardner used in the film was by Bulgarian artist Assen Peikov. After the film Frank Sinatra bought the statue and installed it in the garden of his Coldwater Canyon home. See more »


When Harry is talking to Maria, outside of her house, for a moment he is with his left hand in his coat lapel and his right hand holding the cigarette. The next shot shows him with his both hands in the pockets. See more »


Alberto Bravano: To make a hundred dollars into a hundred and ten dollars - this is work. To make a hundred million into a hundred and ten million, this is inevitable.
See more »


Referenced in The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968) See more »

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User Reviews

A wooden, fawning, male-gaze look at Hollywood at its worst
5 October 2011 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Oh dear, such potential, and such a forced plot with too much talking, far too much voice-over narration, and a world that might have interested the movie makers but is almost hopeless false and empty for the rest of us. Could Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart really be involved in such a flop? Even Edmond O'Brien, who can be a great B-movie lead, overplays his part--at first he seems impassioned and convincing, but once you see through his loudness you sense an actor trying too hard. It got him an Oscar at the time.

And with the really impressive and normally subtle Joseph L. Mankiewicz directing and writing? He's just off his game here--but he got an Oscar nomination himself, for the screen writing. This is a Figaro production--an offbeat independent group that made four films, shot largely in Italy and Europe, and usually of really high quality (like "The Quiet American"). But this one seems to have production constraints, with a lot of shooting in limited quarters, rather dully assembled.

I am a minority, I see from the ratings, so let this just be a voice of dissent to add to the mix.

Bogart, for what it's worth, makes the most of what he has to work with (mostly standing around watching the action, if you can call it that, happen around him). And what he witnesses and narrates is a kind of male moshpit over this woman who is supposedly so beautiful all the rich men around her can't resist her, risking reputations and fortunes to win her over.

And of course the woman playing this Spanish contessa is an actress with an admiring fanbase of her own, an echo of the drooling masses who followed Rita Hayworth, the purported (and probable) inspiration for the film. But this whole insider look at the Hollywood world, the making of a star, and the machinations and unbridled obsessions over a woman are handled a hundred times better in "The Bad and the Beautiful," a 1952 black and white drama that sets the stage for the Technicolor one.

So what exactly goes wrong here? A little of everything. It's not a horrible mess--I watched the whole thing--but it's filmed rather stiffly, it has some really wooden secondary actors (the ultra rich Christian producer in the first half of the film, who can never even get out of his chair it seems), and the writing is just contrived, arch stuff. Maybe on purpose. There is a wonderful moment when a third rich suitor takes over a scene and walks off with our reluctant heroine, and it's shown twice, from two different points of view, a nice movie-making ploy (though both scenes are identical--there is no sense of re-visiting and changing our opinion of events).

As a final kind of falseness that seems almost intentional, a series of recurring flashbacks to the funeral for the woman show a real raining downpour, with Bogart and O'Brien both getting soaked. And then, in the next moment, the final flashback, there they all are, soaking wet, but the sun is out and not a cloud is in the sky. Yes, we get the symbolism, and life goes on all bright and filled with possibility, but really now.

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