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 ...
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The only son of wealthy widow Violet Venable dies while on vacation with his cousin Catherine. What the girl saw was so horrible that she went insane; now Mrs. Venable wants Catherine lobotomized to cover up the truth.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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
Joseph L. Mankiewicz wanted James Mason, whom he had just directed in Julius Caesar (1953), for the part of the nobleman. MGM executive Nicholas Schenck, who had had a vehement disagreement with the director, would not release Mason for the film. According to Mankiewicz, he ended up with Rossano Brazzi, "who cannot act, cannot be sensual . . . could hardly speak English . . . " Ironically, Rosemary Matthews, who was hired to help Brazzi with his English, and Mankiewicz later married. See more »
When Maria is sitting at the table meeting Kirk Edwards for the first time, her blouse under the shawl changes from lower to higher up on her shoulder. See more »
A lugubrious, Hollywood-turns-on-self potboiler from Joseph Mankiewicz
Joseph L. Mankiewicz' The Barefoot Contessa exerts the baleful fascination of an uncoiling serpent. It's one of a brood of movies dating from about 1950 (Sunset Boulevard, The Bad and The Beautiful, A Star Is Born, Two Weeks in Another Town, The Legend of Lylah Clare) that shows Hollywood turning poisonously on itself. But while Mankiewicz' similar lowdown on Broadway, All About Eve, transformed all the backstage bitchery and mordant cynicism into entertaining, brittle artifice, The Barefoot Contessa sinks into its own fetid swamp. It reeks of private scores being settled, of spiteful inside jokes.
An unpleasant party of American filmmakers, none of whom likes the others, descends on a dive in Madrid to watch Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner) dance flamenco. But the haughty peasant girl won't consort with patrons, even with a filthy-rich icepick of a producer (Warren Stevens), who sends first his toadying publicist (Edmond O'Brien) then a director in his employ (Humphrey Bogart) to fetch her. Ultimately she relents, journeys to Hollywood, and becomes the toast of the town. The possessive, controlling Stevens pushes her too hard, and she leaves him for an even wealthier South American playboy (Marius Goring). When, he, too, pushes hard, a proud Italian nobleman waits in the wings to make her his Contessa.
The central portrait of Gardner descends from the proto-feminist carnality of her compatriot Carmen (as drawn by Prosper Merimée and Georges Bizet). For various reasons, her relationships with the four principal males in the story stay chaste; she reserves her passion for flings with lusty men of the same soil in which she likes to dig her unshod toes. (The avuncular Bogart numbers among her platonic lovers, wed as he is to doting Elizabeth Sellars, who looks like Dorothy Kilgallen in her What's-My-Line couture).
But, as the 1950s never tired of telling us, unbridled sexuality leads to death. The movie opens at the Contessa's rainy funeral, and returns there again and again like a tolling bell. That sets the lugubrious, portentous tone a splashy threnody. But The Barefoot Contessa is closer in spirit to a pulpy potboiler, with its movie-colony parties and casinos at Cannes, and with characters suggesting Porfirio Rubirosa and the exiled Windsors.
Mankiewicz, a wildly uneven director, misfires badly here, with an overlong, overblown melodrama that some ruthless nipping and tucking might have made more svelte. (He even repeats an entire scene, shot from a different angle, but to no rhetorical point.) The dialogue shows grease stains from all the midnight oil, and what in All About Eve was overwrought and epigrammatic has become arch, too cleverly coy.
Though Gardner took the title role, the center of attention defaults to Bogart, starting to look old and ill but still the best thing in the movie. O'Brien walked away with a supporting-actor Oscar for his part, though he lent much finer support in two better pictures, The Killers and White Heat. Both Goring and Brazzi could benefit from subtitles. Voice-overs disorientingly shift from character to character, like a relay race. The freshest element in the production is the camera work from Jack Cardiff, who defied the garish Technicolor of the era to give The Barefoot Contessa a muted, autumnal look. He and Bogart are the only two participants who guessed the movie's intended key right.
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