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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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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
Scouting talent for an upcoming film to be shot in Italy, a trio from Hollywood (writer/director Bogart, producer Stevens and publicist O'Brien) travel to Spain to scope renowned local dancing sensation Maria Vargas (Gardner). Immediately, they are struck by her beauty and presence. In fact, Gardner has a profound effect on every man she meets...though the effect is as unique as each man she encounters. Stevens sees a talent to be exploited for all it's worth and O'Brien sees only huge marquees and dollar signs. But Bogart, after a couple of brief but revealing conversations with Maria, sees so much more. Expecting a naive Spanish peasant eager to grab at the brass ring, he finds instead a woman as smart as she is beautiful, whose main motivation is to enjoy the challenge and escape that a Hollywood career might offer a woman who will nevertheless always value the simpler things in life. Even with her inate beauty and uncommon savvy, to Maria's detriment she does not have eyes in the back of her head. Told in flashback the viewer experiences her success in Hollywood and her quest to find the true love of a man (Brazzi) that has always eluded her.
In the hands of Joseph Mankiewicz, "The Barefoot Contessa" frequently bristles with crackling dialogue (would you have expected less?). Unique to this contribution from Mankiewicz is the portent that hangs over the film. As the details of Maria's life are expounded, empathy for her fate increases accordingly. Impeccably well-cast, this is actually an ensemble film. Gardner is luminous as Maria, though she is not solely dependent on her looks to carry the film--she gives a real performance. Bogart is stalwart and sympathetic as Maria's protector. And O'Brien, in an Academy Award-winning turn, is sly and oily as the single-minded publicist who changes allegiances as often as his sweat-soaked shirts. Lensed by the great Jack Cardiff and shot largely in Italy, the European ambiance, as well as the snappy dialogue, push the credibility of the premise a notch or two above so many other so-called exposés of Hollywood excess and pretense.
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