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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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
Ava Gardner is beautiful Spanish dancer Maria Vargas who is discovered and given a Hollywood contract in "The Barefoot Contessa," also starring Humphrey Bogart, Edmund O'Brien, Rossanno Brazzi, Marius Goring, and Valentina Cortese. Written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, the story is supposedly based on Rita Hayworth, who turned down the role. There are some similarities - the Spanish roots, the dancing angle, the studio head who desires her but doesn't get her, a la Harry Cohn, and the great sadness of her life. The famous story about Rita is that her first husband, Edward Judson, was nothing more than a pimp, though he is the man who turned her into a movie star. He demanded that she have sex with Harry Cohn, and Rita refused time and time again. Finally, Judson made a date for himself and Rita to go on a boat trip with Cohn, and Judson cancelled at the last minute, leaving Rita alone with the studio head. She still didn't go to bed with him.
The story begins at Maria's funeral and is told in flashback by the various men who were in her life. Most of the narration is provided by the Bogart character, writer-director Harry Dawes, who had a unique relationship with Maria - he cared for her deeply and was always there to listen to her and advise her. Maria was a woman whose life was lived as a barefoot Cinderella looking for her prince. Harry has a sixth sense about things, and when Maria is about to marry the man she believes to be her prince, Count Torlati-Favrini, Harry starts to worry. He knows that, as is often pointed out in the film, real life is much more erratic than a movie script.
Edmund O'Brien gives a terrific, Oscar-winning performance as a yes man/publicist who does all the talking for the studio head, Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens). Bogart is excellent, but he does not have a great role; although he has top billing, he doesn't even have the starring role. One suspects he's there for box office pull.
The dialogue has been praised here - Mankiewicz was one of the great dialogue writers, but I found some of the dialogue in this a little pretentious and the pace slow. It's an interesting story, but for me it doesn't compare with "All About Eve" and "Letter to Three Wives" in script or in pace.
The star of the film is Ava Gardner. For this writer, Gardner and Hayworth were ultimate sex symbol/movie stars - gorgeous, sexy, exciting women. Around 32 here and living the wild life she always did, Gardner is breathtaking to look at. After the beginning of the film, she drops the Spanish accent, but she more than makes up for that in presence. Like Lana Turner and Rita Hayworth, she was one of those actresses whose appearance and private life often received more publicity than her actual acting - but Ava could act. There was always something uninhibited, earthy, sexy, and inherently honest about her performances - and she was that way as a woman, too. I highly recommend her autobiography to anyone who hasn't read it.
To see this marvelous cast and especially to see them in something written and directed by a fine artist like Mankiewicz is worth it, even if it's a little flawed. Nobody's perfect.
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