Classic Movie Review: The Barefoot Contessa (1954)


Title: The Barefoot Contessa
Release Date: September 29, 1954
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Production Company: Figaro
Summary/Review:

The Barefoot Contessa is part of the trend of “show business is sleazy” satirical dramas following on the heels of Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve (the latter written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who wrote and directed this film).  Writer/director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) is part of a Hollywood team traveling Europe looking for a “new face” when they discover flamenco dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner, born in North Carolina and not the slightest bit Spanish) in Madrid.  Maria becomes a superstar after making three films with Harry, before marrying Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rosanno Brazzi).  But since the movie begins at Maria’s funeral, and the film is told in flashback, we know that things are not going to end well.

Despite the title, the movie is not really about Maria.  She is more of an object for men to desire and for more conscientious men like Harry to philosophize about.  To be fair to the film, it makes no pretence at being a movie about Maria and spends a lot of time in voiceover monologues by Harry, Count Vincenzo, and even the sleazy publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien) who works for a couple of millionaires who are pursuing Maria romantically. But it strikes me that the movie would be much better if it was from Maria’s perspective. The dialogue in the film strives towards witty repartee, but misses the mark so that it just embarrassing.  The film starts very well, and the friendship between Harry and Maria is very strong, but ultimately The Barefoot Contessa is a disappointment.

Rating: **

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