Barefoot Contessa, The (1954)

Barefoot Contessa, The (1954)

“Life every now and then behaves as if it has seen too many bad movies.”

While at her funeral in Italy, a movie director (Humphrey Bogart), a press agent (Edmond O’Brien), and a count (Rossano Brazi) recall the mysterious life and motivations of a beautiful Spanish woman (Ava Gardner) who became an internationally beloved superstar.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Actors and Actresses
  • Aspiring Stars
  • Ava Gardner Films
  • Edmond O’Brien Films
  • Flashback Films
  • Hollywood
  • Humphrey Bogart Films
  • Joseph L. Mankiewicz Films

Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote and directed this beautifully photographed (by Jack Cardiff) but narratively stilted homage to a gorgeous movie star with inscrutable tastes and motivations.

Gardner — who struggles to maintain a semblance of a Spanish accent — is a woman who easily resists the lure of money and fame, as presented in the opening sequence by a caddish first-time producer (Warren Stevens) who wrongly assumes Gardner will accept his offer to become Hollywood’s next great discovery:

Instead, Gardner is drawn to the honest friendship of Bogart (whose voiceover perspective opens the film), a jaded but happily married director who is willing to mentor Gardner and help her learn to act.

Edmond O’Brien won an Oscar for his brief work as an enthusiastic promoter:

but his role is minimal, despite taking on voiceover duties for awhile in the middle of the flashback-filled screenplay.

Finally, Gardner’s widowed husband (Brazi) tells his perspective as the first man Gardner falls for and is willing to marry, not knowing he holds dark secrets that will doom her to unhappiness yet again. During this portion of the episodic film, Valentina Cortese — so effective in Jules Dassin’s Thieves Highway (1949) — plays a thankless, underwritten role as Brazi’s concerned sister.

Since we know from the get-go how this tragic tale ends, there’s ultimately little to do but enjoy Jack Cardiff’s predictably beautiful cinematography.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Gorgeous cinematography

Must See?
No; you can skip this one unless you’re a diehard Gardner fan.

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Barefoot Contessa, The (1954)

  1. Not must-see.

    Yes, it’s gussied-up to the max visually but, alas, it’s a Mankiewicz misfire that’s alarmingly unsatisfying, leaning towards tedious and empty.

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