Wednesday, 17 February 2016

I've Just Seen: The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Few Hollywood films feel as lavish as Mankiewicz's The Barefoot Contessa. The colours are soft and clean, particularly the costumes by Fontana: the pink evening gown worn by Ava Gardner is gorgeous. The story reflects on the life of an actress plucked from obscurity, films a few movies, becomes a star yet is mistreated by many of the men in her life. The film could have been simply a melodramatic luvy-fest. While it might not have the bite of Sunset Boulevard or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the film does reflect on the sadness of many caught up in the Hollywood system.

Humphrey Bogart is great (when is he not) as a director and writer who has an almost brotherly/ fatherly relationship with Gardner's Maria Vargas. She too is equally good, capturing the strong spirit of Vargas, and the pain inflicted on her by those who claim to love her. The film is cleverly structured, moving from Vargas funeral (not a spoiler, it is the opening scene of the film), adding intrigue and mystery to the story. It also has a lovely depiction of an affectionate marriage between Bogart's Harry Dawes and Elizabeth Sellars' Jerry. While Dawes is the only one Vargas truly trusts, you never want him to leave his wife.

If you liked A Star is Born and All About Eve, I think you will enjoy this. On the surface it looks and sounds light, but the story has far darker ideas running through it.


  1. I liked this a lot more than I expected I would. Particularly Bogart is doing a great job being a different character from what he usually played.
    We are supposed to understand something about Vargas that explains why she is riding for her doom though I am uncertain if that is clear enough.

    1. I went into this rather cold, and was expecting a Bogart/ Gardner romance. Instead I got a clever reflection on the vagaries of Hollywood, and an interesting relationship between two people who seem to understand each other as much as anyone can do.

      If anyone ever needs to see the subtle range of Bogart, they need only compare his character here and in In a Lonely Place.