Joseph L. Mankiewicz (director)
12 March 2018 (released)
12 March 2018
A lush satire on the merciless business that is Hollywood, and a drama about the rise and tragic fall of fictional movie star Maria Vargas (played by real-life Hollywood Star Ava Gardner).
THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA starts with the funeral of glamorous Hollywood film star Maria Margas, her grave next to a statue of her. Assembled mourners include movie director/writer Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien), Latin American playboy Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring) and movie business tycoon Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) among others. Also standing in another corner is an aristocratic and handsome looking man though it is as yet not revealed who or what he is. The film then goes into flashback mode (narrated by Dawes/Bogart) and we are in a nightclub in Madrid in Spain where Dawes, who at that point in time is a washed-up writer/film director who hasn’t had a hit in a long time, together with the egotistical and abusive tycoon Edwards and permanently nervous and sweaty publicist Muldoon are gathered to see a dancer named Maria Vargas perform. Edwards has decided that his next film is going to be a larger than life affair and – looking for a suitable leading lady – has heard of her. Dawes, who doesn’t particularly like Edwards but has currently no other choice than to work for him, is supposed to approach Maria in case her performance pleases them. Her performance (although we don’t see it, instead we only see the faces of the gathered audience) is indeed a knockout and Dawes notices her performing barefoot. After her performance he introduces himself and she seems to like him though upon introducing her to Edwards it is clear that from the moment they meet she utterly dislikes him and leaves for her dressing room, no longer interested in any business proposals. It’s now down to Dawes to use his ‘diplomatic’ skills and convince her to go to the US with him to try her fortune in the film world. Entering her dressing room he realises she is not alone: a man with whom she is intimate (though she refers to him as her ‘cousin’ which he is not) leaves climbing through the window. Maria still isn’t that interested in the business proposal, instead she tells Dawes about her poverty-stricken childhood and why she hates wearing shoes, and why she doesn’t like her mother. Before Dawes leaves the room he has at least managed to make Maria think of the proposal. A short while later – Edwards and Muldoon have already left for Hollywood – he knocks on the door of her parental home to find out her decision. Her mother is strictly against Maria going to the US and that is precisely why she is now going – just to annoy her mother whom she dislikes so much.
The next chapter continues in Tinseltown where Maria Vargas is hailed as an overnight sensation and Dawes finally walks on his good luck trail again. Edwards of course continues to treat everyone like dirt. Insincere publicist (has there ever be a sincere one?) Muldoon has a field day when news from Spain emerge that Maria’s long-suffering father has killer her mother in a fit of rage. The tabloids go on overdrive, Maria as well as Dawes and Mulroon fly to Spain to be present at the court hearing and Maria, after delivering a speech as to why her father should be forgiven for what he did – emerges from the courtroom a bigger star than ever! Back in Hollywood she has every luxury one could possibly dream of but the one thing she craves most – true love – she has not. It is indicated that she invited her Spanish ‘cousin’ cum lover over to Hollywood though keeps him well out of the public eye. The public eye is something that Maria dislikes altogether – refusing to feed the sensation-hungry press about her private life. One evening during a lavish party at Maria’s luxury villa she meets playboy Alberto Bravano who has a showdown over Maria with Edwards. Maria, fed up with being bossed around by Edwards, accepts Bravano’s invite to spend time with him on his yacht. Likewise, Mulroon, equally fed up with being treated like dirt by Edwards, switches over to camp Bravano. When the whole posse arrives in the South of France for the Cannes Film Festival some of the film’s strongest and most sarcastic scenes take place – portraying the shallowness, indiscretions and back-stabbing of the ‘biz’ only too perfectly!
Maria finds no happiness with Bravano whose playboy attitude and gambling habit disgust her. A free spirit since childhood she prefers to dance with the local gypsies than spending time in posh restaurants. Nonetheless during one evening in a casino she cashes some of Bravano’s chips for cash which she then secretly hands to her gypsy lover who is waiting outside the building in the garden. When Bravano finds out he reprimands Maria in front of everyone. Earlier on she caught the attention of wealthy Italian count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (them mystery man standing in a corner at her funeral in the film’s opening scene) and, smitten by her, comes to her rescue. Within no time they are an item and for the first time in her life Maria is really in love. Vincenzo proposes marriage and asks her to move into his magnificent palazzo in Italy which he shares with his sister Eleanora (Valentina Cortese). Both he and his sister are the last in line of the Torlato-Favrinis and therefore it is assumed that with the looming marriage between the Count and Maria the noble line will not die out (does Eleanora marrying someone one day not count for anything?). The day of the marriage approaches, with dear friend Harry Dawes being ‘best man’. But Count Vincenzo harbours a dark secret which he intends on revealing to Maria only after the wedding, and which leads to tragic consequences…
Ava Gardner is perfect as Maria Vargas (complete with Spanish accent) as is ‘Bogey’ with his typical deadpan manner. But it is Edmond O’Brien whose portrayal of publicist Oscar Muldoon earned him an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1954 followed by a Golden Globe. Director Mankiewicz, who also wrote the screenplay, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.
THE BAREFOOT CONTESS is lush, brilliant and poignant and well, they simply don’t make them like that anymore. Eureka releases the film for the first time if Dual Format with a host of Special Features including Interview with Director, Original Trailer, Audio Commentary, Collector’s Booklet and more.