Blu-ray Review – The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

Cover art for the 2018 Blu-ray release of The Barefoot Contessa

Genre: Drama
Certificate: PG
UK Release Date: 12th March 2018
Runtime: 128 minutes
Director: Joseph L Mankiewicz
Writer: Joseph L Mankiewicz
Starring: Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Stevens, Rossano Brazzi, Marius Goring
Synopsis: Plucked from Spain to be the next star of the silver screen, a woman navigates the complexities of the industry and society.

 

 

In the days of Old Hollywood, the star system was king. It’s exactly that idea that powers 1950s drama The Barefoot Contessa, which is out on Blu-ray in the UK this week. Written and directed by Joseph L Mankiewicz, best known for record-breaking Oscar winner All About Eve, the film follows a Spanish dancer plucked from obscurity by an unscrupulous producer in order to be the next star of the silver screen. It’s a drama of real elegance, powered along by a script of exquisite melodrama and a selection of compelling performances.

The star at the centre of it all is Ava Gardner‘s Maria, whose propensity for shedding her footwear gives the movie its title. We meet her when she is approached at a show by loathsome producer Kirk (Warren Stevens), fast-talking PR man Oscar (Edmond O’Brien) and washed-up movie director Harry (Humphrey Bogart). Maria is reluctant, but takes a shine to the kindly Harry and agrees to join them in Hollywood, where she soon becomes famous, rejuvenating Harry’s career as her star rises.

Mankiewicz is in no hurry to get through the story in The Barefoot Contessa, imbuing the film with the slow, methodical pace that feels very of its time. The movie is peppered with talky set piece scenes, often between Gardner and Bogart, that allow the actors to really stretch their legs and engage with the intricate, compelling dialogue of one of Mankiewicz’s five Oscar-nominated scripts. The melodrama is strong and permeates every twist and turn of the story, but that never derails the film, thanks largely to Mankiewicz’s firm and experienced hand on the tiller.

The performances, too, are uniformly strong. It’s Gardner who shines the brightest, with an ethereal quality that makes her compelling and likeable, even as her character makes questionable and morally dubious decisions. Bogart is typically reliable in support and there’s also plenty to enjoy in Edmond O’Brien’s motor-mouthed PR guru – a turn that won him an Oscar. None of the men, though, can match Gardner’s luminescent, complex performance.

It’s the gloss and the glamour that makes The Barefoot Contessa such an intriguing and appealing piece of work. The idea of multiple narrators discussing their memories of the titular woman creates an almost mythical aura around her, supported wholeheartedly by Gardner’s work in the well-written and rounded title role. The film’s deliberate melodrama occasionally becomes a little overwrought but, as a historical record of Hollywood at its most opulent, it’s a valuable movie.

 

 

Special Features

A meagre selection. The original theatrical trailer and a commentary with a pair of film historians.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Fans of Old Hollywood and the days when movie stars were king will love The Barefoot Contessa, which is an elegantly designed and beautifully written tale of the industry’s excesses and dangers.

The platonic chemistry between stars Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart keeps the drama moving as it explores the way a star can become mythologised – even by those closest to them.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

The Barefoot Contessa is available on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK now, courtesy of Eureka Video.

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