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   THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954) 

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CAST
Humphrey Bogart
Ava Gardner
Edmund O'Brien
Marius Goring
Rossano Brazzi
Elizabeth Sellers
Warren Stevens

DIRECTED BY
Joseph Mankiewicz

PURCHASE


DVD



About Gardner



About Bogart




Time: 128 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Romance/Drama/Hollywood

Won Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (O'Brien). Nomination for Best Screenplay.


THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA is a picture about the rise of a movie goddess and I'm sure many a tale of newly discovered talent had endings just like it. Never for a moment was I convinced of the Gardner's character's humble beginnings. She's a movie star from the minute she appears onscreen. It's the first movie I've ever seen with Miss Gardner and I have to say she blew my socks off. Not only is she stunning, she's quite the actress as well. Since I'm also a big fan of Bogie's, watching THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA turned out to be an afternoon very well spent.

This is a story that makes those of us who've dreamed about the joys of money and fame take a step back and reconsider our ideas of the good life. The film begins with the "discovery" of Maria Vargas (Gardner), a young, beautiful and talented dancer from Spain. Wall Street Tycoon Kirk Edwards (Stevens) has decided to become a Hollywood producer and he needs a fresh new face to launch his new venture.

He sends his right-hand man/slave PR guy Oscar Muldoon (O'Brien) back to Maria's dressing room to convince her to meet him. He has no luck, so Edwards demands that Harry Dawes (Bogart), an on-the-wagon, once successful writer/director, go talk to her. Harry doesn't like taking orders from anybody, but these days he has very few chances left. He meets Maria, who surprisingly knows who he is, and convinces her to at least talk to Edwards and do a screen test. What has she got to lose? Well, since the film happens mainly in flashback and begins at her funeral, apparently everything.

She immediately dislikes Edwards, who views her as nothing but a pretty face with the potential to make him a lot of money. It's not easy, but Harry is able to convince her to take a chance. What girl could pass up the dream to become a star? Harry and Maria understand each other and form a fast friendship. It only takes 3 movies to make Maria an international sensation, loved by the multitudes, but not her producer. She refuses to play the Hollywood game, going to premieres and parties with Harry and Jerry (Sellers), his girlfriend.


Maria Vargas: "In Hollywood, it is not easy to become a star."

Harry Dawes: "Ah, where is it easy?"


Though Maria likes many aspects of her new life she isn't very happy. All she's looking for is someone to love her and so far all she's found are men who try to own her. The only man she seems to able to trust and confide in is Harry. When her father murders her mother, the studio is adamant that she stay away. The publicity will only hurt her career. However, they couldn't be more wrong. The way Maria stands up for her father only makes her more popular. Tired of Edwards pushy ways, she jumps from the frying pan into the fire by going away with South American magnate Alberto Bravano (Goring).

Though he takes care of her, she does not allow him to possess her physically. There's is a relationship of convenience - she has a protector and he gets to be known as the man dating movie goddess Maria Vargas. It's a mismatch from the start and one that eventual blows up in Bravano's face. While on their travels, Maria meets the man of her dreams, Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Brazzi), a man with class who respects her as a person. For the first time in her life she falls deeply in love and is looking forward to her future. After a brief love affair, he asks her to marry him. The day of her wedding is the happiest day of her life. That is until Vincenzo destroys her dreams of their future. After a deeply, passionate kiss, he tells her his horrible secret. Though he loves her with all his heart, because of an old war injury he cannot make love to her...ever.

After returning from a very disappointing honeymoon, Maria confides in Harry about her newly discovered situation and her plan to fix it. Vincenzo has always wanted an heir, he is the last of his line, and Maria is going to give it to him. She is pregnant and once Vincenzo realizes he's going to be a father she's sure everything will work out. Harry is unconvinced. Vincenzo is a man of great pride who will not take kindly to another man sleeping with his wife or raising a child that isn't his. He knows Maria has misjudged her new husband. He follows her out into the rain, but is too late to save her. Vincenzo also followed her and shot both her and her lover before Maria could explain. Seeing that he's in enough pain, Harry decides not to make things worse by telling him Maria's greater plan. It is a week later with the rain still coming down that Harry says goodbye to Maria for the last time. A woman who lived the life of a princess but never found her prince charming.

I did not expect to be drawn into this story as much as I was. In fact, I couldn't stop watching it even though you know that she dies in the end. Bogart and Gardner are just mesmerizing even when playing characters that are far from perfect. Their friendship seemed genuine and is the crux of the film. It's Maria's story told from the point-of-view of Harry and Oscar. I really liked the film's use of voice over and flash backs. It made me feel like I was getting the real story behind her life, like I was a special confidant to this men. The minute Gardner appears onscreen she grabs you and refuses to let go. If you like Hollywood success/failure stories this is definitely one to watch.


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