The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1954)
Starring Ava Gardner as the contessa and Humphrey Bogart as the has been movie director, this story was known as based on Rita Hayworth’s life but as some Film historian recalled it is more probably based on Anne Chevalier’s (actress of F.W. Murnau’s Tabu). The Barefoot Contessa recalls the story of a sex symbol who got the Hollywood fame but wasn’t satisfied with it until she met a man with whom she felt deeply in love.
Told in flashbacks, this story presents a cynic point of view of the Hollywood show business. The script, by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is solid and demonstrates a deep knowledge of the world that he presents. The vision of Ava Gardner is outstanding and her performance is charming, strong, but also very vulnerable as a woman who lived an unique life. Bogart is playing another side of himself and is once more in known territories. He is far from his strongest performance of In A Lonely Place where he portrays a raging alcoholic screenwriter. Not being the leading man might have put a shadow on his billing here since he seems alone in his cast and only Gardner has achieved to reach at his level.
There’s a whole feeling of melancholy in the picture and the aforementioned cynicism about the world of actors and producers has something a little bit repelling. It is one of the aspects that can be called genuine to the film. However, it seems about right when it comes from a writer/director like Mankiewicz. He worked within the biggest studios and knew more about the films and its politics than a majority of his contemporaries. His directing has always been valued but not that much celebrated. Interesting because he was not a Howard Hawks but his somber mise en scène and writings were very influential and esteemed within his peers. To call him underrated would be about right even if his most well known film is All About Eve, he is not enough cited as one of the most important film directors of all time. One thing this reviewer is not ashamed to state.
The Barefoot Contessa is on the 1000 Greatest Films of All Time list and I’m surprised it is still standing there since many films of the 1950’s have less recognition than the 1940’s and 1930’s when it comes to Classic Film value. Especially, when considering that it is not a film that holds a huge buzz around like, for example his All About Eve or any film on the Criterion Collection. Mankiewicz is a director you will read more about in the weeks and months to come on this blog.