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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
(Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)


Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner and Edmond O'Brien
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £17.99 (Blu-Ray & DVD Dual Format)
Certificate: PG
Release Date: 17 March 2018

Plucked from obscurity, Maria Vargas, is chosen by tyrannical producer, Kirk Edwards, to star in his vanity film project. Encouraged by washed up director, Harry Dawes, she agrees only to go on to remarkable success. As her fame grows, so does her disillusionment with her own life, leading to a series of increasingly bad relationships...

The Barefoot Contessa (1954. 2 hrs, 10 min, 13 sec) is a drama, written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Guys and Dolls (1955), Cleopatra (1963)) who also directed the film. The film stars Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner and Edmond O'Brien.

It has an unusual structure in that it starts with Maria’s funeral, not that this has limited Mankiewicz’s extravagant directorial style. The story then flashes back to the first time Dawes meets Vargas when she is dancing in a nightclub. The camera tracks across the faces of the male audience, from child to old man they are all entranced with her beauty, even though we do not see her yet. As the film tracks Maria’s success and death, the film keeps coming back to the main visual of her funeral and the idea of Maria as an object.

Mankiewicz was already a chronicler of the dark side of Hollywood, with the superior, All About Eve (1950) and his singular jaundiced view carries over to this movie with Humphrey Bogart (Dawes) standing in for the director as the outsider looking in at the darker side of fame.

Ava Gardner was at the height of both her beauty and fame at this time, but not even the stellar cast can stop the film from occasionally disappearing up its own navel. Unrestricted by studio interference Mankiewicz produced a slow paced and introverted film, more intent on the director’s agenda with Hollywood than in producing an entertaining film.

Although this is story about Maria, it is interesting to note that the director has chosen to portray her through the memories of the men who knew her with various parts of her life narrated by the male actors. As such she remains a tragic enigma as we cannot be certain whether we are watching their reconstructed memories or an accurate account of what happened. In a way Maria has no voice in the movie, which perfectly reflects her own experience of life where even fame and wealth are not enough for her to gain her own agency, in a world of men who want to either own or control her.

The film was independently produced, and the print has not aged well, there is a variable level of grain as well as differing levels of sharpness in the picture. The disc comes with a few extras. You get the original theatrical trailer (1 min, 52 sec) as well as a full-length commentary from film historians David Del Valle and Julie Kirgo which goes into the themes of the film as well as the background and onset relationships of the stars.

The disc comes with two audio tracks, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and a Stereo LPCM track. The disc has English subtitles for the hard of hearing.

In the end this is a flawed, if interesting film that fails to live up to Mankiewicz’s own All About Eve.


Charles Packer

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