Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Barefoot Contessa (1954) : What is the Spanish Word for Cinderella?

Humphrey Bogart .... Harry Dawes
Ava Gardner .... Maria Vargas
Edmond O'Brien .... Oscar Muldoon
Marius Goring .... Alberto Bravano
Valentina Cortese .... Eleanora Torlato-Favrini (as Valentina Cortesa)
Rossano Brazzi .... Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini
Elizabeth Sellars .... Jerry
Warren Stevens .... Kirk Edwards
Franco Interlenghi .... Pedro Vargas
Mari Aldon .... Myrna
Bessie Love .... Mrs. Eubanks
Diana Decker .... Drunken blonde
Bill Fraser .... J. Montague Brown
Alberto Rabagliati .... Nightclub proprietor
Enzo Staiola .... Busboy

Joseph L. Mankiewicz-Producer,Director and Screenwriter
Mario Nascimbene-Composer (Music Score)
Jack Cardiff-Cinematographer
Arrigo Equini-Art Director
Michael Waszynski-Associate Producer
Sorelle Fontana-Costume Designer
William W. Hornbeck-Editor
Charles Knott-Sound/Sound Designer


The story is that of a dancer, picked out of a night club in Madrid by a trio of Hollywood insiders who magical turn her into a movie star. At the height of her career, she gives it up to marry an Italian Count,but remains a simple, barefoot girl, at heart. There are echoes of Ernest Hemingway, of Scott Fitzgerald, of Dorothy Parker and of D. H. Lawrence in this film.

It is told using flashback recollections, fetched out of the silent thoughts of a group of gentlemen who are attending the Countessa's (Maria Vargas/Ava Gardner) funeral. One is the Hollywood director (Harry Dawes/Humphrey Bogart),who actually coaxes her away from Madrid and serves as a wise but passive counselor through most of her spangled career. Another is a loud-mouthed press agent (Edmund O'Brien/Oscar Muldoon) for an American multi-millionaire (Kirk Edwards/Warren Stevens)whose whimsical interest in movie-making accounts for the "discovery" of the girl. Yet another is a South American playboy (Alberto Bravano/Maurice Goring) who snags her briefly from this surly young tycoon. And the last is the Italian Count (Rossano Brazzi/Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini) who proves a dismal disappointment all around.

Gardner came out of near-poverty with no ambitions grander than becoming a secretary. She would have a very interesting life. In 1941, at age 18, she made a trip to New York to visit her older sister, who was dating a photographer. He took some pictures of her, put one in the window of his shop, where it was seen by an MGM messenger, who told his bosses about it. In the blink of an eye Gardner was signed by MGM.

On her first day at MGM, she would meet Mickey Rooney who pursued her relentlessly. He would be the first of three husbands-Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra. Bullfighters,CoStars and beach boys would become her lovers during between and after her marriages. While filming this movie in Italy she filed for seperation from Frank Sinatra. He would make repeated trips to try to win her back. While filming, she began a torid  affair with Luis Miguel Dominguin, who in the 1950s was Spain's premier matador. It was at this time that she decided to  Madrid.

Ernest Hemingway became a close friend (not a lover). He would teach her how to bullfight. A few years later she was involved in a horseback riding accident  involving a bull. She was at an Andalusian bull ranch observing testing of the bulls and someone suggested that she hop on a stallion and ride into the ring.. Drunk on Cognac, and Absinth, she pranced around on the horse and then the bull charged them. The horse stopped, reared up and threw Ava to the ground. She landed face down on her right cheek. Her cheek became horribly swollen and bruised. Several months later, there were attempts to correct the damage to Ava's face. If you look at pictures of Ava after 1957 you will notice that on one side of her face she has two dimples below her cheek. It was the result of the corrective plastic surgery.

She would make her home in Spain until the mid sixties and  then she moved to  London permanently.

Casting Notes:
Rumors were that the story was about Rita Hayworth's rise to fame. 

The Kirk Edwards character was based on Howard Hughes.
Production Notes:
The flamenco scene was one of Gardner's favorites from her career. "Not only was I getting more and more intoxicated by the romantic rhythms of flamenco, but this was the first time I'd ever danced in a film, so I practiced every night on those cold Roman floors for three full weeks. We shot the scene in an olive grove in Tivoli, outside Rome, with 100 gypsies beating time to a phonograph record. When the phonograph broke, they kept right on beating and that was the take we used." She seemed to understand her character, saying "the only place she feels safe looking for love is back in the gutter where she came from." But she hated the way the film was promoted, "That damn advertising line, 'The World's Most Beautiful Animal' will probably follow me around until the end of time."

United Artist-Studio released the film was on September 29,1954.
Figaro-Production Company


Gardner is exquisitely lovely and beautifully gowned by the Italian couturier Fontana. At the premeire of her first film she wears a gorgeous blue satin gown. On the boat in the riviera, she dons a black velvet bathingsuit. Later, there is one particularly stunning strapless Pink/Lavender satin gown, beaded in black and white, and a bolero jacket with long trailing sleeves.






Growing up in North Carolina she really hated to wear shoes, just like Maria Vargas. Ava was a tomboy and would put her shoes in the mailbox in the morning and  play in the country fields all day. 
The statue that was made of Gardner during filming, would later be purchased by Frank Sinatra. He placed it in his garden at his Palm Springs home. Talk about being obsessed! When he married Barbara Marx, in the mid 1970's,the statue was mysteriously removed from the premises.


Harry Dawes: "What's the Spanish word for Cinderella?" 

The film never clears this up, but it is Cenicienta.


Edmund O'Brien breathed so much credibility into the stock part of a Hollywood press agent that he won an Academy Award for best supporting actor of 1954. He also won a Golden Globe for this part.

Review/Final Thoughts:
Gardner was equally well served in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), which, in many ways, was a replay of her own rags-to-riches personal story. She is good in one or two moments—when she tells of a childhood in Madrid, and when she seeks the solace of her old friend, the director, in her last scene. 

Bogart is really good as her "all knowing" fairy godfather. But I really think that Edmund O'brien steals the show as the anxious,sweaty Studio press agent.
Even though this film was not a critical success, I really enjoyed it. You girls out there will love the costumes and Ava looks stunning.


  1. Awesome review!!! Barefoot Contessa is one of my favorite films. You are right about the costumes, they are gorgeous.

  2. I love that pic of Ava and Papa H! I've always been fascinated by that friendship. Every time I see The Barefoot Contessa I'm sort of 'eh' about it, and yet I've rewatched it several times. So there must be something I like about it, I'm just not sure what that is.

  3. Great blog -- this movie was Ava's best in my opinion. She really made Maria a tragic heroine who we so wanted to be happy.


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