When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.
For many, the high point of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s quite legendary Hollywood career is 1950’s All About Eve, a picture which has lingered in cinematic history for its caustic wit, cold glamour and harsh performances. The Barefoot Contessa is, and in some ways isn’t, a lighter affair than Mankiewicz’s previous effort. Filmed in colour rather than black and white, often beautifully shot thanks to the redoubtable talents of great cinematographer Jack Cardiff, The Barefoot Contessa continues to explore Mankiewicz’s obsession with women and fame, the abusive power of privileged white men in the Hollywood system, his own conflicted feelings about it. Though where All About Eve was a spiky satire, The Barefoot Contessa is a Cinderella-fantasy.
The well known fable is mentioned in dialogue several times by Humphrey Bogart’s writer-director and frequent narrator Harry Dawes, underscoring how Mankiewicz saw Ava Gardner’s Spanish-startlet Maria Vargas as the Cinderella-figure and Bogart, essentially, as the Fairy Godfather who, if he was being completely honest, fell in love with a woman he ended up trying to save from a destructive corporate movie-making machine.
Many have suggested Bogart’s Dawes was a proxy for the director himself, while Gardner’s character was heavily influenced by fellow starlet Rita Hayworth, and it perhaps adds to the blurring of reality and fiction across the entire picture; Dawes often compares what he’s experiencing, in voice-over, to what he would write in a script, and there’s a sense Mankiewicz is finding the process of this story cathartic.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason why, in all honesty, The Barefoot Contessa is a mixed bag of a picture. Lacking the dark humour and wit of All About Eve, it gives us protracted, dialogue-heavy scenes which, while well performed in most cases, lack a levity and brevity the story perhaps needed, and at times come across as laboured and more than a little purple. Mankiewicz wants us to know this is a fairytale story, of the peasant girl performer in the backward country (here Spain, which might as well be in the 16th century for how modern it seems) who is discovered by Hollywood, by America, and brought to find fame, fortune and the love of her life. In the old Hollywood studio system, none of these things were mutually exclusive. You only have the look at the colourful off-screen lives of Bogart & Gardner to understand that.
Buy The Barefoot Contessa on DVD/BluRay from Eureka Entertainment now.