The Barefoot Contessa

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The Barefoot Contessa
Barefoot Contessa.jpg
Theatrical Film Poster
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (uncredited)
Written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring Humphrey Bogart
Ava Gardner
Edmond O'Brien
Music by Mario Nascimbene
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Edited by William Hornbeck
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • September 29, 1954 (1954-09-29)
Running time
130 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $7.3 million (US)[1]

The Barefoot Contessa is a 1954 drama film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz about the life and loves of fictional Spanish sex symbol Maria Vargas. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien.

For his performance, O'Brien won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe. Mankiewicz was nominated for the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay.


Ava Gardner as Maria Vargas

Down on his luck, veteran movie director and writer Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) is reduced to working for abusive, emotionally stunted business tycoon Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens), who has decided he wants to produce a film to stroke his monumental ego. Looking for a fresh leading lady, they discover, in a Madrid night club, stunning dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner), a blithe but proud spirit who likes to go barefoot and has a troubled home life.

Maria takes an instant dislike to Kirk but trusts Harry, whose work she knows. Thanks to his expertise and the help of sweaty, insincere publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O'Brien), her film debut is a sensation. Kirk tries to control Maria's life by publicly ordering her to stay away from wealthy Latin American playboy Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring), but Maria rebels.

Humphrey Bogart as director Harry Dawes

She is a great star, but Maria is not satisfied. She envies the happiness her friend Harry has found with his wife Jerry (Elizabeth Sellars) and wants a prince charming of her own. Alberto is too frivolous and shallow for her. When he berates her in public for supposedly ruining his luck at a gambling table, he receives a slap in the face from a stranger. This turns out to be Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi), who offers Maria his arm. They walk out.

Maria has found the great love of her life. They wed in a lavish ceremony, but there is a problem. The count and his widowed sister (Valentina Cortese) are the last of the Torlato-Favrinis; without offspring, the noble line will die out. The Count has a secret. Due to a war injury, he is impotent. He does not tell Maria about this until their wedding night.

Some time later, Harry is in Italy and an unhappy Maria tells him about her husband and confesses that she is pregnant. She believes the count will want this child and plans to tell him about it that night. However, her husband had suspected she was unfaithful and shoots both her and her lover before she could tell him about the child. Harry arrives just as the shots are fired and does not tell the count about the pregnancy. The story ends (as it began) with flashbacks at her funeral.



Ava Gardner

According to Turner Classic Movies, Mankiewicz based the film's central character of Maria Vargas on American movie star and dancer Rita Hayworth, who had been married to Prince Aly Khan.[2] According to the audio commentary on the 1931 film Tabu, she was based on Anne Chevalier, an actress in that film.

Although The Barefoot Contessa is considered one of Mankiewicz's most glamorous "Hollywood" films, and one of the most glamorous of Golden Hollywood,[3] The Barefoot Contessa was shot at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome, Italy.[4] Exterior scenes were shot at Tivoli (the olive grove), Sanremo, and Portofino.[5][6] However, Bogart wasn't on location at Sanremo.[7] The studio was about to release the film's poster with no image of Bogart, a contractual violation. Bogart had the matter rectified with the addition of a large line drawing of his face.

The film's Italian production was part of the "Hollywood on the Tiber" phenomenon.


The film was widely praised for its glamour, especially Gardner[clarification needed]

The film was praised by many critics for its extravagance, which earned the director many new admirers.[8] Saturday Review called Ava Gardner "one of the most breathtaking creatures on earth".[9] Some critics disapproved of the film; the book Feature Cinema in the 20th Century: Volume One: 1913–1950: a Comprehensive Guide called the film "dreadful", remarking that Mankiewicz's "intelligence and ambitious aims too often collide with an astonishing lack of subtlety and aesthetic judgment".[10] Bosley Crowther called it a "grotesque barren film" about the "glittering and graceless behavior of the Hollywood-international set."[11]

However, Francois Truffaut wrote, "…what is beyond doubt is its total sincerity, novelty, daring, and fascination … I myself accept and value it for its freshness, intelligence, and beauty … A subtle and intelligent film, beautifully directed and acted."[12] It currently holds a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on eight reviews.

Home Media Release: Blu-ray[edit]

On December 13th, 2016, Twilight Time Movies released The Barefoot Contessa on high-definition Blu-ray. This is a limited-edition release of 3000 copies available. [13] Home Theater Forum Review by Matt Hough.

Details of Twilight Time's Blu-ray offering.

In popular culture[edit]

The May 1955, issue #23 of Mad has a parody by Jack Davis entitled "The Barefoot Nocountessa".

The Food Network cooking show Barefoot Contessa is named after Ina Garten's best-selling cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook,[14][15] which in turn was named after her specialty food store which she bought in 1978. The store, which is no longer in operation, opened in 1975 and was named after the film.

A tour boat in the TV series Riptide was named Barefoot Contessa.

Jesus Franco directed a 1975 film called Female Vampire, also known as The Bare Breasted Countess.

Parts of the movie were featured in Lana Del Rey's music video 'Carmen'.


  1. ^ "The Top Box-Office Hits of 1954". Variety Weekly. January 5, 1955. 
  2. ^ Frank Miller. "The Barefoot Contessa". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2009-12-30. 
  3. ^ Dick, Bernard F. (1983). Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Twayne Publishers. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-8057-9291-1. 
  4. ^ Mankiewicz, Tom; Crane, Robert (14 May 2012). My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider's Journey through Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. p. 264. ISBN 0-8131-4057-9. 
  5. ^ Hanna, David (1 May 1998). Sinatra: Ol' Blue Eyes Remembered. Random House Value Pub. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-517-16068-8. 
  6. ^ DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Italy: Italy. Dorling Kindersley Limited. 1 February 2012. p. 240. ISBN 978-1-4053-9313-3. 
  7. ^ Higham, Charles (17 March 1975). Ava: a life story. W. H. Allen. p. 108. 
  8. ^ Sadoul, Georges (1 January 1972). Dictionary of Film Makers. University of California Press. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-520-02151-8. 
  9. ^ Saturday Review. Saturday Review Associates. September 1954. p. 31. 
  10. ^ Klinowski, Jacek; Garbicz, Adam (2012). Feature Cinema in the 20th Century: Volume One: 1913–1950: a Comprehensive Guide. Planet RGB Limited. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-1-62407-564-3. 
  11. ^ Bosley Crowther (September 30, 1954). "The Screen in Review: The Barefoot Contessa Arrives at Capitol". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-30. 
  12. ^ François Truffaut (translated by Leonard Mayhew) The Films in My Life New York, 1978
  13. ^
  14. ^ Liberman, Sherri (31 August 2011). American Food by the Decades. ABC-CLIO. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-313-37698-6. 
  15. ^ Today's Kitchen Cookbook. Meredith Books. 2005. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-696-22542-0. 

External links[edit]