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The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

 





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The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

In writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's cynical showbiz melodrama about the life of the fictional title character - it was a "Cinderella tale" about a Spanish sex symbol (somewhat based on the life of actress Rita Hayworth and her toxic relationship with Prince Aly Khan):

  • the structure of the film - many flashbacks to three years earlier, to survey the short life and loves of peasant-born flamenco dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner) (aka Maria D'Amata) - noted for often being "barefoot", she had risen from poverty (rags-to-riches)
  • the opening introductory voice-over narration at Maria's rain-soaked funeral, delivered by washed-up American writer/director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) standing amidst mourners holding umbrellas: "I suppose that when you spend most of your life in one profession, you develop what could be called an occupational point of view. So maybe I can be forgiven for the first thing I thought of that morning. Because I found myself thinking that the staging and the setting - even the lighting of Maria's funeral were just what she would have wanted. My name is Harry Dawes. I've been a writer and director of movies for longer than I like to remember. I go way back, back to when the movies had two dimensions, and one dimension, and sometimes no dimension at all. I wrote and directed all three of the movies Maria D'Amata was in - her short, full career from start to finish - I wrote it and directed it. On the screen, that is. What was I doing there? The Fates or the Furies or whoever wrote and directed her short, full life - they took care of that. Anyway, there I stood halfway around the world from Hollywood and Vine in a little graveyard near Rapallo, Italy watching them bury the Contessa Torlato-Favrini in ground she'd never heard of six months ago, with a stone statue to mark the spot. Life, every now and then, behaves as if it had seen too many bad movies. When everything fits too well: the beginning, the middle and the end, from fade-in to fade-out. And where I faded in, the contessa was not a contessa. She was not even a movie star named Maria D'Amata. Where I faded in, her name was Maria Vargas and she danced in a nightclub in Madrid, Spain"
  • the Madrid cabaret-nightclub flamenco dance performance of Maria Vargas - although completely unseen, and only heard by the clacking of her castanets
  • the introduction of the film's three main characters in the nightclub, who had just missed Maria's sole performance for the night: Dawes, movie tycoon-producer Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) - a "Wall Street wizard", and Hollywood studio press agent and PR man Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O'Brien) - they were there to consider Maria as a "new face" for Edwards' first movie: Black Dawn
  • the backstage scene when Dawes saw Maria's barefeet behind a curtain ("Senorita, your bare feet are showing!"); in her first appearance in the film, she drew aside the curtain - standing embarrassingly next to her cousin; soon, Dawes enticed Maria with the opportunity to audition for a 'screen test' - to be a star in his next movie: "Mr. Kirk Edwards is looking for somebody - like you, to play in his first production and he wants to talk to you about it...If you can act, I can help you. If you can't, nobody can teach you"
  • the further lengthy musings (voice-over) of Muldoon at Maria's funeral, about how he didn't really even know the movie star: "If ever a funeral laid an egg, that one did. Standing round the grave, maybe two dozen no-bodies. A great finish. You just don't bury a famous movie star like she was an unidentified body. Well, it figured. It was like that from the minute I laid eyes on her. Nothing worked according to the book. Not my book, anyway. From the minute she waved back at the Statue of Liberty, everybody wanted to know everything about Maria. And they wound up knowing nothing, because there was nothing to know. Believe me, what they said in Madrid was true. This bundle of passion, this hot flame that burned from the screen, was a real untouchable. The columns and the wolves were after me night and day. But how could I tell them who she was with or when, when I didn't even know who she knew?"
  • the outdoor flamenco dance sequence in the open olive grove of a French gypsy camp - wearing a tight yellow sweater, Maria seductively attracted the attention of wealthy Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi), who was entranced by her dancing: (voice-over: "She looked at me for no longer than the beat of a heart and I knew I would remember her as long as I lived. That was my meeting with Maria. It occurs to me just now that, oddly, we have never talked about it. But no more odd, surely, than my driving away that day away from her, knowing that inevitably, we would meet again") - he would soon marry Maria, and only revealed his impotency (the result of a war wound) during their honeymoon
  • the tragic murder sequence when the jealous and suspicious Count shot and killed both his pregnant wife Maria and the chauffeur (Carlo Dale), suspected of having an affair with her, and not realizing that she wanted to give him a child fathered by someone else


The Funeral of Maria Vargas Attended by Harry Dawes

Audience in Nightclub Applauding Unseen Dancer

Maria's Bare-Feet Behind Curtain


Dawes' Offer of Screen Test to Maria

Maria as Famous Movie Star

Outdoor Flamenco Dance

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