It’s no surprise that in an industry powered by ego, narcissism and self-interest, Hollywood is no stranger to making movies about itself. The recent Oscar successes of Birdman and The Artist demonstrate that they’re also quite happy rewarding themselves for it. This is hardly a recent phenomenon. As Sunset Boulevard and Singing in the Rain attest. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s film The Barefoot Contessa focuses on the life of a fictitious Spanish sex symbol thrown into a world of glitz and glamour.
Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) is a washed-up director who has been reduced to working for an egotistical tycoon Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens). Edwards has decided he wants to make a film and, along with his publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien), they fly to Madrid to see a dancer named Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner). Despite her initial reluctance, Maria is persuaded by Harry to move to America and embark on a film career.
The Barefoot Contessa is an impressive character study about the power dynamics in Hollywood and the life of a reluctant and unhappy move star. Bogie is charisma personified whilst Gardner fits perfectly into the narrative, but it’s O’Brien who steals the show with an Oscar-winning performance. The Barefoot Contessa is a tale of the misery and degradation caused by money and the disillusionment fame can bring.
The Barefoot Contessa is released on dual format (DVD & Blu-ray) by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema collection on 12 March.