The Barefoot Contessa Blu-ray Review

Entertaining if overlong romantic drama amid the rich and famous 3.5 Stars

A bittersweet tale of a free spirited life brought prematurely to an end leaves a bit of a sour aftertaste in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa.

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)
Released: 29 Sep 1954
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 128 min
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, Marius Goring
Writer(s): Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Plot: At Maria Vargas' funeral, several people recall who she was and the impact she had on them. Harry Dawes was a not very successful writer/director when he and movie producer Kirk Edwards ...
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: MGM
Distributed By: Twilight Time
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 3.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 2 Hr. 10 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: clear keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 12/13/2016
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 3.5/5

A bittersweet tale of a free spirited life brought prematurely to an end leaves a bit of a sour aftertaste in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa. With a first-rate cast of international stars and a four-time Oscar-winning writer-director dealing with the topics of Hollywood and the worldwide jet set with which he would have been well versed, The Barefoot Contessa is more condemnatory than celebratory, but this unique character study, restricted at the time by the strict Production Code guidelines, still manages to intrigue and even titillate with its colorful and sophisticated views on the personal and professional lives of the rich and famous.

Free spirited Spanish cantina dancer Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner) is discovered by millionaire movie producer Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens), public relations manager Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O’Brien), and writer-director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) and seems perfect for their next movie project, but while Maria goes along with their plans after building a trusting platonic relationship with Dawes, she doesn’t really care anything about fame or money. She’s looking for that true love that seems always just beyond her reach. Edwards’ dictatorial demeanor prevents any relationship developing with him, and his demands drive her into the clutches of an even richer South American jet setter Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring) who enjoys having such a voluptuous creature as part of his entourage. But real true love doesn’t hit until she meets Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi), a courtly Italian who knows nothing of her Hollywood fame and sees in her a companion he could be proud of. But the count has a secret he’s guarding, and even with prodding from his sister Elenaora (Valentina Cortese), he doesn’t reveal it until after the wedding has taken place.

The Oscar-nominated story and screenplay for The Barefoot Contessa isn’t the first time writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz used the flashback technique with multiple narrators as his modus operandi: both of his Oscar-winning scripts for A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve used variations on this approach to storytelling, and in the case of this movie, knowing from the first frames that the title character is dead when the picture opens casts something of a pall over the rest of the picture. From there, we waffle back and forth between three narrators: Bogart’s Harry Dawes, O’Brien’s Oscar Muldoon, and Brazzi’s Count Vincenzo while the wordy script also unfolds with much more attention to words and less to filming this Hollywood and European story in ways that would take some of the attention away from all of that talk (witty, biting, and revealing as it sometimes is). While Mankiewicz establishes early that Maria Vargas is a talented and sensual dancer, he withholds her actual dancing for quite a long period of time, focusing instead on the effect her moves have on her audiences. When we finally get to see Ava Gardner dancing in a gypsy camp more than halfway through the movie, it’s pleasing but not quite the rapturous terpsichore we were expecting. (Then again, there is much about the movie that promises more than it delivers.)

While the caged animal character of Maria Vargas is perfect for the panther-like seductiveness of Ava Gardner, she hasn’t been directed to be as carnal or exotic a creature as might have been appropriate for the role (nor does she make more than a token attempt at a Spanish accent). Still, her glamour and sex appeal still triumphs as the most sympathetic figure in the movie. Freed from playing the romantic lead, Humphrey Bogart is very effective as the concerned friend of the title character, always looking out for her best interests and offering a shoulder for her in her frequent times of trial by the other men in her life who, to a person, use and abuse her and constantly let her down. Edmond O’Brien’s Oscar-winning performance as the sycophantic public relations man allows him to be both loud and vulgar, concerned and surprised with an extended conversation on the telephone when he learns of a tragedy in Maria’s life that probably won him that Academy Award. Rossano Brazzi is a most effective courtly count though his decision not to share his secret with his bride before the wedding abruptly switches him from hero to villain in one neat shot. Marius Goring is a little more one note as the haughty millionaire of café society, and Warren Stevens is even more stereotyped as the unfeeling producer (modeled on Howard Hughes) who believes his money excuses him from even the barest of good manners.

Video: 3.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film is presented in 1.85:1 (the liner notes erringly claim 1.78:1) and is offered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. There are some Technicolor registration problems which occasionally cause the film to be a bit out of focus and look a little awry, and the coarser grain structure of the transfer sometimes causes the color to fluctuate a bit. The reds also occasionally bloom. Later in the movie, however, especially in scenes in darker settings, the stunning quality of Jack Cardiff’s cinematography comes through magnificently with black levels quite good and respectful of details in the shadows. There are the usual problems in MGM Blu-ray transfers with dust specks and some debris, and there is some slight blue flashing on the right side of the screen. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The disc offers three completely different sound mixes in DTS-HD Master Audio: a 5.1 mix (the default) that gets a bit of play in the surrounds with some of the constant rain effects, a 3.0 Perspecta sound mix (my favorite) that offers more obvious directionalized dialogue and directional effects, and a 2.0 mono mix which is the least interesting of the three. In all, the dialogue is presented clearly and precisely and never clashing with Mario Nascimbene’s background score. No age-related artifacts pose a problem either.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Audio Commentary: film historians David Del Valle and Julie Kirgo have a gabby chat fest about the movie, honestly considering its flaws as well as its strong points. While there isn’t quite the serious analysis of the movie that it might deserve, the track that is here is a fun listen.

Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.

Stills Gallery: over fifty stills and behind-the-scenes shots for the movie which can be advanced manually.

Theatrical Trailer (1:52, HD)

MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)

Six-Page Booklet: contains some black and white film stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s informative essay on the film.

Overall: 3.5/5

A very watchable if slightly overlong dramatic saga of a woman’s frustrating search for love among the rich and famous, The Barefoot Contessa offers an excellent cast and outstanding production values nicely presented in this Blu-ray release from Twilight Time. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.

Published by

Matt Hough

author,editor

11 Comments

  1. Thanks, Matt, for the terrific review! This is a Bogart film that I haven’t seen, and adding that Cardiff was the DP, and we get a commentary with Kirgo, even a less academic one, this just went on my 2017 purchasing list.

    Thanks again!

  2. I first saw The Barefoot Contessa at the Thalia in NYC. It was shown academy ratio–I didn't even know it was the wrong AR–, and in mono sound, but it was a stunning Technicolor IB print. I will never forget it. Gardner's beauty left me breathless. I was very pleased to see it now in wide screen and in its original Perspecta sound.

  3. Given it’s MGM/UA, I forgave the little transfer issues because I find the film so enjoyable and there have been much worse out of MGM/UA. I recommend it highly.

  4. Given it's MGM/UA, I forgave the little transfer issues because I find the film so enjoyable and there have been much worse out of MGM/UA.  I recommend it highly.

    Agreed

    A pitiful recomp from MGM, but another stellar notch in the superb release record for Twilight Time.

    Without referencing, I believe this was not shot in Technicolor, but rather Eastman 5248.

  5. That sounds right about Eastman color.  At least the transfer had color and at times that color looked pretty good.  It's a shame that they don't have a program in place to do this stuff right, but they don't and whichever label is licensing from them gets what they get.  I didn't know this film much at all (shocking, I know) and it's just really delightful.

  6. Perhaps with this title I'll be able to hear a true Perspecta soundtrack. The 3 Criterion titles with Perspecta (Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Hidden Fortress) have no directionalized effects at all, everything is either just center channel or all three channels at once.

  7. I'll have to correct myself thanks to RAH. Ah, the ignorance of youth! I saw Contessa when I was so young that I had no knowledge of color stocks. At any rate, the print that I saw was in stunning Eastman color.

  8. Agreed

    A pitiful recomp from MGM, but another stellar notch in the superb release record for Twilight Time.

    Without referencing, I believe this was not shot in Technicolor, but rather Eastman 5248.

    Anyway to confirm this?  Either way, Cardiff did an excellent job photographing this film. 

    The audio commentary was very good so I really enjoyed watching this film twice over the last week or so.

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  10. That sounds right about Eastman color.  At least the transfer had color and at times that color looked pretty good.  It's a shame that they don't have a program in place to do this stuff right, but they don't and whichever label is licensing from them gets what they get.  I didn't know this film much at all (shocking, I know) and it's just really delightful.

    Double-checked. Apparently Three-strip acetate, which could account for some of the problems

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  30. I watched this movie for the first time today. While I had naturally heard of it, it had just flown under my radar. What a fantastic film! I can't believe I had been oblivious to it in all my decades of film collecting. Bristling dialog (by All About Eve writer Mankiewicz) and a great plot device of having the attendees at a funeral narrate the story piece by piece via flashbacks.
    I sampled the Perspecta soundtrack, and yes it was quite effective at bouncing the dialog from speaker to speaker, but ultimately I chose the 5.1 remix because, well I just love stereo remixes… so sue me.

  31. Mark-P

    I watched this movie for the first time today. While I had naturally heard of it, it had just flown under my radar. What a fantastic film! I can't believe I had been oblivious to it in all my decades of film collecting. Bristling dialog (by All About Eve writer Mankiewicz) and a great plot device of having the attendees at a funeral narrate the story piece by piece via flashbacks.
    I sampled the Perspecta soundtrack, and yes it was quite effective at bouncing the dialog from speaker to speaker, but ultimately I chose the 5.1 remix because, well I just love stereo remixes… so sue me.

    Did you recognize a young and uncredited Robert Loggia as Bogart's assistant?

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