100+ New Code Films – #11. “The Barefoot Contessa” from 1954+

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Today is Sunday, so it’s time for this week’s second 100+ New Code Films article. Every week this year, I plan to watch and review at least two American Breen Era (1934-1954) films. I only consider Code films to be American movies made during these twenty years because foreign films were not held to the same standard of careful self-regulation throughout production, being made in foreign countries. Some of the greatest movies of all time were released during these two decades. Although I love many obscure masterpieces, I’ve made it my goal to watch some of the most famous as well as the award-winning films from the Breen Era. To accomplish this, I have determined to watch all the Code films I have yet to see which won Academy Awards for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director, and Best Picture. I hope to cross them all off my list during 2021.

The Barefoot Contessa (1954) - IMDb

Today’s topic is The Barefoot Contessa from 1954. This movie is on my list of films to see this year, since Edmond O’Brien won Best Supporting Actor for his performance. Also, it is an iconic title. I realized some time ago that we have this film on VHS in our collection, but I had never seen it. When trying to think of a new film I could watch aside from Amazon Prime Video, this movie immediately came to my mind. We watched this film on Monday evening.

Moment#3: The Barefoot Contessa (1954) – Around the edges

Plot

The film begins at the funeral of a beautiful Spanish actress. The fascinating story of her rise to stardom in the last few years is told through a series of flashbacks, the narrated memories of three men who knew her during this time, a writer, a publicity man, and an Italian count. First is the writer, her best friend, who persuaded her to do a screentest at the behest of the mechanical millionaire who employed him. At the time, she was just a Spanish café dancer who had achieved local notoriety, but they were looking for new faces for the movies. Her screentest was successful, so she eventually came to America, where she made three movies. During that time, she found fame and fortune, but her heart was always her own. No matter how successful she became, she always felt more comfortable with her shoes off. Like everyone else, all she really wanted was to be loved and to be free. Each subsequent memory reveals how her quest for these things led to her tragic, untimely demise.

The Barefoot Contessa | Chicago Reader

Cast

This movie stars Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O’Brien. Supporting actors include Marius Goring, Valentina Cortesa, Rossano Brazzi, Elizabeth Sellars, and Warren Stevens.

The Barefoot Contessa (1954) Original Half-Sheet Movie Poster - Original  Film Art - Vintage Movie Posters

Production Notes

This movie was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It was produced by associate producers Robert Haggiag and Angelo Rizzoli, with the uncredited Franco Magli. This film was co-produced by Transoceanic Film and Figaro and released by United Artists. It was written by Joseph L. Makiewicz. This movie was nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Supporting Actor for Edmond O’Brien and Best Story and Screenplay for Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Edmond O’Brien won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars as well as at the Golden Globes, receiving the film’s only nomination at the latter. He was also nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the New York Film Critics Circle Awards, tying with Humphrey Bogart’s performance in The Caine Mutiny. Mr. Mankiewicz was also nominated for Best Written Award Drama by the Writers Guild of America.

Amazon.com: Barefoot Contessa POSTER Movie (22 x 28 Inches - 56cm x 72cm) ( 1954) (Half Sheet Style B): Posters & Prints

Code Compliance

This is a fair Code film. It does a good job of handling some difficult topics, but it is not completely free from Code violations. The words sex and lousy are used, although they were forbidden by the Code. Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner) wears a few low necklines. There are some implications of amorous immorality, but everything is pretty vague or implied. There is an implication that one male character is impotent, but it is discreet. One major plot point is the fact that a female character is going to have a baby whose father is not her husband. However, she justifies her actions as selfless, since she thinks a child would please her husband, but he is incapable of producing children. This character’s fate shows that adultery, no matter how well-intentioned, is never justifiable. Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) mentions that he has been divorced a few times, but I wouldn’t say that his life is depicted as happy and contented.

Barefoot Contessa, The - (Original Trailer) - Turner Classic Movies

Recommendation

I recommend this film. It isn’t the greatest film I’ve ever seen, and I did not love it. However, I’m sure many classic film fans would. Frankly, it was not a huge hit with my family. My father said it had too much dialogue, and my sister said she found it strange. The narrative style of flashback recollections from multiple people about someone who is dead at the film’s beginning reminded my sister and me of Citizen Kane, which isn’t surprising considering that the films were written by brothers. The acting is above criticism. I thought all the characters were extremely believable. Ava Gardner was very dramatic in this role, and her Spanish accent was well-sustained and very convincing! Her dancing scene in the Gypsy camp was well-performed and captivating, although perhaps a bit too sensual for some 1950s viewers. Humphrey Bogart played a powerful role in this film, although the switching narrative kept him out of the story for a surprisingly large amount of time in the film’s last third. He is very sympathetic in this role, offering Maria the friendship, concern, and understanding she desperately needs. There is no romance between these characters, but I felt that there could have been one. This would be a good topic for the Unhappy Valentines Blogathon! Edmond O’Brien was the only person who was nominated for an award for his performance in this film. He played publicity man Oscar Muldoon. I thought he gave a very good performance, but, quite frankly, I think I would have nominated Ava Gardner or Humphrey Bogart sooner. Perhaps that’s because I’m more familiar with their work than his. Nevertheless, he created a believable character. I was impressed by Marius Goring’s Spanish accent! I found Rossano Brazzi difficult to understand at times because of his strong Italian accent, but he was very effective as the tormented, brooding count. The cinematography is very beautiful, since a lot of location shooting was done in Italy. A lot of visual effects were used, such as never showing Maria during her first dance. I thought they were a bit heavy-handed at times, but that’s just my opinion. If you want to see a very “European” American film, I recommend this movie! It is quite unique, which is why it has stood the test of time.

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