Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

In writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's cautionary showbiz melodrama and cynical depiction of Hollywood (conveyed through a rich script), with gorgeous Technicolored cinematography by Jack Cardiff, it was his first film for his own independent production company Figaro, Inc. - financially backed by United Artists; it told a "Cinderella tale" about the tragic life of the fictional title character - a Spanish sex symbol (somewhat based on the life of actress Rita Hayworth and her toxic relationship with Prince Aly Khan); it was Mankiewicz's attempt to create a film on moviemaking to match his theater-based All About Eve (1950); the misogynistic and depressing film pushed the boundaries of the Production Code, with its themes of an independent female destroyed by stardom, unfaithful sex leading to pregnancy, and her punishment by an insecure and impotent male:

  • the structure of the film was composed of many flashbacks (with voice-over narration provided by three main male characters) reaching back to three years earlier and providing different perspectives (similar to Citizen Kane (1941) and Rashomon (1950, Jp.)), to survey the short life and loves of Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner) (aka film star Maria D'Amata) - she was noted for being a flamenco dancer who was often "barefoot"; in the tragic rags-to-riches story, the peasant-born Maria was 'discovered', became a movie star, and rose from poverty to become Italian Countess Torlato-Favrini
  • the opening introductory voice-over narration occurred at Maria's rain-soaked funeral on the Italian Riviera, delivered by washed-up, world-weary, recovering alcoholic and has-been American writer/director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) who was standing amidst mourners holding umbrellas; the hang-dog character spoke about the mythic title character: "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"
  • in the first flashback set in a crowded Madrid cabaret-nightclub before a hypnotized audience, little-known Maria Vargas performed a flamenco dance although she was completely unseen, and only heard by the clacking of her castanets

Writer/Director Harry Dawes

Hollywood Publicist Oscar Muldoon

Producer Kirk Edwards
  • the film's three main characters were introduced in the nightclub, scouting for a possible glamorous actress for their future movie production; they had just missed Maria's sole dance performance for the night: movie tycoon-producer (similar to Howard Hughes) and "Wall Street wizard" Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens), Dawes (who had been hired to write and direct Edwards' first film production), and Edwards' heavily-sweating, slimy press agent - Hollywood studio and PR man Oscar Muldoon (Oscar-winning Edmond O'Brien) - the three were interested in enticing Maria (as a "new face") to appear in Edwards' first movie production: Black Dawn
  • Dawes was pressured by Edwards (who ordered: "I want you to do what I say") to speak to the reluctant Maria backstage after she refused to mingle with the customers after one performance; and get her to accept the Hollywood film role; in her dressing room, he noticed her barefeet behind a curtain: ("Senorita, your bare feet are showing!"); in her first appearance in the film, Maria drew aside the curtain - standing embarrassingly while making out with her cousin - one of the orchestra's musicians
In Maria's Dressing Room, Dawes Offered to Have Maria Star in His Next Written and Directed Movie
  • soon after, 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"; after meeting Edwards and Muldoon at their table, Maria was given a sales pitch by fast-talking and unctuous Muldoon, who mentioned how they wanted her for her "talent" and would shoot her screen test in Rome, although she was very non-committal; when she excused herself to make a phone call, Dawes predicted that Maria had been scared off; Edwards insulted him: "Of the many troubles with you Harry is you never know where your movie scripts leave off and your life begins"; Harry was proven right - Maria had disappeared, and he later learned it was on account of her immediate distaste for the ultra-rich, unhealthy and "sick" Mr. Edwards
  • Edwards threatened Dawes to locate Maria within an hour and get her onto his private plane to Rome for the audition, or the whole production would be cancelled; Dawes traced Maria to her family's home, where she expressed her hated and dislike for the emotionally-immature, arrogant and egotistical Edwards; the director was able to coax her to try out for the part after she asked: "Do you think really that I could be a star?"; he learned about her preference for going barefoot because of her impoverished upbringing: ("I feel afraid in shoes. And I feel safe with my feet in the dirt"); assured that Dawes would be her platonic and protective mentor, Maria agreed to the screen test and easily passed
  • there were further lengthy musings (in voice-over) of PR man Muldoon at Maria's funeral and at his desk in Hollywood; Muldoon described how he didn't really even get to know the movie star (he called her "untouchable"), even though she made a huge impact on his life: "If ever a funeral laid an egg, that one did. Standing around 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? I can tell you this, it is entirely possible that Maria D'Amata went to her grave without ever once being inside of The Stork, El Morocco, Ciro's, or The Mocambo. You've got to admit, this is not normal. But what was normal about this whole business from start to finish?"
Muldoon Remembering the Opening of Maria's First Film in the US
  • Muldoon remembered how she had attended the US premiere of her first film - Black Dawn - unescorted - unlike most starlets: ("Here's a doll who, on the opening night of her first picture, with no known interest in men, much less romance. Whose private life is strictly private, but who, the people have decided, is already a star. This is the night I first began to think maybe the public has a mind of its own"); he praised her naturalness as a star: "Whether you're born with it or catch it from a public drinking cup, Maria had it. The people with the money in their hot little hands put her up there, and she could do no wrong"; Maria's first film was a major hit and she emerged as a huge international movie star
  • PR publicist Muldoon also recalled how in London during preparation for the film's UK debut-premiere, he became worried about negative PR and box-office losses when Maria chose to fly from Hollywood to Spain to appear in court to passionately defend her infirm father (Renato Chiantoni) who had been accused of murdering (by strangulation) her abusive mother (Maria Zanoli); Muldoon was upset that his recent success with Maria would be ruined, now that she had sullied her "clean" reputation: "For years you sweat and dream and dig and look, and finally you come up with the jackpot. You've made it. Bingo. You've got a right to open your collar, take off your shoes and relax in Las Vegas for the rest of your life. So what happens? Her father chokes her mother to death. It'll make you cry"
  • all of his predicted worries turned out to be completely unfounded - he explained how Maria's raw testimony was compelling to everyone and helped to acquit her father - and it made her an even bigger and more popular star: "That courtroom was with her all the way" and so were "the audiences of the whole world...From Scarsdale to Singapore, they loved her. Her father beat the rap, of course. Self-defense. And Maria walked out of that courthouse a bigger star than when she broke all the rules by walking into it"
  • meanwhile, Maria became close friends with Harry and his script-girl girlfriend Jerry (Elizabeth Sellars), with whom he was very much in love
  • two years later (in the film's only scene in California), Harry explained (in voice-over) how a party hosted by Edwards at Maria's Beverly Hills, CA home was a major turning point: "The great god Edwards toppled over....The night he fell to Earth. It suppose it was the most losing night of Kirk's life"; one of Edwards' invited guests was rich millionaire and Latin American playboy Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring), whom he wished to impress
  • during the party, Maria consulted with Harry and told him that she had to return to her homeland in Madrid: ("I should stay where I the dirt of the streets"); but she also felt like she was still unrooted in life: ("half in the dirt and half out"); she had become restless in Hollywood after making three films with Harry and her bankrolling producer Edwards; Maria considered herself to now have a 'Cinderella' life: ("it's been beyond my dreams, like a fairy tale of this century") with all the riches and adoration she had ever wanted, but there was no Prince in her life
Maria Dissatisfied by her Incomplete "Cinderella" Hollywood Life
  • Harry strongly warned her to avoid following Alberto back to Madrid: ("This one is no good!...You cannot rent a prince. I've seen him! He's mean, and he's dirty....You've got to make up your mind. Half in the dirt and half out. Go one way or the other. And if you go back, what a pitiful waste it'll be"); although Maria agreed with Harry, she openly admitted: "I cannot help myself"; Maria was seriously considering joining Alberto's international jet-setters to cruise with him on his white yacht on the French Riviera
  • simultaneously, the opportunistic Muldoon told Harry that he had maneuvered himself to switch his allegiance away from Edwards to provide public relations for the ultra-rich Alberto overseas: ("It's the deal of my lifetime"); both of them were interrupted and returned to the living room to witness a loud shouting match of dueling insults between Edwards and Alberto; Maria was publically invited to leave the next morning on Alberto's yacht to cruise to Cannes. The controlling and domineering Edwards, who had always been romantically interested in Maria (and treated her as his "prize possession" and property), jealously objected to her departure ("I forbid you to go with him!"), but she had made up her mind; Muldoon also announced that he was leaving Edwards after four years of slaving for him - and Edwards promptly fired him

Edwards to Maria: "I forbid you to go with him"

Maria's Decision to Depart with Alberto

Muldoon's Announcement About Also Leaving Edwards
  • Edwards threatened to retaliate by ending Maria's acting career: "I'll keep her off the screen. I'll destroy her"; the scene concluded with Maria's shoes ("Cinderella's slippers") cast off on her rented Hollywood home's lawn
  • a non-sexual relationship developed between Maria and Alberto, according to Muldoon: ("The important thing to Bravano was for people to think Maria was his girl, as long as he got credit for it"); although Maria was highly 'desirable' sexually, she had no lover ("Nobody wrapped her up and took her home"); her pairing with Bravano remained shallow and not fully satisfying ("She showed no pain, no pleasure, no interest. No nothing")
  • and then one night in a luxurious French Riviera casino, the "half-crazy" Alberto embarrassingly and abusively accused Maria of stealing from him, causing him bad luck and putting a "curse" on him; he blamed her for the loss of exorbitant amounts of money at the gambling tables; and he added that she was unloving and should be thrown out: "You are not a woman. You will not let yourself be loved. You cannot love...I have paid for your company, and you will come and go as I tell you!"

"You are not a woman"
Italian Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi) - Coming to Maria's Rescue
  • Maria's honor was defended by wealthy Italian Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi) who slapped Alberto and escorted Maria away, as Alberto derided him as a "gigolo"
  • in Vincenzo's recollections (the third male character with flashbacks at the funeral), he remembered how he had first met Maria earlier in the day; in the open outdoors of an olive grove in a French gypsy camp on the border with Italy, he watched as she performed a flamenco dance wearing a tight yellow sweater with a male partner; she seductively attracted Vincenzo's attention and her 'Prince Charming' became 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")
  • during their first meeting at the casino, Vincenzo watched as she was given paper currency by Alberto at a gaming table, and tossed it from a balcony down to a supposed gypsy lover (her dance partner from earlier, and her second sex-partner in the film); after defending her, he didn't even know Maria's name and knew nothing about her stardom
  • he drove them to his magnificent Italian palazzo villa in Rapallo, where he introduced her to his widowed sister Eleanora (Valentina Cortese), and they strolled through the hallway to view painted portraits of the historic ancestry of their family
  • during a cryptic conversation with his concerned sister on the outer balcony of the villa, Vincenzo spoke about the end (or 'extinction') of the noble Torlato-Favrini blood line - symbolically the end of the Italian aristocracy in a "changed" world; she objected to her brother's plans for a wedding and told him that he was being unfair, and "senselessly cruel and destructive" by marrying Maria
  • the two lovers (it was Maria's first true love affair) werer married about six weeks after meeting; just before the nuptials, Maria posed in her bare feet for a statue, to be erected in the villa's garden; Harry took Maria's father's place to give away the bride - a fitting conclusion to her Cinderella 'fairy-tale' romance; Harry alerted her new husband: "She's never been in love before, take my word for it. She's vulnerable, wide-open to be hurt badly. Emotionally, she's a child. She's wrapped all her adolescent dreams up in one dream prince - and you're it!"

Posing For Statue

The Wedding

The Fairy-Tale Bride
  • about three months later in Italy in Harry's hotel room, a week before her death, Maria visited with Harry and told him (visualized in a brief flashback) the devastating details of her wedding night; during their honeymoon the Count claimed it was time to end the dreamlike fantasy - he divulged through an Army medical document that he was impotent (the result of a severe WWII wound-injury in 1942) and could not provide her with offspring; he left her alone in the bedroom - as she sobbed on the bed
  • Harry responded with incredulity ("And once more, life louses up the script"), and asked if she had sought out sexual satisfaction with another "cousin"; Maria told Harry that she was planning to inform Vincenzo the next day that to satisfy herself - and also to please him, she had taken it upon herself to continue his family's blood line - and had already become pregnant: ("The baby will be mine and my husband's") - it was an unusual, unrealistic and twisted assertion of her own bold sexuality and fierce streak of independence (Harry was aghast at her idea: "You're talking mawkish nonsense you remembered from cheap films")
  • Harry was unable to prevent a tragic murder sequence from occurring, as he raced after Maria to the villa; he realized that Maria was followed after she left his hotel by her jealous, neurotic, troubled and suspicious Vincenzo, who found his wife Maria in the servants' quarters of his villa with the chauffeur (Carlo Dale), telling him that she was breaking up with him; Vincenzo had suspected that she was having an affair with the chauffeur and didn't realize that Maria had already become pregnant and wanted to give him a child fathered by someone else
  • before she was able to explain herself, Vincenzo killed both of them with two gun shots (off-screen); when Harry was asked by the Count about his conversation with Maria just before her death, he chose to reveal nothing about her pregnancy; the police were summoned to the villa by the Count himself

Maria Telling Harry In His Hotel Room About Her Plan to Get Pregnant By Another Man

Vincenzo Carrying Maria's Body After Killing Her (and the Chauffeur)

Harry Holding Maria's Dead Body
  • the film concluded with mourners departing at the end of the funeral (as the rain stopped); the sun shone on the previously rain-drenched stone statue of the barefoot Maria (as a marker for her grave in the villa's garden) as Vincenzo (who had earlier claimed his family's motto was "Que sara sara") was led away by police

The Funeral of Maria Vargas Attended by Harry Dawes Who Provided the Introductory Voice-Over Narration

Maria's Stone Statue Marking Her Gravesite

Beginning of Flashback: A Hypnotized Audience in Madrid Nightclub Applauding Unseen Dancer - Maria Vargas

Backstage, Dawes Noticed Maria's Bare-Feet Behind Curtain

Maria Discovered Behind the Curtain With Her Cousin

At Maria's Humble Home, Dawes Convinced Maria to Agree to a Screen Test

Muldoon at Maria's Rainy Funeral

Muldoon in Hollywood, Frustrated that Maria was "Untouchable"

Muldoon in London, Worried that Maria's Reputation Would Be Wrecked When Her Father Murdered Her Mother

Maria in Defense of Her Father During Trial in Spain

Harry Dawes with Script-Girl Girlfriend Jerry (Elizabeth Sellars) Attending Trial

Maria's Triumphant Exit From the Courtroom

Kirk Edwards Hosting a Party at Maria's Home - "The Most Losing Night of Kirk's Life"

Rich Latin American Millionaire Playboy Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring) at Maria's Party

Muldoon Telling Harry His Decision to Leave Edwards and Become PR Agent for Alberto

A Vocal Fighting Match Between Edwards and Alberto

Maria's 'Cinderella' Slippers Left on Her Rented Hollywood's Home Lawn

Maria - On Bravano's Yacht - Desirable But Never Possessed by Any Man

Count Vincenzo at Maria's Funeral

Maria's Outdoor Flamenco Dance When She Met Her Future Husband, Count Vincenzo (Rossano Brazzi)

Maria on Her Way with the Count to His Villa in Italy

The Count's Widowed Sister Eleanora (Valentina Cortese)

Eleanor's Objections to Her Brother's Plan to Marry Maria

Flashback: Maria's Devastating Honeymoon Night


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