Unrated, 2 hr. 8 min. Directed By: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Release Date: Jan 1, 1954. DVD Release Date: Jun 19, 2001.
I walked into The Barefoot Contessa pretty much blind. I knew only two things: the first was that Humphrey Bogart was in the movie and the second was that Ina Garten named her specialty food store in the Hamptons and subsequently a cookbook and her television shows after this movie. I don’t know why, I just know it’s the truth. People love this movie, clearly. Not just Ina, but like normal people who don’t delude themselves into thinking their lives cruising around in Mercedes convertibles and writing recipes for dinner parties is something resembling normal life.
I’m not one of those people. I thought that the performances that we see in this movie, particularly those by Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner, are outstanding. Some of the supporting cast is equally good. I also think this story: a kind of expose into the down side of finding yourself in Hollywood’s spotlight, is enjoyable. Especially back in the day, when studios basically owned the actors that worked for them and there were LOTS of actresses particularly suffering under some relatively rough treatment to get (and stay) in pictures. But, they seem to veer off that trail frequently, and I wasn’t a fan of any of that nonsense.
What The Barefoot Contessa did do for me was remind me of the fact that we were bloody BRILLIANT to rid ourselves of the nobility and that we were foolish enough to replace the nobility with celebrity. The more “royals” that appeared, the less I liked this movie and the less I cared what happened to any of the characters, the Contessa included. I also thought the loops of flashbacks were occasionally distracting, and I would have been happier if all these sequences of events could have happened in chronological order.
This won’t go down as my favorite classic, but I get why other people like it. Contessa compares well against Makiewicz’s other works, notably All About Eve (although I like that cast a little better than this one). While I think it needed some help to make it a bit more entertaining, I can hardly fault it for its technical merits.