Barefoot Contessa, The (1954)

The Barefoot Contessa (1954), written, produced and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.

Looking for new talent, a tyrannical rich man who wants to make movies -- obviously Howard Hughes -- takes his crew to Europe to scoop up Spanish dancing sensation Ava Gardner. She likes and admires writer/director Humphrey Bogart and he convinces her to come back and begin a brilliant movie career. She always has a man standing by and goes through a series of lovers. Take her or leave her, but she knows what she wants.

It is talky and somewhat soapy, but lush and with a great ensemble. In some ways it is a cynical inside-Hollywood tale like In a Lonely Place (1950) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). The story is told in flashbacks at her funeral, switching back and forth between three narrators:

The title character is suggested by the life of Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino, she also started by dancing in nightclubs and married a Prince). However, the character strongly resembles Gardner herself. As the commentary track points out, she "got away with" behavior that other actresses couldn't have at the time. She liked sex and hard drinking and saw no reason she shouldn't live for pleasure. She did not consider herself a serious actress and was just in it for the money, but couldn't be bought: she decked Howard Hughes for trying, married Mickey Rooney then Artie Shaw then Frank Sinatra and left him for a bullfighter, and so on.

Photographed by the great Jack Cardiff.

Available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time. The Technicolor registration looks off to me in certain scenes.

The commentary track by Julie Kirgo and David Del Valle has a lot on the biographies of everyone involved. They love the film but admit the plot is talky sometimes.