The Barefoot Contessa (1952)

The Barefoot Contessa
Warren Stevens, Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien


'The Barefoot Contessa' The Barefoot Contessa is a romantic drama, with elements of film noir and whodunnit. It was made in 1954, directed and scripted by Joseph Mankiewicz, and stars Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Edmund O'Brien, Rossano Brazzi, Marius Goring, and Valentina Cortese.

The film was well received by the critics and won the the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Edmond O'Brien and and Mankiewicz was nominated for the Original Screenplay Oscar.

More recent reviewers have been more critical, panning the film for lack of action and wooden characters. Some of the screenplay is crisp and full of witty dialogue as befits a Mankiewicz script but there are numerous slow and ambiguous patches.


Ava Gardner plays Maria Vargas, a gypsy nightclub dancer who becomes a countess, and who has a profound influence on all the men she meets. The story begins at her funeral and is told in flashback by the men in her life. They are film writer and director Harry Dawes, played by Humphrey Bogart, Wall Street financier and movie producer, Kirk Edwards, played by Warren Stevens and Edwards's loud press agent Oscar Muldoon, played by Edmond O'Brien. The events leading to her death are slowly revealed and we discover how she became a countess and finally, how she died.


Joseph L. Mankiewicz had won Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars for 'A Letter to Three Wives' in 1950 and 'All About Eve' in 1951 and was at the peak of his form. His Hollywood rags to riches story is supposedly based on Rita Hayworth, who turned down the role or even Ava Gardner, who played it.

Hayworth came from the Cansino Spanish dancing family who later married into European royalty in the person of Prince Aly Khan. The tempestuous relationship between Maria and the rich movie producer Kirk Edwards is reminiscent of Gardner's relationship with billionaire film magnate, Howard Hughes. Hughes did at one stage threaten to sue Mankiewicz's Figaro production company about the similarities.

The film was the first for Mankiewicz's own production company, Figaro, Inc., which was backed financially by United Artists. It was the director's first colour movie.

The film was shot at the Cinecittà Studios in Rome with exteriors filmed at Tivoli, Portofino and San Remo

Mankiewicz had originally intended for the pivotal role of Maria to go to an unknown actress. He considered the young Joan Collins before reverting to an established star in Ava Gardner.

Edmond O'Brien had recently worked on 'Julius Caesar' with Mankiewiecz. He was the perfect actor for the role of Oscar Muldoon and went on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He is the only actor to win an Oscar playing a character called Oscar.

Bogart and Ava Gardner did not have a warm relationship off set although their scenes together did not reflect this. Bogart felt that Gardner's acting gave him nothing to respond to.

Main Cast

Humphrey Bogart ... Harry Dawes
Ava Gardner ... Maria Vargas
Edmond O'Brien ... Oscar Muldoon
Marius Goring ... Alberto Bravano
Valentina Cortese ... Eleanora Torlato-Favrini
Rossano Brazzi ... Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini
Elizabeth Sellars ... Jerry
Warren Stevens ... Kirk Edwards
Franco Interlenghi ... Pedro Vargas
Mari Aldon ... Myrna
Bessie Love ... Mrs. Eubanks
Diana Decker ... Drunken blonde
Bill Fraser ... J. Montague Brown
Alberto Rabagliati ... Nightclub proprietor
Enzo Staiola ... Busboy


Director … Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer … Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay … Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Cinematography … Jack Cardiff
Music … Mario Nascimbene
Production Company … Figaro
Distribution Company … United Artists
Format … Technicolor
Release Date … September 29, 1954
Running Time … 130 mins

Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Supporting Actor ... Edmond O'Brien
One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Original Screenplay ... Joseph L. Mankiewicz