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The Barefoot Contessa

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 125 mins . PG . PAL


I would suppose this film could be called a ‘retrospective’. It is a bit hard to give a synopsis, as it seems to be a number of set pieces based around a number of strong characters, each playing off one another to a very well-written, scintillating script that is reminiscent of David Mamet - without the profanity.

The central character is played by Ava Gardner (the ‘Barefoot Contessa’ of the title). Maria Vargas is a strong-willed leading lady, modelled on Jean Harlow, Lana Turner and perhaps Gardner herself. She is the equal of any man, a woman of rare talent. She meets a man also of rare talent as well as respect, Harry Dawes (Bogart), who is a scriptwriter/director with his own drinking and marital problems. Unlike in other Bogart films, he is not romantically linked with the female lead. It is strange to see him in a strong platonic relationship with a leading lady.

The other main lead is Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens), a wannabe studio executive who is hugely wealthy. You can perhaps see some of the standard characterisations here, Vargas is a diva, a true talent who can sing, dance and act, but is hard to handle and quick tempered. Bogart is the character under siege from all sides. Edwards is the Hollywood playboy who is the epitome of noveau riche hubris, quick to surround himself with yes men and willing starlets. He will not take easily to a woman with the iron will of Maria Vargas.

The other characters are perhaps expected. The oily PR men who are struggling to get their pay cheques and keep their dignity. There are the incredibly well-scripted exchanges between the old money idle European rich and the new moneyed Edwards.

This film ends as it starts, at a funeral. It is a strange movie, quite unlike any film of the era with a strangely depressing, withdrawn mood.


This is presented in 1.33:1 full frame, which is correct. It is a strange transfer being Technicolor, and I found the whole feature to be of high quality considering its age - with some odd caveats. The tint or hue of this feature is just plain odd. This permeates the whole film, indicating that it's an artefact of the Technicolor process. Skin tones are often a strange shade with an almost jaundiced pallor, while others are a bit more pink than they should be. Strangely it works in a way because of the manner in which the film was shot; that is, largely in flashbacks. This strange tint is not present throughout the whole feature. There are some outdoor shots, especially with period automobiles, that show remarkable fidelity. Black and shadow details are serviceable, but are not comparable to modern features.

Sharpness can be rather poor with some female close-ups being suitably ‘vaselined’. Others, such as some interior shots, have poor depth of field. There are also a variety of ageing anomalies which include hair lines, colour spurts and various spots and rings, but in all it is remarkably blemish free. The colour spurts are indications of damage on one of the three film colour planes of the three strip process used.


There is a single English Dolby stereo track at 192k/s (as well as French, German and Spanish). There is nothing much to say except that dialogue is strong, with Bogart providing a fine, almost hard boiled voiceover and all characters exhibiting fine diction. Music is perhaps a bit unmemorable, never stretching the capabilities of the compression. Front soundstage is non-existent, and there is nothing that can be done to facilitate surround, not even with Pro Logic II or DTS Neo:6.


There is a single theatrical trailer which is overblown like a lot of ’50s fare. It's full frame and of poor quality.


This is a typical MGM disc, quite reasonably presented without the addition of most anything in the way of extras. Set at a lower price, it will please students of film.

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      And I quote...
    "A well presented disc of an obscure Bogart film..."
    - Tony Lai
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