The Barefoot Contessa

The Barefoot Contessa is a 1954 American drama film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz about the life and loves of fictional Spanish sex symbol Maria Vargas. It stars Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, and Edmond O'Brien.

The Barefoot Contessa
Theatrical Film Poster
Directed byJoseph L. Mankiewicz
Produced byJoseph L. Mankiewicz (uncredited)
Written byJoseph L. Mankiewicz
StarringHumphrey Bogart
Ava Gardner
Edmond O'Brien
Music byMario Nascimbene
CinematographyJack Cardiff
Edited byWilliam Hornbeck
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • September 29, 1954 (1954-09-29)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3.3 million (US and Canada rentals)[1]

For his performance, O'Brien won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and the corresponding Golden Globe. Mankiewicz was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.


Down on his luck, a washed-up movie director and writer Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart) is reduced to working for abusive, emotionally stunted business tycoon Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens), who has decided that he wants to produce a film to stroke his monumental ego. Looking for a glamorous leading lady, they go to a Madrid night club to see a dancer named Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner), whom Kirk had already been told about.

Maria is a blithe but proud spirit who likes to go barefoot and has a troubled home life. Maria immediately likes Harry, whose work she knows, but takes an instant dislike to Kirk. Although she flees during their meeting, Harry tracks her down to her family home and convinces her to fly away with them to America to make her first film. Thanks to his expertise and the help of sweaty, insincere publicist Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O'Brien), her film debut is a sensation. With subsequent films by this team, Maria becomes a respected actress, Harry's career is resurrected, and they become friends.

During a party at Maria's house, Kirk and wealthy Latin American playboy Alberto Bravano (Marius Goring) become involved in an argument over Maria. Alberto had conspicuously admired Maria during the evening. When Alberto invites her to join him on his yacht in the Riviera, Kirk orders her to stay away from him. Offended by Kirk's attempted domineering, she accepts Alberto's invitation. Also seeing an opportunity, Oscar, tired of being Kirk's lackey, switches his allegiance to Alberto.

Maria is now a great star, but she is not satisfied. She envies the happiness her friend Harry has found with his wife Jerry (Elizabeth Sellars). Alberto is too frivolous and shallow for her. One evening at a casino, while Alberto is gambling, Maria takes some of his chips and cashes them, throwing the money to her gypsy lover from a window. When Alberto goes on a losing streak, he berates Maria in public for ruining his luck. Subsequently, he receives a slap in the face from Count Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini (Rossano Brazzi), who escorts Maria from the casino.

Maria stays with Vincenzo and his widowed sister, Eleanora (Valentina Cortese), at the count's palazzo. She has found the great love of her life, and they wed in a lavish ceremony, in which Harry gives away the bride. But there is a problem. The count and his sister are the last of the Torlato-Favrinis; without offspring, the noble line will die out. The count has a secret. Due to a war injury, he is impotent. He does not tell Maria about this until their wedding night.

On a rainy night months later, with Harry in Italy, an unhappy Maria arrives at his hotel room, telling him about her husband's impotence, but confessing that she is pregnant. She believes Vincenzo will want this child in order to perpetuate the family lineage. Harry warns her Vincenzo is too proud to accept this, but Maria feels otherwise and plans to tell him about her pregnancy that night.

As Maria leaves his hotel room, Harry notices Vincenzo's car trailing hers and follows them. Back at the palazzo in the servants' quarters, Vincenzo shoots to death both Maria and her lover before she can tell him about the child. Harry arrives just as the shots are fired. He does not tell Vincenzo about the pregnancy. The story ends, as it began, with flashbacks at her funeral. Afterward, Vincenzo is taken away by the police.



According to Turner Classic Movies, Mankiewicz based the film's central character of Maria Vargas on American movie star and dancer Rita Hayworth, who had been married to Prince Aly Khan.[2] According to the audio commentary on the 1931 film Tabu, she was based on Anne Chevalier, an actress in that film.

The Barefoot Contessa is considered one of Mankiewicz's most glamorous "Hollywood" films, and one of the most glamorous of Golden Hollywood,[3] but it was produced out of Cinecittà Studios in Rome, Italy.[4] Exterior scenes were shot at Tivoli (the olive grove), Sanremo, and Portofino.[5][6] Bogart was not on location at Sanremo.[7] The film's Italian production was part of the "Hollywood on the Tiber" phenomenon.

The studio was about to release the film's poster without an image of Bogart, a contractual violation. Bogart had the matter rectified with the addition of a line drawing of his face.


The film was praised by many critics for its extravagance, which earned the director many new admirers.[8] Saturday Review called Ava Gardner "one of the most breathtaking creatures on earth".[9] Some critics disapproved of the film; the book Feature Cinema in the 20th Century: Volume One: 1913–1950: a Comprehensive Guide called the film "dreadful", remarking that Mankiewicz's "intelligence and ambitious aims too often collide with an astonishing lack of subtlety and aesthetic judgment".[10] Bosley Crowther called it a "grotesque barren film" about the "glittering and graceless behavior of the Hollywood-international set."[11]

However, François Truffaut wrote, "…what is beyond doubt is its total sincerity, novelty, daring, and fascination … I myself accept and value it for its freshness, intelligence, and beauty … A subtle and intelligent film, beautifully directed and acted."[12]

The May 1955 issue of Mad (#23) has a parody by Jack Davis entitled "The Barefoot Nocountessa".

The Food Network cooking show Barefoot Contessa is named after Ina Garten's best-selling cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook,[13][14] which in turn was named after her specialty food store which she bought in 1978. The store, which is no longer in operation, opened in 1975 and was named after the film.

A tour boat in the TV series Riptide was named Barefoot Contessa.

Parts of the movie were featured in Lana Del Rey's music video for "Carmen".

Home media

On December 13, 2016, Twilight Time Movies released The Barefoot Contessa on high-definition Blu-ray. This is a limited-edition release of 3000 copies available.[15][16]`


  1. "1954 Box Office Champs". Variety. January 5, 1955. p. 59. Retrieved July 16, 2019 via
  2. Miller, Frank. "The Barefoot Contessa". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  3. Dick, Bernard F. (1983). Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Twayne Publishers. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-8057-9291-1.
  4. Mankiewicz, Tom; Crane, Robert (May 14, 2012). My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider's Journey through Hollywood. University Press of Kentucky. p. 264. ISBN 978-0-8131-4057-5.
  5. Hanna, David (May 1, 1998). Sinatra: Ol' Blue Eyes Remembered. Random House Value Pub. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-517-16068-8.
  6. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Italy: Italy. Dorling Kindersley Limited. February 1, 2012. p. 240. ISBN 978-1-4053-9313-3.
  7. Higham, Charles (March 17, 1975). Ava: a life story. W. H. Allen. p. 108.
  8. Sadoul, Georges (January 1, 1972). Dictionary of Film Makers. University of California Press. p. 166. ISBN 978-0-520-02151-8.
  9. Saturday Review. Saturday Review Associates. September 1954. p. 31.
  10. Klinowski, Jacek; Garbicz, Adam (2012). Feature Cinema in the 20th Century: Volume One: 1913–1950: a Comprehensive Guide. Planet RGB Limited. pp. 2–. ISBN 978-1-62407-564-3.
  11. Bosley Crowther (September 30, 1954). "The Screen in Review: The Barefoot Contessa Arrives at Capitol". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2009.
  12. François Truffaut (translated by Leonard Mayhew) The Films in My Life New York, 1978
  13. Liberman, Sherri (August 31, 2011). American Food by the Decades. ABC-CLIO. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-313-37698-6.
  14. Today's Kitchen Cookbook. Meredith Books. 2005. p. 210. ISBN 978-0-696-22542-0.
  15. "Barefoot Contessa, The (Blu-ray)". Twilight Time Movies.
  16. "The Barefoot Contessa Blu-ray Review". Home Theater Forum. December 24, 2016.
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