fbpx

THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA

Director: JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ

U.S.A. • 1954 • COLOUR • 128 MIN


JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZ’S 1954 ‘HOLLYWOOD ON HOLLYWOOD’ CLASSIC IS REVIVED IN A NEW PRINT.
Films about Hollywood often have the structure of murderous fairy-tales. Partially inspired by the career of Rita Hayworth, ‘The Barefoot Contessa’ is a bitter Cinderella story about the rise to fame of a Spanish dancer and the tragedy that befalls her when she meets her Prince Charming. It anticipated Billy Wilder’s ‘Fedora’ (1978) in its elaborate flashback structure precipitated by the funeral of a star, but the tone of the two films is very different. Whereas Wilder’s seems majestic, ambivalent, elegiac, Mankiewicz’s is languorous, world-weary and cynical.

Mankiewicz’s surrogate in this film is a disenchanted director (a superb performance from Humphrey Bogart), who is an iconoclast at odds with an icon-obsessed community. ‘Why did Kirk Edwards want to produce movies?’ he says of his employer. ‘The answer is more simple than anyone thinks. Because he wanted girls.’ Like Mankiewicz’s most personal characters, he is an observer of the action more than a participant, a Jamesian watcher on the stairs who peruses the obsessions of the main actors with amused disdain. His pose casts an aloof perspective across familiar Mankiewicz situations whereby arrogant men tangle with predatory women in complicated flashback structures that emphasise the power of the past to influence the present.

It was Mankiewicz who once defined a Hollywood associate producer as ‘a mouse studying to be a rat’. An element of that is caught in Edmond O’Brien’s rich, Oscar-winning study of a press agent, whose endeavour to obtain wealth and position manifests itself in a constantly sweaty sycophancy. The whole film has the exhilarating sense of a world known scathingly from the inside. The theme is the same as in Mankiewicz’s masterpiece, ‘All About Eve’: there’s no bitchiness like show bitchiness.

Neil Sinyard

Book Tickets

}