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Customer Review

on 19 October 2011
The fact that six out of six reviews give The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph L Mankiewicz, 1954) five stars has challenged me to this review. (RC)

Mankiewicz (1909-1993), as one of his official records goes, "produced first-class MGM films, including The Philadelphia Story (1940). He directed 20 films in a 26-year period, successfully attempted every kind of movie from Shake-speare adaptation to western, from urban sociological drama to musical, from epic film with thousands of extras to a two-character picture". Well, all and nothing, one is bound to summarise to oneself, and a check spot of The barefoot contessa confirms the worst memories.

Scripts are clearly a vital component of films, and hence it is no surprise that it is common for movie scripts to be worked over several times by different authors. This may help, but itself is no guarantee that the result is palatable - too many cooks may spoil the stew. Or it is simply going from bad to worse - garbage in, garbage out, the old IMB programmer's motto went. Another heart-throb variant of the (this time Spanish) Cinderella story, from poverty to marrying a Prince, via a move star career, and a tragic end.

Nothing convinces in this film - neither script, nor acting, nor directing, all with the worst possible stereotypes, Hollywood overdoing herself, again - as in Godard's Mépris years later, a maniacal producer. Add, for good measure, an omniscient, fatherly director (poor Bogey suffering in convulsions), plus an ultradelicate beauty (really?) - Ava Gardner's looks, performance and acting, by comparison to Rita Hayworth in the Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947), are far, far inferior.

On the danger of insulting his memory, let us think what somebody like Luis Buñuel would have made of similar trashy material. Just take a third rate book by Pierre Louÿs - La femme et le pantin - use your usual first class script collaborator (Jean-Claude Carrière), and voilà - Cet obscur objet du désir (1977), a masterpiece. Well, the formula does not work with everybody ...
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