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THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA ($20) stands amongst the best 50's films to turn a jaundiced eye on the filmmaking industry. Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA looks at the life and meteoric rise of a Hollywood star that nobody really knew. Told in flashback, from several different viewpoints, THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA pieces together the life of a Spanish dancer named Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner), who is molded into a star by director Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart)- a man looking to rebuild his own career. While on a talent search with a despotic producer named Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens), Harry is able to entice Maria to make a screen test, after the clumsy attempts of Edwards' own PR man Oscar Muldoon (Edmond O'Brien) fail to impress the Spanish dancer.

With her screen test in the can, Maria goes on to make her first film under Harry’s tutelage. The film proves to be an instant smash and overnight; Maria becomes a huge Hollywood star. Despite her outward success, Maria cannot shake the dirt from her feet and finds herself torn her new life and the one she left behind. THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA is old style Hollywood entertainment at its best, featuring legendary stars, wonderfully juicy dialogue and the cinematic glories of the old IB Technicolor process. FYI, Edmond O'Brien earned an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the loutish, oily, opportunistic press agent. The cast of THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA also includes Marius Goring, Valentina Cortese, Rossano Brazzi and Elizabeth Sellars.

MGM Home Entertainment has made THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA available on DVD in a very good-looking full screen presentation. While not perfect, the transfer does bring out the beauty of Jack Cardiff glowing Technicolor cinematography. Most of the time, the hues are richly saturated with the type of color values (especially the reds) that the now defunct process was noted for. Some shots appear a bit faded, with slightly off kilter flesh tones, but fortunately there are very few of these moments. For the most part, flesh tones are rendered with the healthy pallor that only a makeup man could supply. The image itself is pretty crisp, except where diffusion lenses were employed to photograph the actors in a more flattering fashion. Blacks are fairly velvety, contrast is smooth and the level of shadow detail is good for a 1954 production. The film element used for the transfer displays some age related blemishes, but they ever become distracting. Digital compression artifacts remain out of sight throughout.

The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack doesn't suffer from audible distortion of noticeable hiss, but the age of the recordings does affect fidelity. Mario Nascimbene's involving score sounds a bit thin, lacking in the upper and lower registers. Dialogue is always completely understandable and the actors’ voices maintain their sense of character. A French monaural track is also encoded onto the DVD, as are French and Spanish subtitles. The basic interactive menus provide access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a theatrical trailer.

THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA is the kind of entertainment that film buffs, as well as Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner fans, will want to snap up on DVD. MGM has produced a very good-looking disc that will give them very little to complain about.


 The Barefoot Contessa


DVD reviews are Copyright 2001 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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