105 Must See Films

105 Must See Films: The Barefoot Contessa (1954)


Starring: Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart

Director: Joseph L Mankiewicz

Ava Gardner sparkles in this film that starts at the funeral of the main character, and shows scenes from her life in the memories of those who knew and loved her, trying to piece together the mystery of her. She is Maria Vargas, a beautiful woman discovered singing in a bar, who is taken to Hollywood and becomes a star, but remains a mystery to everyone.

As her story unfolds, we realise that she is a hard woman to get to know, and one who follows her own path. Who did she love? Who really knew her? She is admired as a woman who could not be bought or seduced by fame, but was loved by many.

It’s a Must See Because: the snappy dialogue is hilarious, with quips and sarcasm from Bogart that put people in their place. He is one of the narrators, a film maker who cares for Maria, but is very much in love with his wife. He tries to guide her, and here, more than his usual cynical characters, he is also a kind and romantic figure.

The structure has been compared to that of Citizen Kane, of skewering society by looking at one person and their life from different angles, and also because ultimately she remains a beautiful, enigmatic mystery. A woman who drives men wild, who knows herself, but is always unknown. It’s clever and unusual in this respect, and set the scene for later, non linear film story telling. But perhaps more than all this, it’s delicious to try to piece together Maria Vargas and to try to figure her out and guess what has become of her. A lovely rags to riches tale.

See It If: you want to see Ava Gardner at perhaps her most beautiful, or if you like a bit of mystery to your classic films. Beautiful and sad.


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