Wednesday, March 3, 2010

1954: The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph Mankiewicz)

1954: The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph Mankiewicz)
I'm not sure I've ever met anyone that likes this movie as much as I do. I wish that weren't the case, but what can I really do about it?

I mentioned in an earlier post that two of my favorite themes on screen are friendship and loyalty, and that's what really gets me here.  It's the friendship that Humphrey Bogart shows Ava Gardner, and his loyalty towards her, that I find so deep and moving.  In fact, it's probably my favorite purely platonic male-female relationship in the history of film.

It's Humphrey at the end of his career, wise and settled in this very powerful way.  And, Ava Gardner, who I think is as beautiful as anyone I've ever seen.  Also, of note, are the colors and the grand sense of tragedy that Mankiewicz creates around it all.  

Another one I'd take on a desert island with me.  Be a great one to have, too!  If a stranger shows up, they probably wouldn't even want it.

Other contenders for 1954: A year, like any other, where I still have some things I need to see.  These include:  Luis Bunuel's Wuthering Heights, John Sturges' Bad Day at Black Rock, Andre De Toth's Crime Wave, Richard Quine's Drive a Crooked Road, Allan Dwan's Silver Lode, Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar, Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff, William Wellman's Track of the Cat, and Josef von Sternberg's The Saga of Anatahan.  I really need to re-watch both Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les diaboliques and Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samourai.  It's been too long since I saw either of them to know where they would place on a favorites list.  Even with all these gaps though, there are still some films to mention.  I really like Otto Preminger's River of No Return and Anthony Mann's The Far Country.  I love Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, Elia Kazan's On the Waterfront, George Cukor's A Star Is Born, and Jacques Becker's Grisbi.  But my closest runner-up is Roberto Rossellini's Voyage in Italy.

2/11/11 I watched William Wellman's Track of the Cat.  The fact that this is on Jonathan Rosenbaum's top 100 films of all time list makes me a little more skeptical of the great critic's taste.  Mitchum turns in a strong performance, and there is a decent allegorial weight to it all.  But much of it feels too theatrical for my liking, and with just mediocre Val Lewton-type suggestion.  

2/18/11 I watched Allan Dwan's Silver Lode.  Allegorical with some nice expressionistic touches from Dwan and Alton.  Just wish the execution was a little more subtle and the atmosphere more carefully and subtly handled.  

2/19/11 I watched Kenji Mizoguchi's Sansho the Bailiff.  Mizoguchi has a darker, more violent streak than Ozu, and his films can be rough where Ozu's are soft.  Heavy metal to Brit pop if you will.  But he's also a humanist.  And that comes through in this hefty work.  Mizoguchi feels very modern and masterful when it comes to dealing with non-linear structure, and certain moments, like when the mom and children are separated by boat, pack a real power.  Not fully felt for me but appreciated with the utmost respect.   

2/25/11 I watched Andre De Toth's Crime Wave.  The real stars here are the city of Los Angeles and a bunch of delicious character actors (particularly Jay Novello, Tim Carey, and Charles Bronson).   De Toth keeps things spare and taut, but a few times some inventive camerawork sneaks in.  Meanwhile the noir atmosphere never falters.   An exceptional example of B-noir.  Flawed, certainly, but an unusually strong outing.   

11/15/11 I watched Roberto Rossellini's Dov'e la liberta...?  A strange Rossellini that feels more Felliniesque than the work of the master of restrained and austere.  Almost felt like a made-for-hire.  

3/16/13 I watched Roberto Rossellini's La Paura. Bergman is wonderful as always, and it's interesting to see Rossellini doing noir. But the script is a bit lackluster at times. Particularly, without Rossellini's transcendent ending, the whole things ends up leaving a bland taste on the buds.  

10/11/13 I watched Douglas Sirk's Magnificent Obsession.  My first time with this well-known Sirk, and it certainly is as loony as I heard whisperings of.  But Sirk gives it tragic depth and keeps the emotion swirling and somehow manages to transform seemingly insane form (garish music and color) and content (plotting that no one in their right mind would ever consider plausible) into something uniquely wonderful.  Although I still prefer Written as it seems perhaps a little more restrained in its content and outlandish in its form, Magnificent deserves a place all its own. 

11/2/13 I watched Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar.  Feverish with Ray's unique emotionalism and spatial mastery on grand display.  Crawford is as powerful as ever, and this western is a world all its own.  It's pulp, melodrama, and baroque art.  It's no surprise this film enjoys such a major reputation - it's a wonderful piece of work by a great filmmaker. 

11/24/13 I watched Richard Quine's Drive a Crooked Road.  A very effective noir featuring the best and most natural Rooney performance I have seen.  Traces of the film show up in Lost Highway and possibly even Drive.  Cold, tight, and full-blooded noir, Quine might not be as harsh as Lang or Ray but he is courageous in his depiction of the femme fatale and seems at ease no matter how fatalistic the plot and the characters become.  

10/3/20 I watched Herbert Biberman's Salt of the Earth.  From a historical standpoint, it is a completely fascinating film.  I can't recall an earlier American work that bears so much Italian neorealist ethos.  While perhaps not always cinematically of the greatest interest, it is bold in the subject matter it tackles, particularly that of sexual equality.

2/2/23 I watched Robert Wise's Executive Suite.  Wise could very well be an unfair victim of the auteur theory.  Although I have seen no where near his entire body of work, I'm a huge fan of The Set-Up and really like The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I watched this because it's one of Rosenbaum's 1000 essential films and man is it good.  It's unique in its exploration of corporate America and seems like a clear predecessor to Lumet's 12 Angry Men.  


  1. My Own #1 Film of 1954:

    Sansho the Bailiff (Mizoguchi)


    Rear Window (Hitchcock)
    Twenty-Four Eyes (Kinoshita; Japan)
    Ordet (Dreyer; Denmark)
    Late Chrysanthemums (Naruse; Japan)
    Les Diabolique (Clouzot; France)
    Chikamatsu Monogatari (Mizoguchi; Japan)
    A Star is Born (Cukor)
    On the Waterfront (Kazan)
    Wuthering Heights (Bunuel)
    Bad Day at Black Rock (J. Sturges)
    La Strada (Fellini; Italy)
    Senso (Visconti; Italy)
    Johnny Guitar (Ray)
    Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Donen)
    Them! (Douglas)
    Touchex Pas Au Gribisi (becker; France)
    Magnificent Obsession (Sirk)
    Karin Mansdotter (Sjoberg; Sweden)

    SANSHO THE BAILIFF (SANSHO DAYU) is for me the greatest film of the 1950's and may well be the greatest film ever made. It's a shattering and transcendent work, and as beautifully crafted as any of the cinematic masterpieces, and once seen it will will be remembered for the rest of your life. The final scene is one of the most emotionally electrifying in the cinema.

    While I am not particularly a big fan of THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA, I respect it, and I admire teh reasons why you hold it in such high esteem. Needless to say there are some very great films this year including the masterpieces from Hitchcock and Kinoshita.

    Great expression here of personal conviction and passion.

  2. Somehow I forgot to list Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMAURAI, which of course is a supreme masterpiece of the cinema, among the runners-up. So I'm officially adding it here.

  3. Jeffrey,
    I have not seen “The Barefoot Contessa” in many years and really need to revisit it. This use to be on TV all the time when I was a young teenager on one of the local stations that showed movies all day on Sunday’s. The film has great pedigree so I cannot imagine being disappointed.
    1954 was a great year for films, Les Diabolique, On the Waterfront and Seven Samurai to a name few. My own # 1 choice is Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.” It’s pure cinema, after all what is cinema except authorized voyeurism.

    As an aside, last night I caught up on one of my many omissions and watched “The Magnificent Ambersons,” visually stunning, beautifully edited and wonderfully acted. I guess we can only wonder how grand a film this would have been without the studio interference.

    #1 Rear Window

    Runner ups

    Seven Samurai
    Les Diabolique
    On the Waterfront
    Bad Day at Black Rock
    Johnny Guitar
    Dial M For Murder
    The Caine Mutiny
    La Strada

  4. Sam, I really need to see this Mizoguchi film! Based on my previous experiences with his work, I can only imagine that I'll love it nearly as much as you.

    Thanks for not beating up CONTESSA too much. It's a fragile, little film, and I was happy to give it a little love.

    The others on your list that I've seen but didn't mention are SENSO and LA STRADA. I've struggled with both of them a little in the past but will certainly revisit at some point down the road.

    Unfortunately, I have ORDET for 1955 so I'll talk about it tomorrow.

    Still to see, the Kinoshita, Naruse, other Mizoguchi, SEVEN BRIDES, THEM!, the Sirk, and Sjoberg you mention.

    Thanks so much, Sam! Another great year indeed!

  5. John, "authorized voyeurism", I love that!

    I love the Hitchcock, too, and certainly understand that choice. Of the others you mention, I haven't seen THE CAINE MUTINY either. I have seen DIAL M, which I like, but probably just a little less than the others I mentioned.

    I'm happy to hear that you had a good experience with AMBERSONS! Isn't that opening narration fantastic?

    Thanks so much, John! Always wonderful to have you here.

  6. Rear Window is probably my favorite movie ever made, so it's a no-brainer for me... although, this is a really strong year. Becker's Touchez pas au grisbi is amazing, as is On the Waterfront, Sansho the Bailiff, Les Diaboliques, Johnny Guitar, and Ordet. I never hear '54 discussed as much as other banner years ('39, for example) but it's incredibly strong.

    I have The Barefoot Contessa recorded and waiting to be watched, I just haven't had the chance yet... I'll check back in after I see it. I'm a huge Mankiewicz fan, so I need to check it out soon.

  7. Dave, I completely understand the love for REAR WINDOW. It's one of my favorite Hitchcock films, too. Just so much fun!

    Please let me know about your experience with THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA. That'd be great.

    Thanks, Dave. Always awesome hearing from you!

  8. Jeffrey, The Barefoot Contessa was shot by Jack Cardiff, who would get my vote as the greatest cinematographer of all time, and he is probably far more responsible for the striking colors than Mankiewicz. You make me really want to re-watch this. I liked it, and it features two of my all-time favorite actors, and maybe on re-watching I'll love it. Definitely on my to-do list.

    Gotta go with Johnny Guitar though. Definitely one of the greatest westerns ever made.

  9. Doniphon, I never put that together that Cardiff was the DP of CONTESSA. Makes a lot of sense though. It definitely has some of the same mind-blowing effect of NARCISSUS, for instance.

    I'll be curious to hear how it strikes you on a re-visit. Nothing makes me happier than to hear you say my post makes you want to see it again!

    And yeah I need to catch up with JOHNNY GUITAR soon. Somehow that's one that's eluded me to this point.

    Thanks, Doniphon. Always great to hear from you!