Friday, January 23, 2004

REVIEW: The Barefoot Contessa

* * (out of four)
Seen 20 January 2004 at the Brattle Theater (Humphrey Bogart: The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of)

The difference between an actor and a movie star is that a movie star brings a certain persona with them and makes it work, the downside being that they have to be extra convincing in roles that are some distance from that persona. Humphrey Bogart, for instance, has a certain harsh edge to him; when playing the hero, he's a little cold and ruthless, although there is a core of decency in all his characters.

Seeing that core so close to the surface is more than a bit disconcerting; even more unusual than seeing Bogart in color. As the movie starts, he's a humbled director on his last chance, and as it continues, he becomes the friend and confidant of Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner). It's really Gardner's film, anyway, even though Bogart gets top billing.

The problem is (and it's the worst problem a movie can have), this film is boring. None of the characters are particularly interesting, and the conflict that drives the last act of the movie (and leads to the funeral that opens it) strikes me as ridiculously contrived, though that may be applying twenty-first century standards to a fifty-year old film. Still, even if you're against premarital sex, not telling your young, sensual girlfriend about your impotence before the wedding is something of an idiot plot.

Writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz also makes the mistake of seldom letting us see Maria except as others see her; she remains an enigma but not a particularly interesting one. The Hollywood/show business satire is also tame by current standards, and probably by the standards of the day, as well.

No comments: