The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

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Released 8-Apr-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1954
Running Time 124:50
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (69:17) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Studio
Distributor

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Ava Gardner
Humphrey Bogart
Edmond O'Brien
Marius Goring
Valentina Cortesa
Rossano Brazzi
Elizabeth Sellars
Warren Stevens
Case ?
RPI $34.95 Music Mario Nascimbene


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
French
Spanish
Dutch
Swedish
Norwegian
Danish
Smoking Yes, extensive
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Few movies start with a funeral, let alone the funeral of the central character. Traces of Red opens with James Belushi's dead body, but that's not a funeral. You Only Live Twice opens with James Bond's funeral at sea, (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) but it's a fake (my apologies if you haven't seen it yet). The Barefoot Contessa opens with the funeral of Maria Vargas, stage name Maria D'Amata, name at death Contessa Torlato-Favrini. Yup, they blow the big surprise early - she's going to die. The interesting parts are when, how, and why.

    The story is narrated by a number of men, starting with Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart). Each of the men is standing at the funeral, and their voice-over leads into a flashback or flashbacks. Each flashback tells us more about Maria, and the events that lead to her death. It's an unusual way to tell the story, but it is very effective in this case and part of the charm of this movie.

    Harry begins with the night he met Maria Vargas (Ava Gardner). Harry is a scriptwriter and director who has recently quit drinking, and who is still having problems. He is owned, financially, by Kirk Edwards (Warren Stevens) - a rich man who has decided that he wants to produce movies. Kirk wants a "fresh face" for his first movie, and he has come to Spain to check out a woman (Maria) performing in a night club. This is the night Maria is "discovered", but the night is not without incident. We learn quite a bit about Maria and her home life before she agrees to come to Rome for a screen test.

    Understandably, this film has a somewhat melancholy, wistful, tone. At the same time, there are some amusing moments, including seeing Kirk Edwards getting told off rather thoroughly.

    Bogart is playing a different role in this film, as a writer/director, but he still has strength, and it is pleasant to see that he is not romantically entangled with Maria - he has a strong and loving relationship with another woman (it is far too rare to see a loving couple on film). He is more of a father-confessor, or fairy godfather. It might sound strange, but it works - Bogart's character is probably the most sympathetic in the movie, even more than Maria's. Partly, this is because Maria is a flawed and disturbed woman - it takes some time before we really appreciate this as she seems quite normal to begin with.

    The only actor to score an Oscar for this film was Edmund O'Brien, playing Oscar Muldoon, the somewhat inept PR man. Bogart didn't get nominated for this film (he got nominated for The Caine Mutiny, instead) but the Oscar went to Brando for On The Waterfront - I guess that's understandable. Ava Gardner didn't get nominated for Best Actress, but she would have been in a stellar field including Audrey Hepburn (Sabrina) and Judy Garland (A Star Is Born) - the Oscar went to Grace Kelly (A Country Girl). It was quite a year: in addition to all the films I've mentioned already, also released were Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Three Coins in the Fountain, Brigadoon, 20000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Rear Window.

    This is an interesting film, and not one I'd seen before. I'm delighted to see films as good as this one suddenly appearing on DVD - it suggests that the studios are really trolling their back catalogue, and we'll see more gems from the past. We can only hope. I certainly recommend you try this film.

    A closing grumble (becoming traditional!): in addition to MGM's overly loud logo, this disc features something I'm getting heartily sick of. After the movie ends we get a whole series of copyright / limited use rights warnings. I don't mind that, but they all have the "user controls locked out" bit set, so one cannot return to the menu (or even fast-forward through them). This is silly - it means that if (and only if) I sit through all the closing credits (which only a dedicated fan, or a reviewer, might do) I am then forced to sit through several minutes of rubbish (we get the warnings for every country the disc caters to, including all the subtitle languages). If I abort the closing credits, I'm not penalised. Yes, oh mighty distributor, DVD does have this cute feature which allows the disc maker to lock out user controls - that doesn't mean you have to use it! (Ed. Actually, they do have to use it or else the DVD won't meet the DVD specification.) All I'm asking is to be able to return to the menu at my own choice of time. Amusingly, I can do this if I eject the disc and reload it (the Eject button is not locked out). Unfortunately, that means I have to put up with that annoyingly loud logo again. Grrr!

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    This DVD is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced. This film was made in the Academy ratio (1.37:1), so that is quite close enough.

    The picture is a little variable, starting out horribly soft, but improving rapidly to only a little soft. Ava Gardner does get the soft focus treatment on close ups, that's simply a sign of the times. Shadow detail is reasonable. There is no low level noise.

    Colour is muted. Considering that we are constantly in flashback from a funeral, this is perfectly reasonable. The opening titles are in black and white, and I began to wonder if this film had been colorized (a pet hate of mine), but the trailer trumpets Technicolor, so my fears were unwarranted. Still, that gives you some idea of what the colours look like - this is not a Technicolor extravaganza, but rather a more low-key affair. I like it.

    There is some aliasing, but it is not common. There are some film artefacts (heck, the film is nearly 50 years old - it is amazing it exists at all!). One big surprise to me was the larger film artefacts - the smaller ones are normal, being black or white - but the larger ones are coloured! This suggests that they appeared when the film was three separations (so it really was original Technicolor), and only affected one separation. Fascinating. Look for bright green fluff at 26:16, and a bright green patch at 28:54, and more green fluff at 62:50; for a rather noticeable purple blob at 47:47, and a red spot at 47:50; a blue spot at 90:05 and a yellow one at 92:04. The worst bit is near the end, when we get, in the space of less than 2 minutes from 122:55 to 124:18, blue spots, green scratches, a blue watermark, a faint purple scratch, and a red spot. Don't get the wrong impression: these artefacts are not very bad (I would barely mention them, if they were black and white), but they are quite unusual for their bright colours. For a film of this age, the level of film artefacts is actually fairly low.

    There are subtitles in eight languages, with the English and German ones being captions (for the hearing impaired). I watched the English captions, and they are rather good, being easy to read and well timed. There's the occasional abbreviation of a line, but it is rare.

    The disc is single sided and RSDL-formatted. The layer change comes at 69:17, and it is quite noticeable, but at least it comes in between scenes.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The soundtrack is available in four languages, but I only listened to the English one (my monolingual shortcomings, you understand). The English soundtrack is Dolby Digital 2.0.

    The dialogue is generally understandable, but the occasional word is swallowed. Nothing that causes problems with following the story, though. I didn't spot any audio sync trouble.

    The score is credited to Mario Nascimbene. It is a pleasant effort, but nothing special.

    The subwoofer is not used (except by MGM's DVD logo!). The surrounds get nothing to do.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menu is static and silent. It looks as though someone got a little lazy in building this menu - the highlighting of each item is a simple bar that does not completely cover the text of the item, and looks a bit odd. Strangely enough, I liked the effect (maybe it was deliberate?). The menus are easy to use.

Theatrical Trailer (1:52

    This is a classic 1950s trailer, with words blazoned across the picture. It makes quite clear that the film is rather well preserved - the trailer is not quite as well preserved.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The R1 version of this disc was released in the middle of last year. It sounds as though it has the same features as the R4. Sounds like a toss-up, although I tend to favour the R4 because it is probably a little cheaper, and PAL.

Summary

    The Barefoot Contessa is a melancholy but satisfying film presented nicely on DVD, all things considered.

    The video quality is reasonable, considering the age of the film

    The audio quality is fine.

    The extra is fairly minimal, but considering that the principals are dead, they could probably not have done much more...

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Tony Rogers (bio-degrading: making a fool of oneself in a bio...)
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony VPH-G70 CRT Projector, QuadScan Elite scaler (Tripler), ScreenTechnics 110. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE
SpeakersFront Left, Centre, Right: Krix Euphonix; Rears: Krix KDX-M; Subwoofer: Krix Seismix 5

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