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A Spanish dancer becomes an international star but still longs to get her feet in the dirt.
At a cemetery on the Italian Riviera, film writer and director Harry Dawes attends the funeral of Countess Torlato-Favrini, known to the world as film star Maria D'Amata. Harry remembers how they met when he was a recovering alcoholic and had been signed by ruthless, Wall Street financier Kirk Edwards to write and direct Edwards' first venture into film production: In the company of Edwards, his then girl friend Myrna and Edwards' obsequious press agent Oscar Muldoon, Harry visits a night club in Madrid, Spain, in search of a new actress to star in their film. After they see the beautiful, sensual Maria Vargas dance, Muldoon is dispatched to bring her to their table, but Maria declines the invitation, stating that she does not dally with the club's clientele. Edwards then threatens to cancel the production unless Harry persuades her to change her mind. Maria is unwilling to cooperate until Harry mentions his name, which she recognizes and respects from films she has seen, and agrees to meet Edwards. After the unctuous, constantly perspiring Muldoon tells Maria that they want her to shoot a screen test in Rome, Maria excuses herself to make a phone call. When Harry discovers that she has left the club, Edwards tells him that he and Muldoon will be leaving in his private plane in an hour and orders Harry to bring Maria to the plane or not come at all. Harry traces Maria to her parents' home, where she tells him about her impoverished childhood during the civil war and how she often had no shoes, hence her choice to go barefoot still on occasion. She also tells Harry that she hates her virago of a mother. After Maria's very successful screen test, Harry tells Edwards, whom Maria does not like, that she will work only with him as her director, although no contract exists between them. Back at the rain-drenched funeral, in front of a statue of the barefoot Maria, Muldoon remembers how she, now Maria D'Amata, came unescorted to the premiere of her first film: Later, while in London to arrange the film's British opening, Muldoon learns that Maria's father has murdered her mother and is concerned that the publicity could ruin her career. Maria, however, returns to Spain and delivers an impassioned defense of her father, who is acquitted. Because of her honesty and humanity, Maria becomes a bigger star than before. Two years later in Hollywood, Edwards hosts a party to impress South American millionaire Alberto Bravano, who lusts after Maria, whom Edwards regards as his personal property, although she still actively dislikes him. Maria tells Harry that she is grateful for the three films they have made together but is not happy and yearns to return to Madrid. After Bravano invites Maria to travel to the Riviera with him, Edwards forbids her to go, but she leaves with Bravano anyway. Muldoon, ever the opportunist, quits Edwards and joins Bravano. He relates how Bravano never got close to Maria, but appeared contented just to have the world assume that they were lovers. Bravano and Maria become part of the "International Set" on the French Riviera, although she has no interest in their inconsequential activities. One night, at a casino, Bravano publicly accuses Maria of having broken his lucky streak at the gambling tables and causing him to lose millions of francs. While Bravano is berating Maria, a count from an old, Italian family, Vincenzo Torlato-Favrini, approaches him and gallantly slaps him, then invites Maria to leave with him. Vincenzo relates the next part of Maria's story: Earlier that same day when he stops at a gypsy encampment to get water for his car's radiator, he sees Maria dancing and becomes enchanted by her. Later, at the casino, he sees Maria throw money from a balcony to a supposed gypsy lover below. Now, in his car outside the casino, Vincenzo surprises her by asking her name, for he seldom sees films and has no idea that she is famous. They drive to his magnificent villa, where Vincenzo introduces her to his widowed sister, Eleanora. After Maria and Vincenzo fall in love, Vincenzo, obsessed with continuing his family history by bequeathing an image of them as count and countess, informs Eleanora that he wants to marry Maria. Eleanora is shocked and tells Vincenzo that would be senselessly cruel and destructive to Maria. Vincenzo is among the mourners at the cemetery as Harry continues to relate the last act of Maria's "Cinderella"-like life: Six weeks after Maria and Vincenzo met, Harry returns to Italy to make another film, in which Maria does not appear. When they meet, Maria tells Harry that she is very happy and is about to marry Vincenzo, but confides that they have not yet been sexually intimate. Harry substitutes for Maria's father at the wedding ceremony but is uneasy, realizing that she has never really been in love before, her prior amours having been perfunctory, clandestine affairs with lesser men. Several weeks pass and, a week before her death, Maria visits Harry, breaks down and relates the events of her wedding night: After both profess great love for one another, Vincenzo confesses that he was severely injured in an explosion during World War II and is unable to have sexual relations. Maria tells Harry that she intends to make Vincenzo happy by providing him with a child to continue his family line and that she is already pregnant. Harry is alarmed by the news, but Maria tells him that she intends to end the relationship with the father, whom she refuses to identify, that night and tell Vincenzo about the baby the following day. When Harry watches Maria drive away, he sees another car follow her. Concerned for Maria's safety, Harry drives to the villa but arrives too late to prevent Vincenzo from shooting both Maria and his chauffeur, having assumed that they were having an affair. When Vincenzo asks Harry what he and Maria talked about earlier in the evening, Harry chooses to say that they were just talking over old times. Harry then asks Vincenzo if Maria said anything before he shot her. When Vincenzo states she did not, Harry falls silent, revealing nothing about Maria's pregnancy. As the funeral ends, the rain stops and the sun illuminates Maria's statue as Vincenzo is led away in police custody and the mourners depart.
Cast & Crew
|MPAA Ratings:||Premiere Info:||New York opening: 29 Sep 1954|
|Release Date:||1954||Production Date:||
Produced in association with Angelo Rizzoli and Robert Haggiag
|Color/B&W:||Color (Technicolor)||Distributions Co:||United Artists Corp.|
|Sound:||Mono (Western Electric Recording)||Production Co:||Figaro, Inc.|
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