The Barefoot Contessa begins at the funeral of Ava Gardner, a former Spanish peasant, cabaret dancer and movie star, who at the time of her death was a full-fledged contessa. Her life story unfolds in flashback recollections from her mourners.
Film director Humphrey Bogart recalls how his career was saved when he discovered Gardner on behalf of Howard R. Hughes-like mogul Warren Stevens.
Press agent Edmond O'Brien remembers how Ava was wooed and then abandoned by mercurial millionaire Marius Goring, and Italian count Rosanno Brazzi reflects on how he was able to wed the tempestuous Gardner, only to watch his world crumble after revealing on their wedding night that he was only half a man. O'Brien received Best Supporting Actor awards at both the Academy Awards and Golden Globes in 1954.