The golden age: Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren and Liz Taylor in vintage Cannes pictures

Imagine a world where Jayne Mansfield paddled casually around in swimming pool surrounded by palm trees and Orson Welles and Jean-Paul Sartre shared philosophical tips in the hotel lobby. Where Gina Lollobrigida posed cheekily with a group of sailors and Brigitte Bardot hung out on the beach, while Sophia Loren and Zsa Zsa Gabor took turns on the deckchairs.

This is Cannes Film Festival as it used to be, back in its super-elegant heyday. In the early days, Cannes wasn't so much about film promotion as a celebration of the movie industry in general. In a time before cellulite-spotting paparazzi snaps, even big-name stars were far more relaxed and many posed happily for photographers on the beach, by the pool and in their hotel rooms.

The resulting snaps offer a fascinating insight into the golden age of cinema, with some of the most iconic silver screen actresses candidly schmoozing the camera. Come delve into the glamour and joie de vivre of Cannes in the 1940s and 50s:

Photos: Rex Features

  • Jayne Mansfield - 1958

    Long before Björk's swan dress caused a stir, Jayne Mansfield works her own kind of swan moment.

  • Jayne Mansfield - 1957

    One of Hollywood's original blonde bombshells lets loose on the beach.

  • Mike Todd and Elizabeth Taylor - 1957

    Elizabeth Taylor and her third husband Mike Todd cut a rather dashing Cannes couple.

  • Jeanne Moreau - 1958

    It's French cinema icon Jeanne Moreau, working her very own version of beach yoga.

  • Jeanne Moreau - 1958

    If you are going to hold an audience spellbound with your serenade why not do it on a table, eh Jeanne?

  • Brigitte Bardot - 1953

    The golden girl of cinema works her pout, beach-style.

  • Brigitte Bardot - 1953

    This lady sure knows how to strike a pose.

  • Brigitte Bardot - 1953

    There's no doubt Brigitte is a smasher in a swimsuit.

  • Brigitte Bardot - 1954

    She scrubs up beautifully in a frock as well.

  • Kirk Douglas and Brigitte Bardot - 1953

    A young Kirk Douglas joins Brigitte and friends on the sands of Cannes.

  • Sophia Loren - 1958

    Italian beauty Sophia Loren is a mainstay of old-school Cannes.

  • Sophia Loren - 1954

    She knows a thing or two about turning heads on the red carpet.

  • Sophia Loren - 1959

    It's fair to say Sophia embodies the fun-loving, glamorous spirit of Cannes in every way.

  • Sophia Loren - 1959

    No wonder the It Started In Naples star was darling of the film world.

  • Gina Lollobrigida - 1955

    Another Italian actress, Gina Lollobrigida, is surrounded by a crew of adoring sailors (naturally).

  • Kim Novak - 1956

    Hitchcock star Kim Novak dances in her room at the Carlton Hotel.

  • Kim Novak and Cary Grant - 1959

    Kim's joined by Cary Grant to form a very good-looking duo indeed.

  • Grace Kelly and Gene Kelly - 1955

    Two of cinema's major talents unite, as Grace Kelly (before her days as the Princess of Monaco) stops to chat to Singin' In The Rain lead Gene Kelly.

  • Gene Kelly - 1952

    Gene Kelly is happy kicking back in his hotel room too, in a rare moment off from strutting his tap stuff.

  • Zsa Zsa Gabor - 1959

    Aha, Zsa Zsa Gabor. She's doing what we'd do in similar circumstances and making a beeline for the sun.

  • Jean-Paul Sartre - 1947

    The father of French philosophy isn't above schmoozing with the great names of Hollywood - although it looked like he prefers having a quiet fag on the sidelines.

  • Michele Morgan - 1946

    French film actress Michele Morgan is showing off her high kicks in style à la plage.

  • Michele Morgan and Jean Cocteau - 1946

    She's having a wonderful time with French poet Jean Cocteau.

  • Martine Carol - 1959

    French film beauty Martine Carol adopts a classic Cannes shot - she's a movie star to the hilt.

  • Martine Carol, Gina Lollobrigida and Orson Welles - 1958

    Martine is pictured here with fellow film star Gina Lollobrigida and Orson Welles at the closing ceremony for Cannes in 1958.

  • Charles Vanel and Maurice Chevalier - 1947

    French director and actor/singer Charles Vanel and Maurice Chevalier get the party started in style with some rather glamorous cohorts.

  • Francoise Fabian and Jacques Cousteau - 1956

    French film star Francoise Fabian and naval officer Jacques Cousteau look like they're having a truly terrible time on a boat-themed shoot.

  • Romy Schneider - 1959

    Austrian-born actress Romy Schneider plays the elegance card with aplomb with this red carpet show-stopper.

  • General Cannes shot - 1947

    A brilliantly captioned "starlets on the beach" photo, starring a trio of anonymous yet highly glamorous ladies.

  • General Cannes shot - 1951

    Another unknown "starlet on the beach" works her stuff in front of a posse of photographers.

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