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Now don't get me wrong, `Dubarry Was A Lady' Is not the best Movie Musical I
've ever seen, but it is one of the prettiest. I can't figure out how they
where able to achieve such a creamy coloration in the film but the rich
pastels used on the sets and costumes are just stunning. There are some
wonderful big band numbers with Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra, featuring
Dick Haymes. And a campy `Salmome' number by Virginia O'Brien. Gene Kelly
looks great and does one nice dance routine, but he mostly sits around
mooning over Lucille Ball. Speaking of Lucille Ball, this was her big debut
at MGM, and MGM's first full Techincolor musical, and she looks incredible!
Her firey red hair and trim figure were perfectly set off by the
contemporary costumes, and she looks great in the powdered wigs too!
Give it a look!
This film is best-appreciated if seen as a series of skits and songs, a vehicle for the actors. It provides a chance to see Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Virginia O'Brien and Zero Mostel in comedic action. Gene Kelly only does one solo dance number, but his agility as The Black Arrow foreshadows greater roles like that of D'Artagnan. And seeing Tommy Dorsey dressed up and dancing (or trying to) with the rest of the cast is delightful! There are funny parts as well as parts that presume themselves funny and come off as annoying, but the movie is fun to watch if you don't expect it to be a masterpiece.
Most people who know of Lucille Ball's career arc are aware that this
was one of her higher-profile films, with a large budget, vibrant
color, and A-list co-stars. What could go wrong? Well, nothing at the
time. But with the passage of time the movie has gotten a bit stale,
and drags in several parts. Ball's materialistic character is not very
likable from the start, and she's introduced in a ghastly musical
number with very conspicuously dubbed vocals. Couldn't they have found
someone who's voice actually sounded like it could possibly be coming
out of Lucille Ball?
They should have cast Ethel Merman, who played May Daly on Broadway. After all, the character didn't HAVE to be drop dead gorgeous. But it does help explain why two men would continue to pursue such an obviously shallow diva, even if she can't really sing.
The main event of this film is a dream sequence, but the setup to that point seems interminable! And all we have to keep us watching in between is one outstanding dance number by a game Gene Kelly and mildly witty banter between Red Skelton and an underused Virginia O'Brien. Skelton would be much better later in his career by toning down the Vaudevillesque physical comedy, which only appears more cloyingly corny with age. (Bert Lahr, who played the stage role was the same way.) There is also a musical interlude with three gentlemen who do vocal impressions that will definitely have you pushing the fast-forward button on your remote.
If you have the patience, there are some enjoyable musical numbers and just a few genuine laughs to keep you amused. The funniest line by far in the film is delivered by uncredited old lady Clara Blandick (Auntie Em from "The Wizard of Oz") in one of the Cleanest Subway Cars Ever to be used as a movie setting. That says it all about the dialogue between the leads. (The reason being is the good stuff from the Broadway show was deemed too lewd for the film.)
Obviously a lot went into the costumes and scenery for this film, and that alone makes it worth watching, as well as for the cast members who are always worth watching even if this isn't their best by any stretch.
The Roy Del Ruth directed romp "Du Barry Was Lady" from 1943 I suggest is one of the most imitated of all cinematic musicals. Its sincere main storyline involving dancer lovestruck Gene Kelly with gorgeous Lucille Ball and funnnyman Red Skelton with Virginia O'Brien is solidly presented. But this Sam Goldwyn style extravagance then blossoms out to include an extended dream-fantasy sequence. The later frenetic pageant stars all the characters in a royal French misadventure with Kelly as a rebel against the corrupt King, Ball as the infamous Du Barry who falls for the handsome "Black Arrow", her chief enemy, and Red Skelton as the dreamer and inept french King Louis XV. The immense cast also includes Rags Ragland, an early Zero Mostel as the Swami, powerful Douglass Dumbrille as Kelly's rival, Donald Meek, George Givot, talented actress Louise Beavers as a lovable but bossy maid, Niagara, and the Tommy Dorsey orchestra with the Pied Pipers, at this time including Dick Haymes and Jo Stafford, plus the Goldwyn Girls. The script for this expensive and lovely musical excuse for two hours' entertainment was supplied from a play by Herbert Fields and Buddy DeSylva, adapted by Nancy Hamilton. the screenplay was provided by Irving Brecher, with additional dialogue by Wilkie Mahoney. If the viewer looks closely, one can perhaps spot Marilyn Maxwell as a Goldwyn Girl, Ava Gardner (somwhere in the background), and fine actors Emory Parnell, Kay Aldridge and Grace Albertson in bit parts. Dorsey's orchestra is given several fine numbers, featuring his many talented sidemen. But the film belongs to the Kelly-Ball mismatch and to Red Skelton, being pursued by O'Brien. The producer was Arthur Freed, who employed Karl Freund's lucid cinematography, memorable art direction of the great Cedric Gibbons, Edmund Willis's elaborate set decorations done with Henry Grace, Gile Steel's male costumes and lovely female counterparts designed by Irene Sharaff, Sydney Guilaroff's difficult hair styles and Jack Dawn's inspired makeup. Music I suggest dominates much of the film; so, mention should be made of the orchestrations by Leo Arnaud and Axel Stordahl, done with George Bassman and music adaptor Roger Edens. Sy Oliver was also involved in orchestrations along with musical director George E. Stoll. Charles Waters is credited with the choreography, including several very fine production numbers. After not having seen the film for many years, I found its theatrical basis only a bit confining--the entire main film takes place in a large nightclub the performances more than adequate and the technicolor of this production absolutely lovely. Ball is much better in the French dream sequence I judge than in the more dramatic central plot; Kelly and Skelton acquit themselves very winningly; and Dumbrille and Mostel dominate every scene they are allowed to play. This can be a most enjoyable film, I suggest, for those in the mood for pure entertainment with a stronger story line than is usual for such 1930s and 1940s extravaganzas staged by Hollywood's studio tsars.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Be brave, my friend. You are dying for your country!" says The Black
Arrow (Gene Kelly) to his pal, the grubby Taliostra (Zero Mostel), as
the tumbrel bears them to the guillotine.
"Yeah," says Taliostra, "but I was born in the city." Expect much more of the same with Du Barry Was a Lady.
The 1939 Broadway smash starred two powerful performers, Bert Lahr and Ethel Merman, a first rate, innuendo-filled set of songs by Cole Porter, and lots of girls and gags. So what did MGM do when the studio bought the rights? Ditched Merman and Lahr and almost all of the Porter songs. (To be fair, a good many of Porter's lyrics would not have gotten past Hollywood's Code of Decency). MGM kept the girls.
MGM bought the rights for three reasons...to have a vehicle to showcase its up-and-coming comic lead, Red Skelton; the same with their newest knockout beauty coming to them from RKO, Lucille Ball; and to use Gene Kelly until they could figure out what to do with him. Skelton plays Louis Blore, a hatcheck boy at a posh New York nightclub who has a crush on May Daly (Ball), the club's headliner. But she wants security, not love. Still, we know she likes Alec Howe (Kelly), the nightclub's MC, dancer and songwriter, who loves her. When Louis wins the lottery, May decides to marry him. But then a mistaken mickey knocks Louis out and he wakes up as Louis XV, with May as Madame Du Barry and Alec as Black Arrow, the dashing fighter for freedom. All those comic relief employees of the nightclub, the likes of Mostel, Rags Ragland and Virginia O'Brien, show up as peasants or nobles, along with just about everyone else Louis had met in the nightclub, including Donald Meek. Things finally are resolved, with happiness all around, when Louis comes to and finds himself back in the nightclub with May, Alec and all his pals.
The movie has that smooth, unreal MGM Technicolor gloss that can make even genuine talent seem artificial. The best thing that can be said is that the movie has a few highlights and a great deal of barely imaginative but skilled professionalism. To substitute for the songs by Porter that were pitched, there is, in my view, a hodge-podge of mostly second- rate and facile Hollywood music and lyric writing. In place of Porter's clever, sophisticated and amusing songs, including the inventive and salacious "But in the Morning, No" where he comes up with some startling metaphors for sex in the a.m., we're stuck with "Madame, I Love Your Crepes Suzettes" and "I Love an Esquire Girl." Even Lahr wouldn't be able to make these lyrics funny. All Skelton does is mug and prance while he performs them.
If you like Red Skelton, you might enjoy Du Barry Was a Lady. He's in almost every scene, doing all of his usual shtick. For me, Skelton was at his most appealing when he wasn't doing all the grab-'em-by-the-throat clowning, Give me the Skelton who was Wally "The Fox" Benton, master sleuth on radio, inept in real life, in Whistling in the Dark (1941) (1941), Whistling in Dixie (1942) and Whistling in Brooklyn (1943).
Lucille Ball is a knock out, strikingly gorgeous and with that skeptical, smart look about her that, I think, perpetually flummoxed studio heads. Those arched eyebrows of hers made her a challenge to cast. One of her most sympathetic and amusing roles, I think, was in Lured (1947), but it didn't do her career much good.
More than anything else, I think it's Gene Kelly's singing and dancing to Porter's great song, "Do I Love You, Do I" that establishes how out of sync this movie is with any sense of style or respect for excellent material. The song is one of the few from the Broadway show that was kept. To do it justice (even knowing that Merman introduced it) it needs the languid sophistication of a Lee Wiley or even the driving treatment Peggy Lee gave Lover. Instead, we have a typically Kelly interpretation, all on the surface, singing and tapping, and then a fast, athletic performance with chorus girls set to a blaring, flashy orchestration. Whoever was responsible for the grotesque treatment this great song received should have had their taps stapled to their lips. Here are the words. Perhaps you'll recall the melody.
Do I love you, do I? Doesn't one and one make two? Do I love you, do I? Does July need a sky of blue? Would I miss you, would I? If you ever should go away? If the sun should desert the day, What would life be?
Will I leave you, never? Could the ocean leave the shore? Will I worship you forever? Isn't heaven forever more? Do I love you, do I? Oh, my dear, it's so easy to see, Don't you know I do? Don't I show you I do, Just as you love me.
For good measure, the movie also gives us Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra, an unbilled Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers (with Dick Haymes), and a curious trio called The Three Oxford Boys who imitate various dance bands by humming through their noses. The movie is glossy and bright, and if you can tolerate Red Skelton's continuous mugging and pratfalls, it might be worth a look.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
DU BARRY WAS A LADY is one of those precious few movies that found
Lucille Ball performing at an A-movie status and even then it wouldn't
bring her much success. Her move to MGM did change her image
completely, however, bringing it to the one that became her trademark
with her flaming-red hair, huge pompadour, and four-cornered lips, all
making their debut in this film. She looks absolutely gorgeous, her
hair luxurious and fitted into fabulous gowns that cemented the
presence she already exuded but had been denied.
The plot of DU BARRY WAS A LADY is barely there and as light as a bubble: a hat-check man, Louis Blore (Red Skelton) is in love with nightclub singer May Daly (Ball) who is herself in love with a dancer, Alex Howe (Gene Kelly). However, she rebukes the attention of either men, letting Kelly know early on she can never marry poor because of the poverty-related circumstances she was born into. Louis winds up winning the sweepstakes, May agrees to marry Louis, but in a turn of events, Louis is given a "mickey" that sends him into an extended dream sequence which mirrors the actions taking place in the present and has May slowly but surely develop a change of heart and find her true love.
Overall, the movie, like all of the MGM musicals, is a tour-de-force of visuals, musical numbers, and kinetic energy. It capitalized on the advent of Technicolor which made it even richer to enjoy; had it been filmed in black and white it would not have had the same impact. Lucille Ball became -- if momentarily -- a star in her own right even when her part initially required little more than she be there and speak her lines, although she brought a sharp comic timing courtesy of her intense training with Red Skelton that foreshadowed the type of physical comedy she would exercise in "I Love Lucy." DU BARRY WAS A LADY is also notorious for bringing Ava Gardner into visual consciousness in a small part and introducing a twenty-eight year old comic actor named Zero Mostel.
Obviously what was good for Broadway audiences was not always good for
film--especially when censorship demanded certain changes. Thus, when
MGM decided to make a screen musical out of DU BARRY WAS A LADY, they
had to jettison most of the score and keep a few Cole Porter numbers
just to satisfy the censors.
The result is a bland hodgepodge of a musical looking so prettily Technicolored that it seemed to be the ideal escapism the world needed in 1943. It also had the advantage of giving new exposure to GENE KELLY, MGM's new dancing star first seen with Judy Garland in FOR ME AND MY GAL. Two other talents, LUCILLE BALL and RED SKELTON share top billing with Gene, giving Lucy a big chance to shine in all her Technicolor glory.
But the story is a sappy one and gets off to a slow start with some banal musical and comedy moments that take place in the nightclub where Red works as a hatcheck man, Lucy is a singer and Gene an aspiring songwriter, before we get to Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra delivering some solid jazz/swing with Gene Krupa on the drums.
The plot starts with Lucy informing Kelly she can't afford to fall in love with a poor guy. Red becomes a wealthy gent when he wins the Irish sweepstakes and Lucy reluctantly agrees to marry him for his money with no objections from Red. When Rags Ragland offers to help Red get rid of his competition by slipping a Mickey into Kelly's drink, the plan misfires and Red falls into a coma, believing he's King Louis XV and Lucy is Du Barry with Gene as odd man out--the Black Arrow.
Unfortunately, the 18th Century part of the story has not much more wit than the modern sequences although it's amusing to see all the cast in powdered wigs and period costumes going through some slapstick paces.
Lucy and Red make a good pair with the right comic timing and chemistry, but Gene Kelly's role is a pivotal one and probably one of his weakest earlier roles.
Summing up: Lots of eye candy with all the Technicolor trimmings MGM usually put into their musicals. And watch for a brief guest star cameo from Lana Turner and an early glimpse of Dick Haymes as a singer in Dorsey's band.
The movie was slow action. At points, almost boring. But for someone who wants to see up-coming and major stars of this time period, this movie has many. From Ball, Skelton, Kelly, and even O'Brien, Mostel, and finally Tommy Dorsey and his band, this movie has the stars. A good sample of their earlier works.
When MGM bought the rights to Cole Porter's DuBarry Was A Lady for the
Arthur Freed unit as per usual the naughty Porter score was completely
emasculated and songs old and new from a variety of sources were
interpolated into the film. It was like his lyric of Friendship, a
If you're attentive however you can hear at least two of the songs played as background music, When Love Beckoned and Well Did You Evah which was later interpolated by MGM into High Society for that never to be forgotten duet with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Only Friendship, Do I Love You Do I and Katie Went To Haiti made the final cut in the score.
Sad also that Ethel Merman and Bert Lahr did not get to repeat the roles they did on Broadway and Darryl Zanuck would not let Betty Grable come over from 20th Century Fox. Ethel only did two of her Broadway roles for the movies, Call Me Madam and Anything Goes and Lahr for whatever reason after the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard Of Oz was given a whole of mediocre parts.
It was said that Merman was not film box office, but certainly Lucille Ball wasn't either at that time. Red Skelton was however, his career was on the rise and so television's two most famous redheads got to team on the big screen.
Lucy is the star of a nightclub chorus and Red is the hat check man who hits the lottery. He's been crushing out on Lucy for forever, but now that he's rich he thinks she might give him a second look. He puts the big moves on her. but she can only see hoofer Gene Kelly. Still his money is tantalizing.
When Red tries to slip Gene a mickey finn he winds up drinking it himself and dreams he's back in the court of Louis XV as Louis XV with Lucy as the notorious Madame DuBarry. And Kelly turns up as the dashing rebel the Black Arrow, rival for the affections of the Madame.
In both the modern and period story MGM packed a lot of entertainment in the 89 minute running time. What court or nightclub would not like to have Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra as its personal band? There are some nice solos by drummer Buddy Rich and singing with the Pied Pipers are Jo Stafford and newly arrived vocalist Dick Haymes.
Virginia O'Brien contributes a few numbers. She never did any acting roles of note, but was always welcome in an MGM production for her singing and devastating dead pan delivery of a song. Making his big screen debut as the nightclub fortune teller was Zero Mostel with just a trace of his zaniness in play.
This was one of the few films that Gene Kelly was in that he really did not have control of his material yet. Nevertheless his Black Arrow persona was a hint of what you saw later in a high flying dance number in Anchors Aweigh and in The Three Musketeers and The Pirate.
A thin plot is just an excuse to hang a lot of comedy and musical entertainment. But what I would have given to see Merman and Lahr do a faithful adaption on screen.
Nightclub singer dreams of marrying into money but is in love with a poor fellow. Fluffy musical comedy plays like a variety show, with minimal plot holding together musical numbers and comedy skits. The film looks good in Technicolor, with red hairs of Skelton and Ball (dyed for this film and kept so thereafter) featured prominently. It's nothing special, but it's not terribly painful to watch either. Lucy mostly plays it straight while Skelton provides the comedy as a hat check man who wins the sweepstakes and woos Lucy. In only his second film, Kelly completes an unlikely love triangle as Lucy's poor and sullen boyfriend.
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