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Du Barry Was a Lady

Du Barry Was a Lady(1943)

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teaser Du Barry Was a Lady (1943)

True to standard operating procedure for its day, MGM bought the rights to a popular stage property - Du Barry Was a Lady, then proceeded to make so many changes that it’s hardly the same show. Much of the Cole Porter score was scrapped for the film version of Du Barry Was a Lady (1943); it retained only a few of the original songs and substituted new material by studio songwriters. The movie also cut out the racier overtones in the musical’s story of a New York nightclub attendant who dreams that he is King Louis XV of France and that the gorgeous showgirl for whom he has a yen is Madame Du Barry.

In casting the two leads, played onstage by Bert Lahr and Ethel Merman, MGM substituted Red Skelton and Lucille Ball. Third-billed Gene Kelly, in his third MGM film, is the guy who winds up with the showgirl at the film’s end. One of the movie’s main attractions is the sight of Tommy Dorsey and his band, including drummer Buddy Rich, performing in 18th-century costumes and powdered wigs. A young stage performer named Zero Mostel makes his movie debut, and the film also is enlivened by appearances by rising MGM star Lana Turner (in a cameo) and starlet Ava Gardner (in a bit as a Vargas calendar model).

The Porter songs retained in the movie include "Do I Love You?," which provided Kelly with an outstanding dance number; "Katie Went to Haiti" by Dorsey and his band; and "Friendship," shared by Skelton, Ball and Kelly.

Du Barry Was a Lady was Ball’s first movie as a star at MGM, which had just bought her contract from RKO. In her autobiography, Love, Lucy, she wrote that one of the great pleasures for her was getting to know Skelton, whom she described as "a very sad clown... Something about him is just inescapably poignant." Ball wrote that most of the action in Du Barry "consisted of Red in satin knee breeches chasing me around a big double bed. We practiced for days on a trampoline, which made me acutely seasick." Ball wrote that a New York reviewer commented of her Du Barry performance that she had become "a musical-comedy star of the first magnitude." She failed to mention, however, that her singing for the movie was dubbed by Martha Mears.

It was Du Barry that gave the actress her "Lucille Ball" look. MGM hairstylist Sydney Guilaroff dyed her already-red hair a more vibrant tone for Technicolor called "Tango Red," described by Ball as being "as orange as a piece of fruit hanging on a tree," and an upswept hairstyle so heavily lacquered that the actress swore she had "to take the crust off it at night by cracking it with a brush." Her makeup also was changed to feature a "scarlet, four-cornered mouth." Studio designer Irene also contributed to Ball’s flamboyant new image by putting her in colors that, according to Ball, were so "vivid I felt like a sunburst, a prism, a tropical bird of paradise."

Producer: Arthur Freed
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Screenplay: Irving Brecher, Nancy Hamilton, Wilkie Mahoney, from play by Buddy DeSylva and Herbert Fields
Cinematography: Karl Freund
Editing: Blanche Sewell
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Costume Design: Irene, Gile Steele
Original Music: Cole Porter, Daniele Amfitheatrof, Frances Ash, Walter Donaldson, Burton Lane, Ned Washington Principal Cast: Red Skelton (Louis Blore/King Louis XV), Lucille Ball (May Daly/Madame Du Barry), Gene Kelly (Alec Howe/Black Arrow), Virginia O’Brien (Ginny), Rags Ragland (Charlie/Dauphin), Zero Mostel (Rami, the Swami/Taliostra).
C-101m. Closed captioning.

by Roger Fristoe

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