Comedy · Musical

The Rococo Lucille Ball in Louis XV’s Court

Lucille Ball. Image:
Lucille Ball as a rococo diva. Image: Retrocinema by Wet Circuit

Confession: We (as in, yours truly) have a biased view of movies set in France. In our eyes, these movies can do no wrong.

This is because we went to Paris in our impressionable youth and came home all très sophistiqué. We wore a bemused expression to match our jaunty silk scarf, and we took to drinking lattés from a bowl. Really, there was no living with us.

So even when we watch a movie like Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), a musical comedy with a flimsy plot and one-dimensional characters, we admire it in spite of itself.

The film is basically a dream sequence. It stars Red Skelton as a nightclub employee who downs a spiked cocktail intended for someone else. The drink conks him out, and he dreams he’s King Louis XV, presiding over his co-workers who are members of his court.

In his reverie, Skelton-as-Louis-XV wants to marry his high-profile mistress Madame Du Barry (Lucille Ball), while trying to apprehend political agitator Gene Kelly.

The real Louis XV, as you’ll recall, was king of France from 1715-1774. He wasn’t the best king France produced: lavish spending coupled with poor leadership skills – you know how that goes. But, for what it’s worth, he did foster a unique design style known as rococo. According to Encylopaedia Britannica, rococo is “characterized by lightness, elegance, and an exuberant use of curving, natural forms in ornamentation.”

caption. Image: Wool and Wheel
Can any girl resist Red Skelton’s shiny gold wardrobe? Image: Wool and Wheel

Rococo is beautiful, if done well, and no one seems to carry this look more perfectly than Lucille Ball. She is a timeless beauty who wears heavy wigs and costumes without effort. (In one scene, Skelton chases her around the room, and she’s able to run in that get-up! Without toppling over backwards!)

Ball also has the charisma to play an official courtesan, a woman who isn’t afraid to steamroll over inferiors, but knows when to slam on the brakes to apply her charm. It is, perhaps, the same kind of charisma the real Madame Du Barry possessed.

The real Du Barry was 26 when she met the aging Louis XV in 1768. He was entranced by her beauty, and made her his official mistress and successor to the famed Madame de Pompadour.

The film touches on the considerable privileges Du Barry received from Louis XV. Gene Kelly’s character complains about the king robbing the people of France to keep his expensive sweetheart happy. Ball shrugs this off, because who are we kidding? She’s the one who rules France.

(As an aside, the real Madame Du Barry did not survive the French Revolution. During the Reign of Terror, she was denounced as a enemy of the state, and was beheaded in 1793.)

The real Du Barry by sculptor Augustine Pajou. Image: Web Gallery of Art
The real Madame Du Barry by sculptor Augustine Pajou. Image: Web Gallery of Art

Du Barry Was a Lady isn’t the best of the MGM musicals, but it has lively music (featuring Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra), stunning Cedric Gibbons art direction and a sumptuous wardrobe by Irene.

Filmmakers also made the perfect casting choice in Lucille Ball, who breathes life into the rococo style, the way Louis XV intended.

Notes:

  • More information about hairstyles in the 18th Century is HERE.
  • If you’d like to know how Paris became the fashion capital of the world in the 18th Century, click HERE.

Du Barry Was a Lady: starring Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly. Directed by Roy del Ruth. Written by Irving Brecher. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp., 1943, Technicolor, 96 mins.

This post is part of the France on Film Blogathon hosted by Serendipitous Anachronisms. Click HERE to see all the other fab entries.

France on Film

Advertisements

38 thoughts on “The Rococo Lucille Ball in Louis XV’s Court

  1. I adore this movie — the costumes, the sets, the songs, the actors (I like to believe I’m Virginia O’Brien reincarnated)… I think Lucille Ball is probably the best part of the whole thing. I mean, just looking at her is stunning, but she was so talented too. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The music, the costumes, the sets are all fabulous. When I first saw this, I almost couldn’t believe how much detail they put into these aspects.

      Ha ha – I love that you believe you are Virginia O’Brien reincarnated. From what I’ve read on your blog, I believe you are!

      Like

  2. I had to read this post when I saw that Ball was in period costume, something I somehow can’t imagine. But judging from this post, she pulls it off! I’ve been intrigued by Du Barry since I saw the 1934 film on her–it sounds like this very different take is worth watching too!:)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Irene’s costumes in this film. It’s funny, they go against what we today view as French style (restrained chic, Breton stipes and those jaunty scarves 😉 but they sum up a certain ‘French-ness’ that’s wrapped up in Ladurée macarons and bohemian excess, topped with Sofia Coppola’s version of Marie Antoinette (which I recommend watching if you haven’t – although nothing can top Ball it certainly gives her a run for her money!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh – haven’t seen Coppola’s Marie Antoinette – thanks for the reminder!

      Yes, the costumes in this film are swoon-worthy. (A person could go on about ’em all day!) Good point re: costumes on this film are so “French”, yet opposite to what we consider to be French style today.

      Like

  4. Just the stills make me wanna see this one, I’m a sucker for Technicolor. Plus, based on your description, it’s basically the film Donald O’connor’s character wrote in Singin’ in the Rain to salvage their bombing costume drama. And I notice an Arthur Freed producing credit on this one, same as on Singin’ in the Rain. He was a guy who could really get good mileage out of good ideas.
    Great write up!

    Like

    1. Ha ha! You’re right, it is basically the same film O’Connor wrote in “Singin’ in the Rain”. Can’t let a good idea go to waste, like you said.

      This film is absolutely gorgeous. You must, MUST see it. 🙂

      Like

  5. Thank you for sharing such a fun film with The France On Film Blogathon! I must say Madame DuBarry is one of my favorite historical figures, I always felt sorry for her, the way she was snubbed at Versailles. Thanks for such a charming contribution, Lucille Ball is quite enchanting in this film. And I loved loved loved the personal story about your trip to Paris!

    Like

  6. I think it’s hard to imagine Lucille Ball in 18th century Louis XV costume (because we’re so used to seeing her as the more down-to-earth Lucy of I Love Lucy) but it’s a good reminder that she was a consummate actress well before she even got to TV and a glamorous one at that. I think she pulls it off well.

    Tam

    Like

  7. This was such a great reading! I love Lucille Ball and this film is one of my favorites of hers. I want to visit Paris someday. It is a dream of mine. I am obsessed with all things French. I also loved the history tidbits you added in.

    Like

      1. Wonderful post – brilliantly written, witty, well-informed and wise. Hilarious movie. Love Lucille Ball. What was the film in which she is told (more or less) “Give it all you’ve got, Tiger Lily” and she responds “They couldn’t take it”?

        Like

  8. Wow! I really have to see this film now. I’ve never been much of a Lucille Ball fan (not sure why; I don’t dislike her), but this seems like just the sort of frippery to move me into Ball’s corner. I love Gene Kelly, and could watch a film like this for the sets alone! I’m in. I loved hearing how you returned from Paris simply too, too siognée!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sounds like a fun movie! I’ve never seen Lucille Ball in a movie, only TV shows. I would enjoy seeing the costumes, too. I totally understand how going to Paris when you were young could make you like anything French. I loved how you described how it affected you when you got home! 🙂 Merci for another great review!

    Like

    1. Shari, these costumes are so gorgeous it’s hard to pay attention to the plot. The whole film is a visual feast.

      It is a lot of fun. You won’t gain any insights into human nature, but you will have a wonderful time.

      Like

  10. I miss taking part in these Blogathons!!I just need to find time (& clear my mind), to work on Blog!!
    Really enjoyed your review, along with the historical insight.
    Dreaming of living in France (Am aware of what THAT’s like ^_^ )

    Like

  11. I know this film is part of Gene Kelly’s filmography, but never looked up to find a copy. Now I really want to, so I can have a bit of Rococo fun! And, wow, what are Lucy’s hats? Amazing!
    Kisses!
    Le

    Like

  12. As a dues paying member of the We Love Lucy fan club, I applaud your choice of films. Yes, it may not be the best movie in which she had a role but it is far better than the platinum blonde showgirl she played in a 3 Stooges short, “The Three Little Pigskins”. Oh, yeah. Gene Kelly was in this, too. He’s another, like Red Skelton, who rode Miss Ball’s train to stardom. 😀
    Thanks for the reminder, Ruth. I need to watch this one again.

    Liked by 1 person

Start Singin', Mac!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s