Bad Cinema: DuBarry was a Lady (Roy Del Ruth, 1943)

The only word for this is Waste.

Based on the Cole Porter musical by the same name, yet using barely any of his tunes, this film adaptation recreates the hair-brained plot of some lottery winning hat check boy in love with a gold digging nightclub singer who gets stoned and imagines he is Louis the 15th (seriously, that’s the story) and gathers some of the most talented people the world would ever know and has no idea how to use them.

Let’s start with Gene Kelly. DuBarry was his second MGM venture after starting at the top in For Me and My Gal (1942) with Judy Garland. They give him one song and one dance – both mediocre (didn’t they know what was inside of him!) and some side bar romance that is supposed to be the crux of the story.

Zero Mostel – future Tevye, Pseudolus, and Bialystock – makes his film debut here as a superfluous swami; was this their way of curbing (exploiting?) his blatent oy-veyness?

The “star” of the film – although I would say that is a misnomer because Del Ruth and Co. have no idea how to make us align with a protagonist – is Red Skeleton, a future titan of television along the lines of Milton Berle and Sid Caesar; his variety show ran from 1951-1971, preceded by a very successful radio career. Like Anne Hathaway Oscar 2010, Skeleton is trying his best with shitty material and co-stars who look like they just don’t give a damn. Enter Lucille Ball.

Definitely one of the most egregious How the Hell Did We Not Know She Was a Genius careers in Hollywood belongs to Lucy. A contract player since the 1930s – check her out as a gun moll in The Three Stooges’ short “Three Little Pigskins” (1934) – Lucy floundered around in bit parts and leads in musicals (Dance, Girl, Dance), film noirs (The Dark Corner) and Sirkian melodramas (Lured). Then came her successful radio show My Favorite Husband; it was so much of a hit, CBS wanted her to bring it to television. And we all know what happened after that. DuBarry was a Lady wants us to believe that she is a dynamite singer and dancer (an almost Oprah as a Believable Actress Post Resurrection like hurdle to overcome given what we see and hear at the Copacabana) who is the idol of every man she meets. It is true that she is gorgeous – the Technicolor brings out those crimson locks (and cigarette stained teeth) – but her onstage charisma is about as exciting as Lady Gaga (for those who aren’t sure, that is a slam) and her personality offstage is about as stale as four day old luke-warm coffee. Either Lucy knows she is bad in the film and simply cashing her checks while she bides her time to comic infamy or drama (somebody forget to tell the actors this is a comedy) is really not her forte.

And that “plot.” DuBarry was a Lady is really two films. First, there is the section in the nightclub, which is very thin on story; instead, it is a stream of musical numbers (did Arthur Freed owe Tommy Dorsey a favor?) that range in entertainment from slight amusement (“Friendship,” where we hear that Mrs. Ricardo was not fooling at being a terrible singer) to kidney-stone discomfort (“I Love an Esquire Girl” – why?). The second half during the French Revolution seems as random as Cosmo’s rationale for The Dancing Cavalier; somebody at MGM had some costumes collecting dust.

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