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DuBarry Was a Lady
Posted: June 27th, 2007, 4:21 pm
I just finished watching the DVD of DuBarry Was a Lady. Does anyone know the backstory of this picture?
I know that it was a a big hit on Broadway, starring Ethel Merman as May Daly (Lucille Ball), Burt Lahr as Louis (Red Skelton) and Betty Grable as Alice. But who was Alice? Did this character become Virginia O'Brien's Ginny? Charles Walters was a dancer in the show, and was brought to MGM to be dance director for the movie (he later directed Easter Parade and other MGM musicals). With Cole Porter songs and this solid background, how could it not be a hit at MGM?
Yet it's a mess. And one of the most beautiful messes around. Irene's costumes are stunning (Lucille Ball in that pink caped jersey dress is a WOW). Cedric Gibbons' art direction is impeccable. Glorious colors! Was this really MGM's first Technicolor musical? They must have really believed in it.
So what went wrong? It feels like three different movies, pasted together. The story line is said to be quite different from the play. Sometimes it plays like vaudeville revue. They made bizarre choices, like having Lucy obviously lipsynch to Martha Mears for the opening number, yet use her own voice for the closing number. Zero Mostel's debut is painfully unfunny. I've read that Louis' character was the Men's Room attendant on stage, and much of his humor derived from bathroom antics. The censors wouldn't allow this, so Red Skelton ends up a hat check boy. Certainly the stage plot wasn't as mangled as this film? Anyone familiar with the original book?
I believe this was Lucy's first film as a red head (thank you, Sidney Guilaroff). Can anyone confirm? And I've heard that Ann Sothern was who MGM planned to star in it, but she became pregnant and they brought in Lucy.
I'm sorry there wasn't more information about the film included on the DVD, as I'm now left to wonder. Can anyone fill in the blanks?
Posted: July 6th, 2007, 7:06 pm
Yeah, what is the deal with DuBarry? It looks great, but just doesn't hold together. Red Skelton and Gene Kelly don't belong in a film together. Gene was better with comedian Phil Silvers. Red doesn't mesh well with the other "Red", either.
Posted: July 7th, 2007, 1:09 am
You're right Sandy, Red and Gene were an odd pair for this flick. It seems MGM didn't know what to do with Gene in this anyway. The part could have been played by any number of male ingenues at the time. I think Lucy and Red are great together, once they're allowed to have some fun. Their duet, "Madame, I Love Your Crêpe Suzettes" is certainly a lively moment in the mostly dull film. They are so cute springing on that huge bed. Actually, they were pretty swell in their serious scene early on too, when he escorts her home. I think they had some chemistry. The fault is in the plot, more than the casting. I'm so curious about the original play, and why they were compelled to rewrite something that was already a proven hit.
Posted: July 7th, 2007, 10:37 am
You have to go deep down in the imdB 'comments' to find a partial answer to your questions. Apparently whoever said it was right in that the play was to ribald for the code, so much of it had to be rewritten, and it lost it's charm and wit during the transition.
Re: Red Gene
Posted: July 7th, 2007, 6:45 pm
Moraldo Rubini wrote:Their duet, "Madame, I Love Your Crêpe Suzettes" is certainly a lively moment in the mostly dull film.
The other lively moment is Gene's dance number, where he hops underneath the dancers on his hands! That's the only reason I watch this movie. After that dance number, I'm done.
I always thought the ending number, "Friendship", was a bit odd as well. I don't know, it's not the kind of ending I expected to see. I guess I'm just used to the "Gene dances with his leading lady" type ending.
Anothing thing that kills this movie for me is Red Skeleton. Ever since I saw his skit in Ziegfeld Follies
, I've just never found him that funny. I can understand why people like him, but I'm just not a fan. I've seen a number of his movies and the best one is Three Little Words
, but that's because he's playing a serious character (and Fred Astaire doesn't hurt things either).
I do love Virginia O'Brien though. I wish MGM would have given her more to do. She's gorgeous and funny--a winning combination in my book--and there's not enough of her in movies.
Posted: July 7th, 2007, 6:47 pm
Hmm...Marco, I'll take your word for it that Ball and Skelton work well together in duBarry. Honestly, I haven't seen the film in a long time, so I don't even remember the scene on bed that you mentioned.
I completely agree about Kelly being wasted in that role. Really didn't exploit his talents at all!
Anne, thanks for the tip about the imdb comments. I'll check it out.
Posted: July 15th, 2007, 7:25 pm
Well, I finally saw the movie, and I only have a couple of superficial reasons why I enjoyed it. I liked Zero's impersonation of Charles Boyer speaking to Hedy (only for its content), and then there was Lana Turner! Other than that, it could have been any film with any stars. It served up a lot of HAM!
Posted: August 10th, 2007, 2:03 am
I'm still searching for an explanation to the ambitious mess called DuBarry Was a Lady
. Today, I found these hints in Hugh Fordin
's book MGM's Greatest Musicals: The Arthur Freed Unit
[Gene] Kelly was dissatisfied with Seymour Felix' dance direction and he asked for Robert Alton. Alton, however, was in New York and unavailable. 'Well then, where's Charlie Walters?' Gene asked. The number in question was Cole Porter's "Do I Love You?" which needed a special kind of elegance and style that Felix was totally unfamiliar with. Walters was summoned to stage the number.
After his imaginative staging of "Do I Love You?" Freed asked him to redo all of Seymour Felix' work.
It turns out that DuBarry
started production on the very same day as Freed's Cabin in the Sky
, so I imagine that he had his hands full. There was some unrest with the cast too. A letter from the MGM files written by the "DuBarry Girls" (the showgirls in the cast) to Arthur Freed read:
In view of your past interest in our work and your understanding of problems that confront us, not only as a group but as individuals, we would like to take the liberty of setting forth a perplexing problem for your consideration.
Due to existing conditions we, the twenty-six stock contract girls, feel the original salary of $60.00 per week agreed upon in our contracts is not sufficiently adequate to help us with the excessive increase in living expenses.
As a matter of record, due to a five week lay-off which we suffered, and which of course is allowed under the contract, we actually received an average income of $45.00 per week for the first six months. We feel that $75.00 per week with an eight hour day, our overtime to be computed daily instead of weekly, would be fair and equitable.
While we appreciate the legality of the contract, we wish to appeal to your sense of fairness. A readjustment of our salaries would aid us in meeting the increasing expense of living conditions and higher taxes. We feel sure that you will bring this matter to the attention of the proper officials for their urgent consideration.
The letter was signed by all of the DuBarry Girls.
I'm curious about the lay-off period (were they reworking the script?) and I love the human tone of the letter. Something tells me that this tactic wouldn't work in the business today.
At any rate, it seems the musical was a success. Fordin's book adds:
DuBarry was an out-and-out 'showcase' picture. It was one of many made primarily for the sake of establishing and/or exploiting stars or would-be stars. In this instance it was 'icing on the cake', and the cake was Lucille Ball. It was also tailor-made to establish Red Skelton as a great comic. The old formula of stacking a film with nothing but entertainment proved correct. It paid off at the box office ($3,496,000) in spite of an outrageous amount of money spent on it, $1,239,222.56.
At least the money spent shows on the screen...
Posted: August 10th, 2007, 9:54 am
Jack, was "our" girl one of the Dubarry ladies? The cast listing for "Meet Me In St. Louis" lists the chorus as the MGM Music Maids. They also were in "The Pirate". Wonder if there is an actual list of names for the Music Maids. I went to IMDB, but no luck there.
Posted: August 10th, 2007, 12:12 pm
Nancy wrote:Jack, was "our" girl one of the Dubarry ladies? The cast listing for "Meet Me In St. Louis" lists the chorus as the MGM Music Maids. They also were in "The Pirate". Wonder if there is an actual list of names for the Music Maids. I went to IMDB, but no luck there.
It's funny you should ask. I found a photo of all the DuBarry gals with their names. I studied each face looking for our mystery woman. My hopes were dashed, although I found Marilyn Maxwell, which was cool.
The Music Maids was a girl singing group at MGM. They had lots of singing combos like the King's Men, the Mel-Tones (of which Mel Torme was a member) and Six Hits and a Miss. You can find the Maids featured in lots of the musicals in the 1940's. They're prominently featured in the "Begin the Beguine" number in Broadway Melody of 1940
("ad libbing" "in the merry land of Oz!") before Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell begin tapping.
I think it's funny that you call me "Jack". A pseudonym for a pseudonym.
Posted: August 10th, 2007, 1:11 pm
I think I told you before, "Jack Burley" was one of my favorite characters in one of my most favorite movies. But if you prefer, Moraldo it is!
Thanks for hunting.
Posted: August 10th, 2007, 1:18 pm
It's certainly better than 'man in a taxi cab' which he used on the interim site until this one was formed. Can you imagine Mr. Burley/Rubini being that lacking in imagination?
Oh . . . . . . mmmmm? Did you say something Sir M?
Posted: August 10th, 2007, 1:19 pm
knitty wrote:I think I told you before, "Jack Burley" was one of my favorite characters in one of my most favorite movies. But if you prefer, Moraldo it is!
No, no... please feel free to call me any of the above (or pick something new)... I didn't mean "funny"=odd; but rather "funny"=amusing.
mrsl wrote:It's certainly better than 'man in a taxi cab' which he used on the interim site until this one was formed. Can you imagine Mr. Burley/Rubini being that lacking in imagination?
Hmmm... There was a good reason for that name at the time, and it took some time and research to come up with it. But now I can't remember what it was. There was actually a character from some movie who had that credit...
Posted: August 10th, 2007, 2:09 pm
JohnM wrote:Given my previous statements about MGM musicals, and the fact that I find "the Freed Unit" grossly overrated, I suppose my saying that I think <b>Du Barry Was a Lady</b>, is completely unwatchable, would be superfluous.
I think we're all in agreement, John. I'm just trying to learn what went wrong. What was the thought process behind it?