I’ve wanted to watch the 1954 film Madame du Barry for years, but had a hard time tracking it down. I finally found it (hot tip: do some Google video searching for it if you’re interested, although note it’s only in original French or dubbed Italian or Russian, and none with subtitles) and while my French wasn’t QUITE up to snuff to catch ALL of the dialogue (especially when people got angry and started talking fast), I managed to catch about 50%, and I enjoyed the sometimes pretty, frequently way-too-1950s costumes (designed by Marcel Escoffier – Princess of Cleves, Mayerling, Loves of Casanova, Lucrèce Borgia – and Monique Plotin – L’Affaire des Poisons), so here we are!
The film stars Martine Carol (Austerlitz, Lucrèce Borgia, Lola Montès) as the titular Jeanne Bécu, Comtesse du Barry (1743-93), who starts as a shopgirl in a milliner’s shop, gets recruited by a madam and a nobleman simultaneously, who conspire to put her in the way of the bored King Louis XV who is searching for a mistress. Louis and she take shines to each other, she becomes his official mistress (to the horror of the court), until his death when she is booted from the palace. The entire thing is framed with the French Revolution, noting that she will be guillotined, although it doesn’t at all dwell on that fact. The tone is slightly comic, the costumes are candy colored, and the hair shiny. Let’s do this!
King Louis XV is bored –his mistresses are dead, his wife is dead. Some rando courtier lady shows up in his bed to shag him, and he isn’t interested and throws her out. None of this is interesting enough to screencap.
A madam wearing a fabulously stripey dress goes to the milliner’s shop and spots Jeanne in her own stripey dress and tries to recruit her. So does Jean du Barry, a courtier. I can’t follow all the dialogue, but it’s unclear whether du Barry wants to shag her himself or if he’s already thinking of her for the king.
The madam gussies Jeanne up in a shiny satin dress, while Jeanne is doubtful but spunky.
Jeanne has been installed as the mistress? of Jean du Barry, complete with portrait hanging on the wall:
Jean du Barry is pissed because he finds Jeanne flirting with an actor, I’m unclear if he’s pissed on his own behalf or because he Has Plans for her.
Mr. du Barry throws some kind of dinner with Jeanne and a couple of male courtiers. It appears they are discussing putting Jeanne in the king’s way. Jeanne is very rough-table-manners-in-a-charming-way and at some point gets pissed (I think about the whole king thing?) and leaves, locking the men in the room.
As Jeanne is taking off, she runs into some guy in the hall. They start flirting and wandering through Versailles, and she finally realizes that it’s The King. He’s charmed by her straightforward ways, she’s charmed by him. He installs her as his mistress.
The female courtiers are PISSED that Louis is shagging a former shopgirl, none more so than the female courtier (the “Duchesse de Grammont”) who had tried to sneak into his bed.
In order to secure her place at court, Jeanne has to be presented; in order to be presented, she has to be married, which she isn’t. Mr. du Barry is already married, so he runs off to the country and picks up his country bumpkin brother, the Comte du Barry, as well as his two bumpkin sisters to be ladies-in-waiting.
He manages to clean them all up, and Jeanne marries Bumpkin Brother — becoming the Comtesse du Barry — who is promptly dismissed.
Jeanne and the king are having fun, although there’s been some kind of party? row? in which the king’s bedroom is all smashed up. Jeanne is cranky, I’m unclear why — probably because no one accepts her at court.
Someone lets the king’s four daughters in on the whole shopgirl-mistress thing, and they are peeved.
Mr. du Barry’s sisters are fancied up as Jeanne’s ladies-in-waiting.
Mr. du Barry starts arranging for Jeanne to be presented, which involves him and others on his team sucking up to various female courtiers, promising them positions and benefits for themselves and their families.
An elderly courtier is enlisted to sponsor? chaperone? escort? guide? Jeanne through the presentation process.
The Duchesse de Grammont is PISSED when she finds out.
Jeanne practices for her presentation.
The king’s daughters continue to be pissed, and align with the Duchesse de Grammont, but the king tells them to STFU.
It’s presentation night!
Jeanne is late! Bitches are excited! The king is stressed!
Jeanne shows up at the last moment, and looks lovely, and executes her curtsy flawlessly!
The bitchy daughters and the Duchesse de Grammont enlist the newly arrived dauphine, Marie-Antoinette, to help slight du Barry. Marie-Antoinette is nicely played by Isabelle Pia — she’s a little bit snooty, but she’s no ditz.
The sisters/Duchesse enlist the abbot/cardinal/whoever to preach against du Barry and the king’s sinful ways. The king is pissed, but du Barry is hilarious — her reaction is very “ok, well, yeah…”
The king is pissed, and orders Marie-Antoinette to acknowledge du Barry by speaking with her publicly. Everyone is on pins and needles to see if she’ll do it.
“There are a lot of people at Versailles today,” says Marie-Antoinette. Du Barry wins!
The king dies! All the courtiers stampede to the new king and queen’s rooms, while du Barry walks out of the palace, the only one touched by the king’s death.
Have you seen the 1954 Madame du Barry? Can you enjoy pastel 1950s-ized costumes, or am I the only one?