18th Century Quest: Madame du Barry (1954)

18

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 ClevesMayerling, 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.

1954 Madame du Barry

We’re all about the 1950s bust curve here, but you gotta give it up for stripes!

1954 Madame du Barry

Ditto Jeanne — and hey, at least it’s well fitted? It is, of course, inappropriately back-laced.

1954 Madame du Barry

Jeanne’s hair is blonde, has some vaguely 18th-century pincurls, and total 1950s bangs.

François-Hubert Drouais, Portrait of Madame du Barry (1743-1793), 18th century, via Wikimedia Commons

They seem to be going for the simpler hairstyles of the 1750s-early 1760s, which isn’t wrong for du Barry — but it’s not right, either. Based on the hair, I’d say this is the earliest image of du Barry that I can find | François-Hubert Drouais, Portrait of Madame du Barry (1743-1793), 18th century, via Wikimedia Commons

The madam gussies Jeanne up in a shiny satin dress, while Jeanne is doubtful but spunky.

1954 Madame du Barry

The polyester thread count is HIGH.

Jeanne has been installed as the mistress? of Jean du Barry, complete with portrait hanging on the wall:

1954 Madame du Barry

It’s pretty 1950s, but at least it wasn’t done by a 5 year old.

François-Hubert Drouais, Portrait of the Countess Du Barry as Flora, 1769, Palace of Versailles

It doesn’t appear to be referencing any of the known portraits of du Barry, so instead I’ll compare it with this 1769 painting | François-Hubert Drouais, Portrait of the Countess Du Barry as Flora, 1769, Palace of Versailles

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

Her hair is now grey instead of blonde, but it’s still shiny, which doesn’t make much sense if it’s supposed to be powdered. It’s also still much more referencing 1750s styles (by way of 1950s) rather than 1760s.

Augustin Pajou/Sèvres Manufactory, Madame du Barry (1746–1793), 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The high hairstyle she SHOULD be rocking | Augustin Pajou/Sèvres Manufactory, Madame du Barry (1746–1793), 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

A behind-the-scenes shot of her dinner dress. TONS of pearls on the bodice and skirt front.

1954 Madame du Barry

The dresses are all back-laced, which would be okay if they were supposed to be court styles, but the non-puffy-lace sleeves belies that, so I’m guessing they’re going for more of a robe à la française/anglaise hybrid here. Note that they did are putting up the back of Jeanne’s hair smoothly, which echoes period styles. Also note the clear lucite spray in her hair, which I kept waiting to light up.

Sofia Magdalena court dress bodice back closeup

These are the kind of pleated lace sleeves that should be worn with cour dress | Sofia Magdalena’s coronation gown, 1772, Livrustkammaren

Attributed to Martin van Meytens, Portrait of Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780) or her sister Maria Anna (1718-1744), c. 1741, Hungarian National Museum

They’re generally pretty full and floofy | Attributed to Martin van Meytens, Portrait of Maria Theresa of Austria (1717-1780) or her sister Maria Anna (1718-1744), c. 1741, Hungarian National Museum

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

More hair.

Augustin Pajou/Sèvres Manufactory, Madame du Barry (1746–1793), 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Here’s what the back of these hairstyles should look like — smoothly pulled up in the “chignon relevée” style | Augustin Pajou/Sèvres Manufactory, Madame du Barry (1746–1793), 1772, Metropolitan Museum of Art

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

The Duchesse de Grammont wears this stripey dress A LOT. Maybe she was hoping the king would throw a few écu at her?

1954 Madame du Barry

Other female courtiers are bitchy.

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

Bumpkin brother, mom, and two sisters.

He manages to clean them all up, and Jeanne marries Bumpkin Brother — becoming the Comtesse du Barry — who is promptly dismissed.

1954 Madame du Barry

The bumpkin brother is pretty funny — he’s a former soldier and he stands and salutes very seriously Every Time the king is mentioned.

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

She’s now back in her blonde hair with 1950s bangs for deshabille.

Someone lets the king’s four daughters in on the whole shopgirl-mistress thing, and they are peeved.

1954 Madame du Barry

They’re all wearing super cute riding habit-style outfits. These two were super hard to screencap.

1954 Madame du Barry

I did better with this one.

1954 Madame du Barry

And this.

Mr. du Barry’s sisters are fancied up as Jeanne’s ladies-in-waiting.

1954 Madame du Barry

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.

1954 Madame du Barry 1954 Madame du Barry

An elderly courtier is enlisted to sponsor? chaperone? escort? guide? Jeanne through the presentation process.

1954 Madame du Barry

She’s very committed to her 1690s-1710s fontange headdress.

1698, Queen Mary, via V&A

The style they are referencing | Queen Mary, 1698, Victoria & Albert Museum

The Duchesse de Grammont is PISSED when she finds out.

1954 Madame du Barry

Same dress. I’d be pissed too!

Jeanne practices for her presentation.

1954 Madame du Barry

In her undies. The half-hoop is historical, although she’d be wearing a full hoop (paniers) for court. I’m unclear why her stays have a weird beige panel in the front.

Panier - Musée des Arts Decoratifs Paris

A half-hoop | Panier – Musée des Arts Decoratifs Paris

Hoop petticoat or pannier, English, 1750-80, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The kind of full hoop necessary to supporting those big court skirts | Hoop petticoat or pannier, English, 1750-80, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The king’s daughters continue to be pissed, and align with the Duchesse de Grammont, but the king tells them to STFU.

1954 Madame du Barry

The daughters start spending multiple scenes in these same outfits. The center one is the only one to wear vaguely-court-dress-style sleeves. I’m super unclear on the cross-over thingie on the right.

It’s presentation night!

1954 Madame du Barry

There’s a cute scene where Jeanne is having her hair powdered, and you can actually see the visible powder on her hair, but in later shots we’ll be back to shiny grey.

Jeanne is late! Bitches are excited! The king is stressed!

1954 Madame du Barry

Louis XVI on the left, bitchy daughters center and right.

1954 Madame du Barry

The only of Louis XV’s outfits that I felt inspired to screencap. They were all nicely shiny!

1954 Madame du Barry

More of the daughters.

Jeanne shows up at the last moment, and looks lovely, and executes her curtsy flawlessly!

1954 Madame du Barry

Alright it’s totally 1950s Cinderella wear, but I liked it on that level!

1954 Madame du Barry

She’s a wedding cake!

1954 Madame du Barry

Her hair is doing something crazy in back — someone looked at the side ringlets they often wore with these styles and got confused.

1954 Madame du Barry

This is definitely supposed to be court dress, even if it’s missing the poufy lace sleeves, so the back lacing IS appropriate (although it would be hidden under a fabric layer — see the photo above where I was talking about sleeves). Also, lacing satin never does any garment any favors.

1954 Madame du Barry

A posed shot.

1954 Madame du Barry

The Duchesse de Grammont (right) is PISSED, although hey, she got a new dress!

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

However, she only gets two dresses for the entire film, and they are nearly identical.

1954 Madame du Barry

Marie-Antoinette’s hair shows the new style of loosely looped up hair in back, although they’re still missing any real height.

Mademoiselle Luzy Musee Carnavalet

A few years later, but still, the kind of height we should see on these styles. However, they did get that low looped up back right! | Mademoiselle Luzy, Musée Carnavalet

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…”

1954 Madame du Barry

“Fair enough.”

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

Another floofy dress.

1954 Madame du Barry

Here you can better see the details.

1954 Madame du Barry

Sparkle motion!

“There are a lot of people at Versailles today,” says Marie-Antoinette. Du Barry wins!

1954 Madame du Barry

I initially thought this was the same dress as the other.

1954 Madame du Barry

More froof.

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.

1954 Madame du Barry

Rocking the velvet and fur.

1954 Madame du Barry

Because if you’re gonna go out, you go out in STYLE!

 

Have you seen the 1954 Madame du Barry? Can you enjoy pastel 1950s-ized costumes, or am I the only one?

18 Responses

  1. Fiz.

    Sleeping Beauty, the World’s Oldest Waxwork https://images.app.goo.gl/o18adB1sp2oi3MnN7 Images may be subject to copyright
    I don’t know if you have ever seen this at Madame Tussauds in London, Kendra. It is Madame Du Barry modelled from life in 1768. I don’t know if the dress is reconstructed or original but this has always fascinated me.

    Reply
    • Kendra

      Wow, that’s super cool! The dress looks to be in too good of condition to be original, if nothing else.

      Reply
    • M.E. Lawrence

      She really is pretty cute, and had a reputation for being kind and good-natured. But OMFG, the FLOOF! I would have just adored those dresses when I was a little girl–pure Disney, only you could do what my mother called “waving her bosom” in them.

      Reply
    • Aleko

      Actually it”s a complete myth, and quite a recent one, that “The Sleeping Beauty” was modelled from, or even was supposed to represent, Madame du Barry. From the earliest years of the emigre Mme Tussaud’s exhibits in London until at least the 1930s, this figure was shown as ‘Mme de Sainte Amaranthe, widow of a colonel in the Kings bodyguard, who virtuously refused the advances of Robespierre and was sent to the guillotine in revenge’. This was not only blatantly anti-Jacobin propaganda but also a just-pain-garbled story – Mme de Sainte Amaranthe (who, by the way, was a rackety type who ran a posh gambling club) wasn’t guillotined, but her beautiful daughter, the Marquise de Sartine, was. The mould from which this waxwork was cast (this is certainly not the original wax) may indeed be of her.

      My guess is that the figure was re-identified in response to increasing popular interest in du Barry in the cinema; a string of movies were made about her from 1915 onwards, starring famous names such as Theda Bara and Pola Negri.

      Reply
  2. Roxana

    Jeanne seems to have been a good natured girl with a soft heart, no doubt a refreshing change from hard as nails court ladies.
    She was guillotined in 1793. She was neither brave nor dignified, crying and struggling. The crowd was said to have been deeply upset by her execution possibly because they could identify with her in a way they could not with other victims.

    Reply
    • Fiz.

      The haughty aristocracy were appalled by her behaviour but the crowd were stunned into silence by it and it has been said that if more people had behaved like poor Jeanne, the Terror would have ended far earlier.

      Reply
      • Roxana

        Her obvious terror made her real to the onlookers, imo. A person not unlike themselves in terrible distress. No wonder they were upset.

        Reply
  3. Shashwat

    The bodice silhouette of the supposed robe de cours is atrocious.The lack of the train in informal occasions is fine,but the court events especially with the king would have called for a train on those gowns.After all,it was created as a court uniform.Those sleeves on the robe de cour might be accurate though,as certain paintings(albeit a minority)do feature flaring cuffs.I have seen lace cuffs towards the elbow on simple sleeves in robe de cour-esque dresses worn by young girls,but perhaps the very early time period of those paintings does not match the time period in which this film takes place nor the era that the costume designer went for.
    https://www.pinterest.com/pin/15481192454520846/
    That hairstyle on the blue court dress might be referencing the sort of low in the front,wavy ringlets in the back sort of updo,except those ringlets start almost at the nape.I think that the Russian court portraits before 1760s show this hairstyle style much more often.Marie Leszczyńska sports a similar hairstyle in many of her portraits,but the back is never seen to reveal the styling details.
    Those 1740’s-50’s hairstyles are inappropriate to the time period,but they do look gorgeous.The actreses almost look like Dresden Figurines in them(the towering 1770’s hairstyles and the hedgehog of the 1780’s look a bit too fussy to me).

    Reply
  4. Shashwat

    The bodice silhouette of the supposed robe de cours is atrocious.The lack of the train in informal occasions is fine,but the court events especially with the king would have called for a train on those gowns.After all,it was created as a court uniform.Those sleeves on the robe de cour might be accurate though,as certain paintings(albeit a minority)do feature flaring cuffs.I have seen lace cuffs towards the elbow on simple sleeves in robe de cour-esque dresses worn by young girls,but perhaps the very early time period of those paintings does not match the time period in which this film takes place nor the era that the costume designer went for.
    That hairstyle on the blue court dress might be referencing the sort of low in the front,wavy ringlets in the back sort of updo,except those ringlets start almost at the nape.I think that the Russian court portraits before 1760s show this hairstyle style much more often.Marie Leszczyńska sports a similar hairstyle in many of her portraits,but the back is never seen to reveal the styling details.
    Those 1740’s-50’s hairstyles are inappropriate to the time period,but they do look gorgeous.The actreses almost look like Dresden Figurines in them(the towering 1770’s hairstyles and the hedgehog of the 1780’s look a bit too fussy to me).

    Reply
  5. LadySlippers

    Goodness. After all that sweetness and sugar, I am fairly certain I now have a cavity.

    Note: Be sure to indicate the correct Louis — you have the XVI in one screen descriptor (which was M-A’s hubby) and not the XV (M-A’s father-in-law).

    Reply
  6. Damnitz

    It’s obvious, that the filmmakers didn’t really had the historical background in their mind.

    The men’s coats etc. are as typical for the period to short (more like Prussian uniforms then proper French court dress). However what surprised me was to see Louis XV with his small sword worn in the authentic way (you find the sword often in swordbelts worn OVER the waistcoats or even the sword’s handle cut through the waistcoat (Sachsens Glanz und Preußens Gloria)).

    I would try to see the movie at least for realizing what they did wrong, as the life of Madame du Barry is very well known in detail.

    Reply
  7. LisaS

    The engraving(?) of a young Du Barry…. MUST be played by Maisie Williams in some movie that needs to get made.

    Reply
  8. Aleko

    “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.”

    This para had me imagining a RADICALLY different scenario from what you meant to convey, because on this side of the Pond “get pissed” means “get drunk”!

    FYI, over here, if you want to say that a someone has got annoyed, they are “pissed off”, never just “pissed”. Although one can, of course, be both at the same time.

    Reply

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