Du Barry Was a Lady [1943]

Stars: Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly, Tommy Dorsey
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Musical
Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Runtime: 101 minutes

Presented in glorious Technicolor, Du Barry Was a Lady is an all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza with enough star power to light a major city. Freely adapted from the Cole Porter musical that was a Broadway smash in 1939, this was Lucille Ball's first color film, and after several years of lower-profile movies at RKO, Lucy jumped at the chance to star in an MGM musical, assuming the role that Ethel Merman had played on Broadway. And while Lucy gets plenty of screen time to strut her stuff as the sassy and lovelorn nightclub singer May Daly, the real star of the show is Red Skelton as hat-check boy Louis Blore (played by Bert Lahr on Broadway), whose affection for May is matched by Alec Howe (Gene Kelly), a struggling songwriter with whom May--against her gold-digger instincts--has reluctantly fallen in love. But when newly-rich sweepstakes winner Louis accidentally drinks a "Mickey Finn" intended for Alec, he passes out and dreams of being France's King Louis XV, living in royal splendor and running after the lovely Madame Du Barry (Ball) in the palace at Versailles. It's a comedic spin on The Wizard of Oz, with the contemporary characters (including Zero Mostel in a wacky supporting role) playing their 18th-century counterparts. This free-form premise is merely a clever excuse for an eye-candy feast of musical comedy, and Du Barry Was a Lady works best as a smorgasbord of all-star entertainment, from the jazzy swing of Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (with Buddy Rich on drums) to the grand-scale production numbers featuring the splendidly costumed Vargas girls (made famous in the pages of Esquire magazine) and Gene Kelly at his fancy-footed best. It's a veritable explosion of Technicolor fun (this DVD transfer is nothing short of spectacular), and in addition to some fine singing by Virginia O'Brien, vigilant movie buffs can spot Lana Turner in a small, uncredited role. Also included in The Lucille Ball Film Collection, this delightful DVD includes two short subjects from 1943: "Seeing Hands" is an Oscar-nominated "Pete Smith Specialty" short about Ben Helwig, who overcame blindness to become a gifted machinist; the film's progressive message encourages industry to hire persons with disabilities who can make a valuable contribution to wartime industry. Also included is the MGM "Barney Bear" cartoon "Bah, Wilderness," and a faded print of the original theatrical trailer for Du Barry Was a Lady, which really makes you appreciate the dazzling Technicolor of the full-length feature. --Jeff Shannon

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