Du Barry Was a Lady Blu-ray Review: All Show, Little Story

Even by the admittedly low bar of plot development in classic movie musicals, this film’s story is so half-baked it may as well just be called a musical revue. Stars drift into the central nightclub set, perform solo numbers, and flit off to some presumably more rewarding endeavor elsewhere on the MGM studio lot. The show is nearly half over before any semblance of a story emerges, which is also where the performances finally start to come alive.

Red Skelton plays a penniless coat check guy lusting after the club’s star attraction, Lucille Ball. She’s interested in fellow performer and playboy Gene Kelly, even though she knows he loves himself more than her. Zero Mostel pops in to perform some mystic hokum for additional comic relief, Virginia O’Brien drops by for a couple of numbers, and even bandleader Tommy Dorsey gets into the action with some light onscreen interaction with the stars.

The story finally takes off when Skelton wins the lottery, giving himself the resources to hopefully woo Lucy. Unfortunately, in order to erase Kelly from the equation, he tries to slip him a mickey but ends up downing it himself, thrusting him into a dream where he and Lucy are royalty and Kelly is a dastardly rogue trying to come between them. It doesn’t make much sense, but at least the stars finally get into their performances in the dream, hamming it up in their period attire and getting some laughs out of their musical numbers.

The Blu-ray presents the film in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, complete with clean, consistent image quality and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound. The disc also include a theatrical trailer and a Barney Bear short, giving some love to the rarely seen classic animation star.

The film is based on an earlier Broadway musical that presumably handled its first act with far more narrative attention. The songs are all by Cole Porter, but none are recognizable hits, with the possible exception of the title track. While Gene Kelly has a couple of impressive numbers, the best performance is probably Skelton and Lucy in dreamland, since it’s the only one where Lucy’s comedic gifts finally rise to the surface as she keeps up with Skelton’s antics.  

While the story is sorely lacking, the film is worth watching for the largely forgotten performances by big musical stars. I could do without Zero Mostel’s mystic hijinks and O’Brien’s deadpan delivery of her songs, but Skelton is amusing in small doses, Kelly always delivers, and Lucy gets to play it both straight and for laughs, showing her range from classic musical star to future TV comedienne.

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Steve Geise

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