Madame du Barry (1954)
Director: William Dieterle
Starring: Martine Carol (Jeanne Bécu, dite Rançon / Madame Dubarry), Daniel Ivernel (Jean du Barry), Gianna Maria Canale (Duchesse de Grammont), Jean Paréds (Lebel), Denis d'Ins (Cardinal Richelieu), Marguerite Pierry (Comtesse de Médarne), Isabelle Pia (Marie-Antoinette).
1768 Louis XV and the Countess Du Barry
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
At the St. Germain Fair, held in the streets, a man speaks to a large crowd about the events of the French Revolution some four years ago. He mentions the storming of the Bastille and the removal of the head of despotism. Other events include the execution of the Queen. A nanny walks with a little boy named Brutus. In his hand he carries a model of the guillotine. When the boy misbehaves his nanny tells him: "If you don't behave, I'll have you guillotined." The speaker tells the people to come inside and listen to the tale of the whore: Madame Du Barry. The shill man says: "She was part of the rotten, small poxed King's regime that starved the people: Countess du Barry." Now he tells the story of du Barry. She sold herself to the highest bidder as soon as she arrived in Paris, says the speaker.
Flashback. A sales girl named Jeanne Rancon. An older man, Richelieu, tries to get her to go out with him in the evening. Madeame Gourdam, however, wants her to come to her brothel where the men will be very grateful to her. But Jeanne just wants to go to the St. Germain Fair with her friend. At the Fair a nobleman, who is quite a lady's man, spots Jeanne and is immediately taken by her beauty. He gets out of his coach and tries to get Jeanne into it. He explains that he is the Count Jean du Barry. Jeanne refuses to get in, slips away from du Barry and goes to see a shill man talk about the French royalty.
At the Versailles palace King Louis XV complains about the last girl Lebel found for him. She was just not acceptable. Lebel protests that Monsieur de Richelieu assured him of her innocence. Another man, named Choiseul, pipes up with: "Monsieur de Richelieu calls any woman who has not responded to his ardor, innocent." Richelieu says he has never left a woman unsatisfied. His Majesty says that the Queen is dead and so are Madame de Mailly, Madame de Chateauroux., Madame de Vaintimilles and Madame de Pompadour. Both his son and his daughter-in-law are dead. He goes to bed and his company has to walk backwards out the door.
After everyone else has gone, Madame Gramont, the sister of Choiseul, comes in through a side door and wakes the king. He tells her that she is not the woman for him. He does not want intelligent women.
Richelieu and Lebel go to the brothel of Madame Gourdam. Jeanne is there talking with the Madame. Madame Gourdam urges Jeanne to take advantage of what nature has given her. She says at the brothel they will call her Lange. Lange will be able to meet and dine with the court's greatest and most pleasant men. In fact, tonight, she will meet Richelieu. He, Level and du Barry will dine with the Madame tonight. Du Barry goes to speak to the Madame about what is keeping her. He is surprised to see Jeanne there. Du Barry tells the Madame that he and Jeanne have already met. He does not want the two other fellows to see Jeanne. He tells Jeanne that she will be his mistress and then his wife, but first she must go to his house. Jeanne seems interested. Du Barry doesn't like the Lange name, so he says she will be called De Vaubergnais. He tells Madame to tell the two other guests that he suffers from illness and had to leave. He leaves with Jeanne.
At his place, there are lots of people playing cards. Jeanne is with Monsieur Mollay and du Barry pulls her away from him. He is very angry and slaps Jeanne. He asks her if this is her way of thanking her benefactor? Lebel arrives and du Barry introduces Jeanne to him as his fiancée. Lebel says she is delightful and can't wait to introduce her to the King. He and du Barry set up a situation where the King can look at Jeanne through a large "peephole", before he decides to actually meet her.
Jeanne has dinner with Richelieu, Lebel and du Barry. She does not believe the men when they tell her the King will look at her through the peephole. Richelieu tells her: "Louis XIV did reign. Louis XV reigns little." Richelieu also explains that if the King likes her, she will have to marry du Barry to make the relationship between her and the King legal. Jeanne gets angry and scolds the men. The King comes and watches Jeanne. He sees Jeanne stick out her tongue out at the three men. She bumps into the King, but doesn't know him. He strikes up a conversation with her and shows her around the palace. She kisses him several times.
She has seen the King's profile on a coin and now, as she looks at his profile, she recognizes him as the King. He take her to his bedroom. Jeanne kisses him again saying that she is not virtuous. They hear a noise from within the cover four cornered bed. The King goes to find out about the noise. He finds Madame Gramont and asks her to leave. The woman leaves and the king starts undressing Jeanne.
The next day Choiseul speaks with his sister about what happened last night. Madame Gramont is humiliated and angry about the way the King treated her. Choiseul demands to know the name of the new wench and his sister says it's the Countess du Barry. He declares to his sister that the King can only have mistresses that they choose for him. Choiseul is convinced that Richelieu is behind all this because he believes Choiseul believes that Richelieu is trying to get rid of him.
The King comes in and brother and sister have to separate. Louis XV has a big smile on his face. Madame Gramont tells the other ladies that the King has a new mistress and none of them know who she is. The women say it's a scandal!
Jeanne finally returns home. Du Barry is upset with her, because she broke the etiquette of court. The King is only to have a mistress who is married. He says when the King finds out the truth, he himself will be put in a grave situation. And it will be trouble for Jeanne too because her choice will be between hanging or deportation to Louisiana. Lebel comes in to tell Jeanne that the King is completely taken with her. He also gives Jeanne a beautiful, expensive necklace. Furthermore, the St. Laurent vicar is expecting them at their marriage ceremony. But du Barry says he can't marry Jeanne now. He is already married to Ursule Catherine Dalmas de Verdongraises. Lebel is angry saying this will ruin him with the King.
Just then du Barry has an idea. He will have Jeanne marry his brother Guillaume. In a coach they drive out to his brother's farm. There du Barry explains the situation (with a few lies) to his brother, mother and two sisters. The brothers and sisters will accompany him back to Paris.
At the church Guilaume marries Jeanne. Then Guilaume is sent home. A bread riot starts across the street at the bakery where there is no bread.
Jeanne tells the King what has happened. He tells her he wished she had told him all this from the first. The King calls her a bastard and a prostitute. But he says he forgives her because she is so pretty. The catch is that Jeanne will have to remained hidden away from others. The affair must remain a secret. The problem is that the secret has already been revealed and is widely known or soon will be. It is known that the King spends all his nights with a "low-born" woman.
The King and Jeanne can hear a conversation below about the low-born Countess du Barry and the foolish King. Jeanne gets upset and walks out. The King says good riddance, but he feels badly after she has gone. Then he hears more of the conversation from below. He hears him called the "vice" king. He calls for a council meeting in half an hour.
Jeanne tells du Barry that she broke it off with the King. She also tells him that the King knows everything about her because she told him. She says she is leaving to return to Paris and she will talk to du Barry there. She leaves. She tries to take a coach back to Paris, but it is reserved for the royal family. An old female aristocrat tells Jeanne that she has no right to be at the palace. She has not been formally introduced to the King. Jeanne goes back into the palace.
The King comes to ask du Barry where Jeanne is. She has gone back to Paris. The King gives du Barry two hours to get Jeanne back or he will be sleeping at the Bastille. Just then Jeanne comes marching back in. The King tells Jeanne that she can't use the royal coach until she has been formally presented to the court. She must be presented and then she will receive lots of special privileges. In addition, the Count du Barry will have to secure a noble sponsor for her. This way the King makes up with Jeanne.
At the Council meeting the King is told that it is a good time to end the hostilities between the Bourbons and the Hapsburgs. France should make a treaty with Austria and the relationship should be consecrate with a royal marriage. They suggest that his grandson the Dauphin should marry the Archduchess, Marie-Antoinette. They are ages 15 and 14 respectively. His Majesty is shown a miniature portrait of Marie and the King gives his approval of the marriage. Then it is suggested that the King marry Marie's older sister, Maria-Theresa. The King won't consider it. Instead, he informs everyone that Countess du Barry is to be presented at court.
Richelieu approaches a possible female sponsor for du Barry, but the woman wants all her debts paid, her former love to be exiled and she herself receive 600,000 pounds. Other women also drive a similar hard bargain. Du Barry encounters the same. One woman wants 500,000 pounds. Du Barry, desperate, accepts. He gets the Countess of Medarne to be the sponsor.
Once the women learn that Countess du Barry has a sponsor, they plot to prevent her from traveling the traditional route from Paris to Versailles. They will get Choiseul to prevent access to the coaches and horses and the women will threaten du Barry's dress maker. And they will deny her access to the hairdresser.
Count du Barry is furious when nothing goes right on the appointed day for the introduction at court. He suddenly has an idea and goes rushing off with Jeanne. The King himself is having trouble. His daughters insist that they will not attend the ceremony. The King threatens them and forces them to go. One daughter says she will go, but she is going to give Jeanne a really hard time. The Count du Barry takes Jeanne to the brothel where she is given a fancy dress and her hair is made up. The Madame tells Count du Barry since she provided everything, including the coach, she wants the Count to sign a promissory note of 200,000 pounds. Du Barry has to agree if he is to get Jeanne to the court on time.
The King and court wait on Jeanne. The women are delighted over the anxiety of the King. The clock bell rings for 10 p.m., the assigned time for the presentation of Jeanne. The women are happy to hear the bells. Suddenly the names of Jeanne and her sponsor are announced. The women are now all aghast. The King warmly receives Jeanne and her sponsor. He has Jeanne meet his three daughters. The three bow to Jeanne in order to escape their father's wrath.
Count du Barry comes in to tell Jeanne that he gave the Madame of the brothel what she deserves. She is placef looking backwards on a horse and drawn through the streets of Paris with a sign on her front and back saying brothel-keeper. The shill man at the Fair says in this slide, they can see the Madame receiving her punishment as a brothel-keeper. She was later sent to prison with a four year sentence. The shill man points to the model of Madame du Barry and says she is a patron of the arts, literature and sciences.
The King's daughters and the Dauphin with Choiseul and his sister hear about the terrible behavior of the King. The future King says he's used to this since there have been so many mistresses. Choiseul tells them that he will use a clergyman to confront the King with his sin and the man will have to choose between du Barry and everlasting hell. The priest accuses the King of "lusty and depraved debauchery". He also condemns Jeanne. Jeanne and the King both have to sit and listen to this. The priest shouts: "Shake with fear. Degraded souls, be afraid."
Jeanne tells the King that the clergyman was inspired by Choiseul. She says it's part of a plot to send her home. This make the King mad. Jeanne says she's already living in hell. They are all against her, she says. The King tells Richelieu to tell the Dauphine that she doesn't treat Jeanne very well. He wants Marie Antoinette to say something to Jeanne at gambling tonight.
Richelieu gives a letter to Choiseul from the King. The King says that Choiseul's services dissatisfies him and force him to have Choiseul forced in to exile him at Chanteloux. And his sister is to go with him.
At gambling the talk is all about if Marie Antoinette will speak to Jeanne or not. The Dauphin and Madame the Dauphine are announced. Marie goes to the King and curtsies. Then Marie says the following to Jeanne: "There are a lot of people at Versailles tonight." Jeanne is shocked and the King is pleased. Count du Barry is ecstatic. He pulls Jeanne to the side to tell her that they have won. Choiseul's dead. Now he asks Jeanne for 200,000 pounds. Jeanne objects saying that he has already been given some land, a castle, two manors and 500,000 pounds. While the two argue, the King faints. The men carry him to his bedroom.
Jeanne comes out of the bedroom without saying a word to anyone. The clergyman comes out to say that the King is dead. Everyone runs out to tell the Dauphin and Dauphine. The King is dead. Long live the King! The Count du Barry runs to his sisters to tell them they have to go now or they will all be arrested. Then he goes into Jeanne's room and starts stealing all her things. Jeanne is crying over the death of the King. They start leaving. Choiseul comes with a letter in his hand and du Barry and his sister hide from him. The man goes to see Jeanne. She is being exiled not by the new King, but the old King. That was the only way he could receive absolution for his sins.
The King's casket passes by and Richelieu says that now the King fades into obscurity.
Back to the present. The crowd at the Fair call for the death of Countess du Barry. The shill man shouts to the crowd: "Enter, enter. Come and see all the scoundrels who have exploited the people. Enter, enter. The show must go on."
Good movie. It's pretty close to the truth, except it painted her as too much the victim. On the other hand, she was used by powerful men in their ambitious plans to promote themselves to higher positions. The movie at times seems like a classic farce. People are running around plotting and scheming and making their moves on the real chess board of life. All this activity many times just struck me as being funny. But, ultimately, it was a tragedy, at least for Made du Barry. On 8 December 1793, Madame du Barry was beheaded by guillotine. The film doesn't mention any actions made by Madame du Barry that she made by herself. The stress is that the woman du Barry was good, if a bit naive, and therefore easily manipulated.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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