Madame DuBarry (1934): Dieterle’s Campy Fictionalized Account of Louis XV’s Mistress, Starring Dolores del Rio

William Dieterle directed Madame DuBarry, a lightly satirical and heavily fictionalized biopic of the last mistress of King Louis XV of France, starring Dolores del Río, Reginald Owen, Victor Jory and Osgood Perkins (Tony’s father).

Released just when the Hollywood Production Code began operating, the movie faced problems with the censors, who demanded that several scenes be removed.

Our Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Madame DuBarry
Poster - Madame Du Barry.jpg

Promotional poster for the film.

Louis XV (Reginald Owen), the pleasure-seeking Louis XV, King of France in the mid-eighteenth century, is getting old, and both his wife and former mistress Madame de Pompadour are gone. Yearning for a new companion, he fails to find such a woman at the Deer Park, “school” for ladies in waiting— and would-be royal mistresses.

However, one of his courtiers, the Duc de Richelieu, knows Jeanne du Barry (Dolores del Rio), a  young femme who’s exuberant and free-spirited, and upon introduction, she makes a splash. Moving into Versailles, she takes care of the moody king, but she also make demands. When she desires sleigh ride with Louis in the summer, palace steward Lebel buys all the sugar in Paris to put under the sleigh runners.

Du Barry and Louis have fun for a while, but Louis’s three grown daughters and their friend the Duchesse de Granmont are scandalized and join with Prime Minister Choiseul in trying to kick out of court. Richelieu’s nephew, the upright official the Duc d’Aiguillon, rebukes Louis and Du Barry for ruining France with their extravagance.

Meanwhile, Louis’ pedantic grandson and heir, Louis the Dauphin, is betrothed to the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette (Anita Louise), and Du Barry drives to the frontier with Louis to receive her. Marie Antoinette snubs her, but she takes with good humor. Louis asks Du Barry to talk to him about the facts of life; Marie Antoinette and new allies Louis’ sisters and the Duchesse de Granmont, are furious when they find Du Barry and the Dauphin behind a closed door, though nothing has happened.

Du Barry gathers his favorite field flowers and makes her way to Louis at his deathbed, and they share some happy memories. Du Barry is then informed that she is to be deprived of the castle Louis gave her and imprisoned in another chateau. She bids mocking farewell to Marie Antoinette and the Dauphin (now Louis XVI), and leaves singing the trivial song that she used to sing to Louis.

Commercially, the movie was a failure.

Dolores del Río as Madame Du Barry
Reginald Owen as Louis XV
Victor Jory as Duc Armand d’Aiguillon
Osgood Perkins as Duc de Richelieu
Verree Teasdale as Duchess de Granmont
Ferdinand Gottschalk as Lebel
Anita Louise as Marie Antoinette
Maynard Holmes as The Dauphin
Henry O’Neill as Duc de Choiseul
Hobart Cavanaugh as Professor de la Vauguyon
Halliwell Hobbes as English Ambassador
Arthur Treacher as Andre
Jesse Scott as Zamore

Directed by William Dieterle
Produced by Jack L. Warner, Hal B. Wallis
Written by Edward Chodorov
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by Herbert I. Leeds

Producted, distributed by Warner Brothers

Release date: October 13, 1934

Running time: 79 minutes


TCM showed the movie on August 19, 2020.