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  • Warning: Spoilers
    Watching "Madame DuBarry" (1919) it's easy to figure out why Pola Negri was such a huge star in the early days of film. This movie, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, demonstrated Ms. Negri's obvious talents to audiences of the day and was one of her greatest triumphs. Pola had star-power to the nth degree and she wasn't above flaunting it, on screen or off. Her Madame DuBarry is both comical and (in the second half) sympathetic. Her heavy Polish accent may have doomed her to a middling career after the advent of "talkies", but she shined brightly during her heyday and "Madame DuBarry" is certainly a high-point. Emil Jannings is also in the cast as a lecherous King Louis XV. The film itself strays far from historical accuracy, but the narrative is at least coherent. In reality, King Louis XV died 15 years before the beginning of the French Revolution and Madame DuBarry was long gone from Versailles by the time of the storming of the Bastille. She was an "old" woman of 50 when she was executed during the Reign of Terror. In this movie, all these events happen nearly simultaneously with little concern for the truth. Despite those obvious flaws, the gigantic mob scenes and the final shots of poor Pola being carted off to the guillotine are well-staged and resonate even with modern viewers.

    Since this film was made in 1919, there are some frames that are quite shaky and some missing entirely, especially near the end. For the most part, however, it's well preserved unlike nearly all the other silent films still in existence. Lubitsch, who had a lengthy career in light comedies, is able to apply his directorial magic to many of the early scenes and keeps the film moving at a brisk pace. The seriousness of the material lends itself to a much more heavy-handed approach during the second half, but it's still a worthy effort on the director's part. For a film done in 1919, it's quite an accomplishment for all involved.
  • Like Norma Shearer's MARIE ANTOINETTE almost twenty years later, this is an attempt to tell a rags to riches tale set in the last years of the French aristocracy. We see Jeanne rise from milliner to mistress of all who would have her, finally married to her protector's brother so she could become the king's favorite. Negri and Jannings do well as Du Barry and Louis XV but this is no intimate drama so it lacks character development and depth. Jeanne, it seems, is ever faithful to her first love, the student, Armand, and looks out for him unbeknownst of course, only to be shamed when he learns who his benefactress really is. So like a man!

    Negri is early in her career and far from the subtle actress she would later become. She is so heavily made up that she is often rather grotesque. Jannings always pulls off a characterization with professional aplomb but here he has little to do until his death scene, where he pulls out the stops. There is a lot of posturing and it tries quite well to give us a history lesson - although it succeeds, it is dullsville along the way.

    The lavish and elaborate art direction is worthy of award consideration. Don't seek this out unless you are a fan of the two leads, the director or the subject matter.

    Note: that same year Lubitsch would "go mad" and find his niche with the delightfully funnny OYSTER PRINCESS. While that film is also worthy of art direction honors, it is Lubitsch's marvelous directorial touches that deserve as high a consideration.
  • Follows the rise and triumph of Madame DuBarry as she sleeps and teases her way from a worker in a millinery shop to King Louis XV's mistress and to Countess (at least in name). The final scenes showing her condemnation and execution during the French Revolution look like an afterthought.

    A heavy historical spectacle, though the cast of thousands mainly is around for the Revolution scenes.

    Pola Negri is the main bright spot and she can be quite enchanting when shy tries (mainly during the first third of the picture).

    Why it was banned in France is unclear, though none of the major characters are very sympathetic.

    Has little of the Lubitsch touch.
  • This early effort by Lubitsch is disappointingly heavy going, lacking the famous light touch of his later films. This is full on melodrama with little sense of fun, or history, as it tells the story of Louis xv's lover. Apparently this film caused a sensation when, re-titled "Passion", it was released in the USA. It also established its star and director on the international scene. It's very hard to understand why.

    Negri and Jannings are quite good in the lead roles but are given few opportunities to shine. The camerawork is stilted and there is little in the way of visual interest, despite some large crowd scenes and lavish sets and costumes. It's all rather dull.

    The print I saw ran at 110 minutes, with a relentlessly heavy music score, and was badly washed out. This made it quite hard to distinguish some of the characters as their powdered wigs changed them into white blobs - and some of the overly long letters were unreadable.
  • Both stars - along with director Ernst Lubitsch and cameraman Theodor Sparkuhl - not surprisingly went on to successful careers in Hollywood. But although apparently the first feature film to depict the French Revolution it does takes an awfully long time getting there. When the Bastille is finally stormed DuBarry's fate seems rather abrupt, as it was toned down upon its American release by First National and a hundred years later the full gory details apparently remain largely lost.

    Pola Negri in a powdered wig (plus silent screen eye shadow that makes her resemble Theda Bara) makes an appealing Royal mistress, and although as Siegfried Kracauer observed, "the story's contempt for historical facts is matched only by its disregard for their meaning", one is content for the most part to let the richness of the production and Negri's allure work their magic.
  • The life story of French milliner's maid Pola Negri (as Jeanne Marie Vaubernier), who becomes the famed mistress ("Madame Du Barry") of Emil Jannings (as King Louis XV). Unfortunately, the French Revolution catches "rags to riches" Ms. Negri on the wrong side of polite society. Her stalwart first love Harry Liedtke (as Armand de Foix) attempts to help out, but only to a point. This film is more important than entertaining, as it was director Ernst Lubitsch and cast's foray into much of the English speaking audience's world. The passionate performances raised both eyebrows and profits. However, the stodginess overwhelms scenes like lustful Mr. Jannings sending Negri into rapture by stuffing a scroll down her cleavage. Mr. Liedtke might have become bigger star in the USA, if fate were different; he and Negri have great chemistry.

    ***** Madame DuBarry (9/18/19) Ernst Lubitsch ~ Pola Negri, Harry Liedtke, Emil Jannings
  • Warning: Spoilers
    When I acquired this film, I got it because of the ending I saw in a documentary about European silent cinema. What I saw was that, after she was executed, her head was tossed out into the crowd. Intrigued by that ending, I got my hands on a copy. It didn't show that ending! Well, I gave away the real ending, so I might as well talk about the movie now. It's about a French girl who becomes a mistress to royalty. In the days of the French Revolution, that was not exactly a healthy way to make a living... I do want to say, before I go on, that I don't like looking at dead bodies and if that had been her actual head, I wouldn't have gotten a copy. The acting is splendid all the way around. It is also a well-made film. I wouldn't have a problem recommending it to anyone, even though the ending to my copy wasn't what I was expecting.
  • The Ernst Lubitsch "touch" as it would later be known, was altogether little-known back in 1919 and for the curious looking back into the director's repertoire, Madame DuBarry is often seen a historical curiosity rather than a signpost to later greatness. It is my opinion however that this widely-regarded stance on Lubitsch's first major motion picture has just as much to do with the quality of prints available as it does with the feature's tendency to lean on drama more than comedy. Having recently viewed Eureka's newly- released blu-ray featuring a crisp new print backed up by a dynamic score by William Axt, it's clear that although "the touch" is notably lighter (or darker) than Lubitsch would employ in his films later on in his long career, there remain many scenes during the film's first hour where the director plays with his characters and plot in a manner which explicitly seek to extract laughs rather than varying degrees of pathos.

    Writers Norbert Falk and Hanns Kraly tell the infamous story of Jeanne Becu, her rise to power's easily-swayed side, and in the end her ultimate fate at the hands of the Reign of Terror. Although they play loose and casually with the real events that the film is based upon, the writers do well in keeping key points together whilst telling a compelling character drama. Historians may well cry humbug, but the story is gripping, amusing and enlightening in spite of its inaccuracies. Lubitsch himself directs the script's calling for epic moments of drama well, though instils just enough humour and light-heartedness to break it up so as to not become overbearing. Lead star Pola Negri establishes herself in a seminal role here, and often makes a lot out of very little. Also of note is Emil Jannings as King Louis XV, Harry Liedtke as Armand De Foix and Reinhold Schünzel as Minister Choiseul who make scenes devoid of Negri as compelling as possible, even though the ham can get a little chewy at times.

    This was my first time viewing Madame DuBarry so have no real reference point to other prints of the film other than having history with other silent-era movies with some terrible public- domain versions which never really do the films any justice and at times render them incomprehensible. It's for this reason that I thoroughly recommend viewing the film on Eureka's blu-ray if you have a means to do so. Not just because the image quality is outstanding, but also largely in part for Axt's score which complements the on-screen action superbly. It might not be as light and airy as Lubitsch fans would hope for going this far back, but there's still plenty here to enjoy and strikes a nice balance between lush historical-costume drama and darkly- amusing character piece.
  • Now that i'm in depth in the silent movies era, it's clear that today we are dumb to dismiss them! I don't understand why this rich and excellent productions are not promoted while today movies are always on the top being in nothing much gripping than their ancestors! Thousand of words have been written for Coppola's Marie Antoinette and just a few for this one even if it's as sincere and moving! First of all, those old movies are not really BW but are tainted: yellow, red, blue, green. It's funny to see (and a bit tragic) that today are as much filtered while we have all the technology to give splendid colors like our phones!! Next, i'm french and while i heard the name of this Madame, i couldn't tell her story so it was very interesting to learn that she was at the top with Louis XV and down at the revolution! This period production is really lavish but for the exteriors, as a french, i can say this is not french architecture and style. The movie is a good drama, great slice of french history and it really means something that sex & power are a such an explosive couple, in the XVIII, XX or XXI.
  • While more familiar with his better known late-20s all the way through to the 40s work, the best of which with the likes of 'Trouble in Paradise', 'Ninotchka', 'Heaven Can Wait' and 'Shop Around the Corner' are justly acclaimed, that is not to say that his early films are to be neglected. On the most part his early work, pretty much all of which being in German, is very interesting and well worth watching, 'The Doll' and 'The Oyster Princess' being standouts.

    'Madame DuBarry' from 1919 is another one of his early films. It is intriguing for anybody that likes silent films and those in non-English (of which there are many, not just Lubitsch in terms of German silents but even more so early-Fritz Lang and FW Murnau) and it is worth a look with a fair share of obvious good things. But there are far better films from Lubitsch and is somewhat disappointing by his very high standards. Not just overall, but even from this period.

    The production values are beautifully produced in the costumes and sets (especially the costumes). It is also beautifully and clever shot, namely towards the end, it's not refined on a visual front as far as Lubitsch films go but for me it's one of his better looking early ones. The score avoids being too intrusive or too syrupy, dangers with the kind of film 'Madame DuBarry' is.

    Some compelling moments can be seen in 'Madame DuBarry' too. The mob scenes are big in scale, especially for a film dated from the late 1910s, and the final moments are very moving. Pola Negri's performance may not be subtle, but she is always a powerful presence and is affecting in the title role. Emil Jannings, one of the silent film acting greats, is typically formidable. The acting generally didn't feel static or histrionic and there is good chemistry between the actors. There are a few light-hearted moments along the way.

    Regrettably though they don't come enough. Was not expecting non-stop wit and sophistication, 'Madame DuBarry' is not that kind of film (and anybody who has prior knowledge of her would know that too) and it was made at a time when Lubitsch was still finding his style, but it could have done with a lighter touch in places. It does feel a little too dark and serious generally.

    Pacing can be a little too ponderous and too often it was a little too bland from the lack of character depth and emotion, excepting the mob scenes and conclusion. Lubitsch's direction is striking visually but on a dramatic front it's on the flat side.

    Overall, above average but a long way from classic Lubitsch, early years and overall. 6/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I have just got thru viewing this movie via DVD from Grapevine Video, and I enjoyed it...yes, it does have some melodramatics in it, yet one must remember that this is early film and most actors were considered stage actors.

    They also used a lot of heavy makeup on the face...due to improper lighting/camera lens, etc...again the technology of movies was in it's infant stages.

    I still enjoyed this film...I read some where that the last Romonavs, before being sent out of their fortress and before Lenin stormed in...that they enjoyed viewing silent films in their large living room, w/projector, screen etc...and the last film they viewed was even an earlier version of The Passion: Madame DuBarry (1915 or 16) and is no where to be found...lost...so this film is the - in my opinion the best film about Madame DuBarry to date...about her dismal plight via Madame Guillotine.

    Oh yeah, I know there is a comedy version - mostly a dream sequence about Madame Dubarry - but this 1919 version in my books is tops for sure! Grapevine Video did a nice job transferring this to DVD...but warning: on the box it states that the background music is Orchestra music...it is not...it is Organ music and not too bad either! Do I recommend this movie? YES!

    "During the last years of the Romanov Dynasty the Semi-circular Hall was also regularly used to show silent movies and slide shows. A square hole was punched through the wall on the right hand side of the doorway and a Pathe film projector installed. A portable screen was constructed. Movies were usually shown on Saturdays, when the Imperial family would sit in front, while the servants stood behind them to watch the show. While most films were educational - on nature subjects, travel or WWI - comedies and thrillers were also shown. One of the most interesting programs was one which included a film on the life of Madame DuBarry during the French Revolution. The climax of the film was a chilling scene of Madame DuBarry's execution on the guillotine, which the entire Imperial family watched without visible reaction. This scene took place just a few months before the Russian Revolution and was long remembered by people who saw it. After the exile of the family to Siberia the projector and a number of films were sent to entertain them in Tolbolsk." -- quote from website: http://www.alexanderpalace.org/palace/semicircular.html
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Madame DuBarry" is a German film from 1919 and the fact that it will have its 100th anniversary 3 years from now tells you of course that it is a silent black-and-white movie. At 80 minutes, it is nowhere near the longest or shortest films from that era, somewhere in-between. The director is Ernst Lubitsch and the two lead actors are Pola Negri and Academy Award winner Emil Jannings, a trio of big stars from back in the day and the supporting cast also includes many very successful and prolific actors. So there was certainly a nice possibility that this film could turn out well, but for me it did not. The reason may be that I did not find this era in French history interesting at all and also that I am not the biggest fan of black-and-white silent films. If you think differently about the days of Louis XV or the days of Lang, Pabst and Murnau, then you may have a great time watching this one. pay attention to how the original language of this film is German, but of course this only refers to the intertitles as there is no spoken language in here as I already stated. Overall, I felt the story was not compelling enough at all, not even for a movie that stays easily under the 90-minute mark, so unless you belong to some of the groups I mentioned earlier, I recommend you to watch something else instead.