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.
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