Hat check clerk Louis Blore (Red Skelton) works in a nightclub where one of the star performers is May Daly (Lucille Ball). Louis is in love with May, but he has some competition from dancer Alec Howe (Gene Kelly). May loves Alec and Alec loves her, but unfortunately for both Louis and Alec, she’s determined to marry a rich man and neither of them has much money. But all of that changes when one day, telegram messenger Charlie (Rags Ragland) brings Louis a telegram informing him that he’s won a sweepstakes! All of a sudden, he is a rich man and asks May to marry him. She makes it abundantly clear that she’d only be marrying him for his money, but he doesn’t mind. But even then, she still has reservations.
One night, Charlie, who has taken Louis’ old hat check clerk job, suggests slipping a mickey into Alec’s drink so he won’t be any competition for a few days. Of course, this plan goes horribly wrong when Louis accidentally gets the drugged drink intended for Alec. While unconscious, Louis dreams that he’s back in the 1700s. In his dream, he is King Louis XV and May is Madame Du Barry. Just like in real life, King Louis is trying to win over Madame Du Barry by showering her with lavish presents, but her love can’t be bought. In fact, when she starts receiving mysterious notes from someone named The Black Arrow (Alec’s dream alter-ego), she insists on meeting with this Black Arrow. She goes to see him and finds out he is leading a rebellion against Madame Du Barry and King Louis XV because he thinks Du Barry is encouraging Louis to take taxpayer’s money to pay for her extravagant gifts. But despite this, she can’t help but be attracted to The Black Arrow. When The Black Arrow and his posse are captured, Louis sentences them to death by the guillotine, but Du Barry pleads with him to spare The Black Arrow. When Louis wakes up, he awakens with the realization that trying to buy love is a ridiculous idea. By then, May and Alec have decided to get married and Louis wishes them well and the three of them decide to remain friends.
Du Barry Was a Lady isn’t one of the all time great musicals, but it is a nice bit of frothy entertainment. Lucille isn’t used to her full comedic potential and Gene Kelly only gets one solo dance scene, but Red Skelton, Rags Ragland, and Zero Mostel do bring some good laughs. The musical numbers generally don’t add much to the story, but they are fun to watch. I liked Virginia O’Brien’s “Salome” number and it was nice to see so much of Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra. It’s also worth noting that this is the first movie where Lucille Ball had her hair dyed that signature shade of red. All in all, it wasn’t a spectacular movie, but it is light and fun and that’s exactly what I expected of it.