Madame Dubarry (1919)

About two weeks ago I saw Madame Dubarry at the Stanford Theatre. I had raved for about two days because I discovered the movie would screen on a Sunday and it was already Friday. It was a magnificent experience.

I mean, of course I went insane. I full-on fangirled. This is one of Pola Negri’s biggest film successes. This is the film that got both Ernst Lubitsch and Pola Negri invited to Hollywood.

Much to my chagrin, I arrived half an hour late due to the long distance to the theater from my home. I did not mind! It has been seen by me at least two or three times anyway. I had spent much of my time at home doing my makeup and picking the right dress. I was going to honor Pola by dressing in simply the finest attire.

When I walked in, the part where Pola was in a ball with the ambassador was playing. I saw her sitting on the railing, drinking champagne, and I smiled. My favorite actress was up there! Oh, and then Harry Liedtke 🙂 He appeared so adorable!

The film was in black and white, so it wasn’t that uncensored tinted copy that I loved….

I found myself chuckling. I just watched the movie. I was immediately drawn in. It was much more different than seeing it on home video.

So, if you don’t know what Madame Dubarry is, it is a German silent film from 1919 directed by Ernst Lubitsch. It is the story of Jeanne Dubarry and her conquest for wealth (I assume what she wanted most was wealth) as she ultimately ends up being the mistress of Louis XV of France right before the French Revolution. It features Pola Negri showing one of the early subtle examples of sexuality on film. With Lubitsch, it was a subtle reference, but not explicit. The movie is more of a drama and there is also the Lubitsch comedy! And, yes, it still does have that exceptionally unique touch his films have 🙂

The more I watched, the more I realized that the film was not just incredible because of Pola Negri. It was the whole cast that made it a memorable masterpiece.

Memorable performances:

Emil Jannings

emil jannings.png

He was quite a voluptuous king! He was devoted to Jeanne, even if she was married to a guy she barely even talked to in the wedding. Emil Jannings never stops impressing me as an actor.

Harry Liedtke

harry liedtke.png

He was Jeanne’s boyfriend, or her true love. He did so much for her. He had to see her with so many men 😦 Harry played numerous roles as Pola Negri’s love interests as she made his life hell.

Reinhold Schünzel


He was the Minister Choiseul. Oh, how he hated the idea of Jeanne being presented at court. He wanted his sister to marry the king so she could be queen! He was such a backstabber it was funny.

Pola Negri

Screenshot 2014-12-12 at 2.21.38 PM

Well, no one could ever forget the leading star. Pola shows her skill developing as an actress; she could be a little girl, an innocent woman, or a greedy temptress.

I was so drawn into the film it was as if I was watching for the first time. It is very different seeing it on the big screen. It was an experience I will never forget. I felt I was the only one who was with her eyes as big as saucers by this point.

Even if this was my third re-watch, I still wanted to know what was going to happen at the end. My memory usually fades with time. I apparently forgot some details!

There’s one hell of a long shot in the film when people are starting to rebel and there’s killings and mobs in the middle of the city.

The movie is powerful to me. How Pola shows her reactions to what is happening in the story has effect on the viewer as well. Harry Liedtke made me sad when he had to choose whether to inflict punishment on someone he loved or let her be free….

I was so relieved it had English subtitles! I remember my first time watching the film it was in French and German, so I had to get the help of Google Translator. I learned some German!

Of course, I was somehow expecting the cold-blooded ending, but this was the American censored print probably. The German one is raw! I rolled my eyes, but still clapped hard anyway.

The Stanford Theatre is really beautiful. They’re currently having a Lubitsch festival!

This made me so happy I had to take a picture.

Madame Dubarry helped break the censors on German films across Europe and America. When it was screened in New York, it was a hit!

After Rudolph Valentino saw Pola Negri in the film, he wrote her a fan letter. Even Charlie Chaplin was besotted after seeing it as well!

When the film ended, I walked out and was enchanted with the quaint feeling one gets from being in the theatre. There were classic movie posters everywhere! It did look quite fancy.

I went outside and this old lady started talking about if Madame Dubarry was truly beheaded and I just watched, eager to join in a conversation about the film. We ended up chatting about the film and the history. I told her this had been filmed in Germany and that it got both Pola and Lubitsch invited to Hollywood. I also told her of the film that had been shown the night before, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg. I still have yet to see it and I told her that Mr. Ramon Novarro was the star. It just felt so good to talk to someone about Ernst Lubitsch films!

If you ever get the chance to see a Lubitsch film (especially a silent one) in a live screening, don’t miss it!

God knows he is still my favorite director and Pola Negri my favorite actress.

I would recommend this movie to be watched in high definition 🙂


2 thoughts on “Madame Dubarry (1919)

  1. Nice review! I haven’t seen this one, but I’m a great admirer of Lubitsch. BTW, Billy Wilder idolized the man and you can see him pay tribute to the master in many movies. Anyhow, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg is excellent!


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