Irma la Douce (1963) – Billy Wilder

Today, I continue with the What Else to Watch list in DK Canada’s The Movie Book following the recommendation of Some Like It Hot. So I dug into another Billy Wilder film that I had often heard of, but never seen Irma la Douce.

Starring Shirley MacLaine in the titular role and the hilarious Jack Lemmon as Nestor Patou this romantic comedy is based on the musical play by Alexandre Breffort. Eschewing musical numbers the film is a unique and frequently funny film with a definite European flavor.

Irma is the most successful streetwalker in her corner of Paris, she is charming, lovely, and talented, though her dog is a bit of a lush. Things take an unusual turn when new and naive cop on the block, Patou brings in her and many of her co-workers and their johns, including Patou’s new boss.

Finding himself unemployed, but falling in love with Irma, Nestor tries to figure out what to do. She has to make money, he doesn’t want her to hook, so he becomes her new pimp, and comes up with a plan with the local bistro owner, The Moustache (Lou Jacobi) – he’ll borrow five hundred francs, disguise himself as an English man, Lord X, pay her the francs, she’ll give Nestor the money, and he’ll pay back Moustache.

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Sounds funny, wacky and complicated, and of course things go completely sideways!!

Lemmon’s Lord X is incredibly funny, and it seems you give him some props and makeup and he just goes – he gets to do lots of physical comedy, as well as deliver some great lines of dialogue.

As things go sideways, Nestor becomes the suspect in the murder of his alter ego, as well as working eighteen hour days to be able to pay for Irma while he portrays Lord X. She becomes suspicious that he doesn’t love her anymore and is having an affair (or two) because he’s always too tired to make love to her.

It’s wonderfully funny, definitely has a delightfully open European flavour, despite the fact that the leads are American. While I’m mentioning that lets just bring up the fact that despite both characters say they grew up in Paris, neither Irma, nor Nestor sound Parisian, let alone French.

That doesn’t change the fact that this one is a lot of fun, and wasn’t afraid to take on material that no doubt seemed a little edgier than most comedies of the time. For all that, however, there isn’t a lot of innuendo at work in the film, the dialogue usually tries to be crisper, and funnier than that.

Wilder was a master, and Lemmon excels in this one, while MacLaine scored herself an Oscar nomination for her turn as Irma.

This was a great one, but don’t take my word for it, pick up a copy of DK Books’ The Movie Book and watch that or countless other classic films tonight!!

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