Irma La Douce – 1963 – English
Film directed in 1963 by Billy Wilder, and starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Jacobi, Bruce Yarnell, Herschel Bernardi, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee, Grace Lee Whitney, Paul Dubov, Howard McNear, Cliff Osmond, Diki Lerner, Herb Jones, Ruth Earl, Jane Earl, Tura Satana, Lou Krugman, James Brown, Bill Bixby, John Alvin, Susan Woods, Harriette Young, Sheryl Deauville, Billy Beck, Jack Sahakian, James Caan…
Synopsis: Naive, by the book French police officer Nester Patou, is transferred to the Red Light district. Upon witnessing what must be a brothel, he calls the station and organizes a raid, transporting all the ‘ladies’ to the jail. This unfortunately disrupts the well organized system of the police and the Pimps union. Not to mention inadvertently netting his station superior at the brothel. Fired, he goes to a bar to drink, is befriended by Irma, beats up her pimp, and finds he is now Irma’s new pimp. Nester’s doesn’t like the thought of his girl seeing other men, so comes up with a plan.
Review: Irma la Douce is a gem, one of Billy Wilders best films. Banned from TV for many years by network censors, it began as a Broadway play and ran from Sep 29, 1960 to Dec 31, 1961 playing at both the Plymouth Theatre and the Alvin Theatre in New York. It quickly won the attention of Hollywood and in 1963 debuted as a film starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. It is a love story, the story of a policeman turned reformer who falls madly in love with a beautiful young prostitute. The IBDB captures its essence best: “Irma La Douce” is not only French; it is intensely Parisian French. Set in an area tourists seek, but so seldom find, its musical idiom, its moral atmosphere, its plot and its argot are part of Paris not even all Parisians know; a part of Paris where the underworld is known as the “milieu.” A tart is a “poule,” a pimp is a “mec” and money is “grisbi.” If you remember Sam Seborn’s affair with a prostitute in the first season of West Wing, you have the advantage. Mix with this belief in the underlying goodness of a person with the enchanting music and backdrop of Paris and you will find yourself pulling for Nester (Lemmon) in his quest to win Irma’s hand. Marilyn Monroe was originally scheduled to play Irma but died before the film work began. As a credit to Wilder’s casting, Shirley MacLaine’s performance earned her an Oscar nomination for best actress. The film’s cinematography received its own Oscar nomination and the music took Hollywood by storm. It’s stunning Parisian melody, written by Marguerite Monnot and arranged for film by Andre Previn, won the Oscar for best music and remains one of the finest musical scores ever.
And within the cheerful comedy of the plot, the story’s philosopher shines bright as the mentor for Lester who struggles to overcome the muk of daily life. Being none other than the bar tender and owner of the Chez Moustache, the bar and stage center for much of the film, Moustache lends his shoulder to Lester and instructs him in the realities of life: life accepts no conscientious objector and must be approached as if it were a war where only the strong survive. In other words, face the world as it is, not as you were told it was.