Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Jacobi
BBFC Certification: 15
Duration: 143 mins
The films “Irma La Douce” and “The Apartment“, were my early introductions to Billy Wilder’s distinct brand of comedy, and not surprisingly, I was hooked. Irma La Douce was one in a string of hits for Billy Wilder, Jack Lemon and Shirley MacLaine, who between them, along with writer, IAL Diamond, collaborated on such black and white classics as “Some Like it Hot” and “The Apartment”, which foreshadowed the aptly more colourful and risqué Irma La Douce.
The film’s title refers to lead character, Irma La Douce (i.e. ‘the Sweet’), a Paris prostitute at the top of her game with a successful gimmick (involving an alcoholic pet dog) in snaring customers. Shirley MacLaine plays the Irma character with such superb sense of ownership and authenticity for which she was nominated for an Academy award.
The story starts out when a straight-as-arrow new cop, Nestor (Jack Lemmon) is assigned to the meat and fresh produce market fondly known as “the stomach of Paris”, which also covers a thriving red light district on Rue Casanova. However, unbeknownst to Nestor, there already exists a mutually beneficial alliance between prostitutes, customers, pimps and cops, in a live-and-let-live approach to life and business, as eloquently described by the film’s narrator character – a know-it-all bartender and proprietor of everyones favourite watering hole Chez Moustache.
Nestor stumbles and crashes into this world when he raids the prostitutes main place of business in Hotel Casanova and arrests everyone on the premises, including his new commander who so happened to be sampling the benefits of aforementioned alliance at that particular time. Needless to say, Nestor is soon out of a job and washes up in the bar where after a fight he ends up as Irma’s pimp and protector. Things look very rosy until Nestor falls in love with Irma and, overcome with jealousy, he undertakes to become her one and only customer in the guise of mysterious British aristocrat, Lord X. As you can imagine this sets the ball rolling with the ensuing complications and pure laugh out loud comedy as he tries o hold it all together with much success.
The pace of this film, the masterful comedy and colourful character realisations make it, (along with other hits in Billy Wilder’s collection) a riotous triumph of pure entertainment at its best. These films stand out as perfect vehicles for rom com story-telling with both an eye for the ludicrous as well as a certain heart-warming sweetness so often lost in more modern equivalents.
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