Lowdown: A guy in love with a prostitute will do anything to ensure she’s his alone.
Irma la Douce (1963) is another one of those Billy Wilder films that are widely considered as classics despite their light nature. The film belongs firmly to that special Wilder breed that includes members such as Some Like It Hot. Given that I am a Wilder fan I sought the opportunity to revisit Irma, and this past weekend I got it.
Set at a Parisian seedy market the story follows Irma (Shirley MacLaine), commonly known as Irma la Douce, a prostitute widely popular and acknowledged as the area's top of the pops. She lives in a positively corrupt environment, between vicious pimps that are busy gambling their women's money away and corrupt cops. Things change when a decent policeman arrives at the scene in the shape of Jack Lemmon. He sticks out so badly that he loses his job on his first day out, but Irma picks him up and shortly after they become a couple. Only that Lemmon cannot stand the thought of others sharing his Shirley/Irma with him, so he goes and does all sorts of crazy things to earn exclusive rights.
The similarities between the Some Like It Hot formula and Iram la Douce’s are fairly obvious. Both involve a young hot woman that’s worshipped for her looks, and both involve men putting on customs in order to secure the “services” of their respective women. Obviously, Billy Wilder realized he hit a soft spot with movie audiences, but to his credit his male leads are awfully good at their job; the females are not bad, either.
What else can I say about Irma la Douce? Well, at times it’s funny, at other times it’s ridiculous/stupid, but there can be no denying one thing – Jack Lemmon is an immensely talented actor. Oh, and Shirley MacLaine used to be a knockout.
Other than that there is not much to say about this film. It doesn’t feel like a film, really, if we’re being honest: it’s more like a play, with a limited number of sets and characters. Indeed, you may even argue production values are rather poor given that the story is supposed to be set in Paris but virtually no one looks even remotely French.
Technical assessment: For the record, we had this film on our recorder for more than a year since Channel 7 aired it in HDTV. I am making this comment for two reasons: first, to say that if this counts as HDTV quality then we’re all doomed. Second, the film’s credits sport a Panavision logo, which at the time implied a very wide presentation (probably around 2.35:1); the version aired by Channel 7 sported black bars on each side of the frame, not even filling our 16:9 screen. Channel 7, you suck!
Overall: Good light entertainment at 3 out of 5 stars.