Walter Matthau plays a professional killer going by the name of Trabucco, who is on his way to rub out gangster Rudy "Disco" Gambola, set to testify against the mob. As Trabucco heads off ... See full summary »
Director Billy Wilder salutes his idol, Ernst Lubitsch, with this comedy about a middle-aged playboy fascinated by the daughter of a private detective who has been hired to entrap him with the wife of a client.
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. Written by
Brian W Martz <B.Martz@Genie.com>
The production designer Alexander Trauner imported from France all the window glass used in the sets windows, as well as materials (iron for railings) used in the sets construction. The window glass was imperfect, wavy, with air bubbles. All the street shop windows, apartment mullioned windows were cut from this imported glass material. Parisienne street lamps, street fire hydrant plumbing hardware, as well as the sets' hardware for door latches, window latches, locks, were air-lifted to the States, delivered to the Goldwyn Studio for the feature. These items were matched, molded and fabricated in the film's staff shop, duplicated in fiberglass. The "L" plan of the three streets converging at the central street core conversion (at the) "Cafe Moustache" was designed in a theatrically forced perspective plan layout. The left side of the street extended through an adjoining (shared wall) stage door. The "T" plan of the central street extended to the rear stage wall, extremely forced in perspective. Minature French "toy" cars, approximately three feet long by fifteen, to eighteen inches high, were maneuvered on wires. The false perspective street raised in height above the stage floor approximately three feet. Scenically, the street's facade of shops were scaled and painted to recede as calculated for the reduced perspective horizon plane. Harold Michaelson, the film's illustrator, a genius at laying out perspective, calculated all the perspective plans and elevations for the three street ends. Atmosphere "extra casting" were hired, utilizing small (midgets) actors for all background action shots. Rain pipes were hung over the entire street set for the rain sequences, with the street's gutter system planned to flush the water out of the stage through stage wall drainage systems into the exterior adjacent studio street. The second story atelier set was located on the same stage, situated behind the street facade. This set was twenty feet off the ground, accessed by ladders. Fork lifts were used to deliver camera equipment and lighting equipment. The cast and crew had to use the ladders to climb up or down to and from the set. A minimum crew were allowed on the scaffold set with Jack Lemon, Shirley MacLaine and Billy Wilder. While filming their scenes in this small environment, the wonderful rapport between the two actors and Wilder was a "very private funny scenario". Behind this set, the scenic shop-department was located on the stage rear wall, with a paint frame and 20' high deck for the scenic artists to work from while painting the film's scenic drops. Additional stages were used for the "les Halls" and the Cathedral interiors. The beef carcass used for set dressing in the meat market were white plastic formed vacuums completely assembled. Twenty scenic artists painted these carcasses with oil paints, using sponges, fine hair paint brushes, using scenic techniques reproducing fresh marbled fat grained meat. All the cathedral stained glass leaded windows were also scenically oil painted on the imported French glass materials. See more »
The shadow of the "boom" can be seen on the brown wall, at the right of the screen, just after Lemmon shows up in MacLaine's apartment, following his jailbreak. It shows up behind Bernardi, just after MacLaine's sarcasm that Lemmon could be found in jail. See more »
When I first saw Irma La Douce as much as I liked it, I was puzzled by the fact that Billy Wilder had chosen to do this hit musical without any songs in it. Very much like Fanny from a few years ago which also had a French setting and came to the screen without its score. The Broadway cast album was a staple in my house and I certainly enjoyed the songs that Keith Mitchell and Elizabeth Seal and the rest of the cast did on Broadway.
What made it more puzzling was the presence of Bruce Yarnell in the movie cast, the possessor of a really nice baritone voice, he played opposite Ethel Merman in the Lincoln Center revival of Annie Get Your Gun. That together with the fact Shirley MacLaine first made her mark in musical roles, in fact she had starred in the screen version of Can-Can the two years before.
Well, according to the recent biography of Billy Wilder by Ed Sikov in fact this film started out as a musical. Somewhere there is some footage of MacLaine, Yarnell, possibly even Jack Lemmon and Lou Jacobi doing some musical numbers lying in a vault somewhere. Wilder said he thought the numbers slowed the pace of the story and midpoint in the film he just scrapped what he had shot and didn't bother with the rest.
Personally I wish he had kept the numbers in, maybe it would have made Irma La Douce run too long. Who knows maybe we'll get to see them some day.
Shirley MacLaine got an Oscar nomination for her performance in the title role. She's a good natured working girl who has the misfortune to get busted by the one cop in Paris who is not winking at prostitution on his first day on his new beat. That would be Jack Lemmon who for his honest law enforcement gets himself fired.
That far from ends it as Lemmon falls for MacLaine and like he did in The Apartment sees himself as her savior. The rest of the film is the ridiculous lengths Lemmon goes to save MacLaine from her life of sin and debauchery.
His one confidante is Lou Jacobi who plays Moustache the owner of a local bistro where the girls and their mecs(that's French for pimp) hang out. His role was originally intended for Charles Laughton.
Billy Wilder has a well deserved reputation as a cynical observer of humankind and had some run ins with several Hollywood greats. But he became an unabashed admirer of Charles Laughton after working with him on Witness for the Prosecution. The tenderest part of that Wilder biography tells about how Wilder kept visiting Laughton up to the end discussing the part with both of them knowing it was never to be. Yet I wish Laughton had lived to do the part. It would really have been special.
Bruce Yarnell's part is that of MacLaine's mec. His career too was tragically cut short by a plane crash that he was killed in later in the decade. Terrific voice, nice screen and stage presence, what a terrible thing to happen.
Though I would have liked to have seen the musical, I can't fault Billy Wilder's production of Irma La Douce. The fact that this came to the screen at all was further demonstration of the Code finally being lifted from the backs of the creative.
Maybe we will see a full blown musical adaptation of Irma La Douce some day. But that's another story.
18 of 26 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?