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Click above to purchase "Irma La Douce" at amazon.com

 

Irma La Douce

review by Zach B. and Anthony D.

 

Rated G

Studio: MGM

Running Time: 143 minutes

Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine

Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
Based on the play by Alexandre Breffort

Directed by Billy Wilder

Retail Price: $19.98

Features: Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, English Closed Captions, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Scene Selections (16 Scenes)

Billy Wilder tackles prostitution, and the censors don't really care anymore. Following a string of comedies which shook the censors - - "the Seven Year Itch," "The Apartment," "Some Like it Hot" - - Hollywood grew up (or gave up), when Wilder took the hit international musical about a good-natured Parisian poule as the basis for his follow-up to the Academy Award honored "The Apartment."

"Irma La Douce" has been a great musical comedy hit in Paris before transferring in an English translation to London's West End; an engagement which lead to a hit Broadway production featuring most of its London Cast. With a strong box office as well as a highly successful touring company, "Irma La Douce" arrived stateside at the importune time when the majority of hit musicals from Broadway were guaranteed a film version. In retrospect, Wilder was the ideal director for this material (which though dealing with mature subject material, was quite suitable family fare), but having not quite been successful with the musical genre before, Wilder elected to jettison the musical numbers with mixed results. That which had made the material unique vanished, turning "Irma La Douce" into a pedestrian boulevardier farce. Without its charming song score, "Irma La Douce" became a dour comedy; an extended comedy sketch made palpable ONLY through Wilder's direction and his choice of actors.

They say that casting is ninety percent of the battle, and though only Jack Lemmon was assured his role, "Irma La Douce" initially was touted as a vehicle for Elizabeth Taylor - - who would have been right for a non-singing or dancing Irma, but the role ultimately went to former Broadway gypsy Shirley MacLaine, whose performance could have only been enhanced by the songs and dances! The role of the narrator played by Lou Jacobi was to have been played by Charles Laughton, whose demise prevented him from appearing. While Jacobi is serviceable, Laughton's droll Brit wit would have firmly anchored the character.

Sans songs, "Irma La Douce" tells a tale of Pigalle - the belly of Paris - where poules (hookers) earn grisbee (money) with which they pay off their mecs (pimps). It is a tale of lust, greed, love and murder: all the things that make life worth living. The law is represented by neophyte inspector Nestor Latou (Lemmon) who falls for Irma (MacLaine, "la douce" being "the soft one") becomes her mec, then to insure that she no longer has to turn tricks, disguises himself as an impotent British lord who will pay to have Irma read to him! The grisbee is tight, and Nestor must work twenty-four-seven to pay for Irma's time with Lord X. Becoming a helpless wreck of a mec, Nestor "kills" his alter-ego by tossing his costume into the Seine; however, he is seen as a murderer in the eyes of the legal system, and unless a miracle can save him, must suffer the fate of all murderers. Everything is played big and broad in the best farcical tradition across a broad Panavision canvas. This is a cotton candied Technicolor confection of Paris created on vast soundstages. Plenty of laughs abound, most notably from Lemmon's Patou - - a priceless shot of his weary face amid severed hogs' heads of the slaughter yards speaks volumes. MacLaine's Irma however is more often abrasive rather than sweet or soft, it would be several more years before she could believably portray another "sweet" hooker in a real musical (Bob Fosse's "Sweet Charity"); and though Shirley is not always right as Irma, one can't help but wondering if an Irma from Elizabeth Taylor would have been a little more on "la Douce" side of things.

With a script by Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond, adapted from Alexander Breffort's stage script, "Irma La Douce" lays on lovely little bits of humor which are delightfully brought to life by a strong ensemble of familiar faces traipsing across the screen. James ("The Godfather") Caan has a bit role, one of his first screen appearances; television's David Banner and Eddie's Father Bill Bixby is a tattooed sailor; Broadway veteran Bruce Yarnell ("Annie Get Your Gun) is a very mean-spirited former mec who treats Irma irresponsibly; Herschel Bernardi, star of several television series appears as a police inspector, and Wilder good-luck-charm Joan Shawlee, whose Sweet Sue in "Some Like it Hot" is one of that film's many highlights, lead the parade of poules with names like Amazon Annie, Kiki the Cossack, Mimi the MauMau, Lolita (Hope Holiday doing her best Sue Lyon impression) and Suzette Wong. Andre Previn adapted the musical score utilizing nearly all of Marguerite Monnot's melodies from the stage vehicle, creating a favorite film soundtrack in the bargain.

Wilder fans need to have "Irma La Douce" added to their collections, while musical theater mavens will be as disappointed by a non-musical-musical as much as they were by Joshua Logan's "Fanny." MacLaine, as stated, is always worth watching, but despite rumors to the contrary, "Irma La Douce" is not one of her finer moments, whereas Jack Lemmon's physicality has never been put to better use than in his excellent work with Wilder.

"Irma La Douce" is in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and despite its flaws, looks good for what it is. You'll find a lot of pieces of dirt, scratches, and blemishes. Shimmering and grain is also there, and while there is an abundance, it's pretty good. Detail is very good, color saturation and black levels also look good too. There's a balance in this transfer, which I like. Overall, it could use a little more cleaning up but not bad at all. Pretty superb if you ask me, especially the exterior shots.

Pure classic mono in English, French and Spanish! No fancy remixes here! Yes the range is limited, but nothing overlaps and dialogue sounds quite crisp and clear. It's not distorted, and all the elements blend together perfectly. English closed captions, plus French and Spanish subtitles are included.

No keep case insert, but the nearly four minute Theatrical Trailer in anamorphic widescreen. It's nice, and even feels like a movie itself.

"Irma La Douce" is one of Wilder's better film achievments that is sure to entertain and features great performances. A trailer, but decent presentation for a low price makes this a worthy addition to any film lover's DVD collection.

(3.5/5 - NOT included in final score)

(3.5/5)

(3/5)

(2/5)

(3/5, NOT an average)

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