Review: Irma La Douce (1963)


Who knew prostitution was such a mad cap profession full of nothing but laughs and hilarity!

Written By: I.A.L. Diamond & Billy Wilder
Directed By: Billy Wilder

Irma La Douce attempts to take a serious subject matter and turn it into a complete and total farce. This approach can and has worked many times, but it doesn’t work in Irma La Douce. Part of the problem is the romanticism that Wilder and company tack onto the pimp/prostitute relationship. I dare say that not many prostitutes throughout the history of time would agree with the bright and cheery relationship with smatterings of arm twisting and love that embodies the pimp and prostitute existence in Irma La Douce. Movies don’t need to be realistic, but putting such a cheery spin on this particular subject didn’t work for me.

A major reason that Irma La Douce didn’t work for me was Jack Lemmon. Up till this film I considered Lemmon to be a good comedic actor, but he was quite the opposite here. He hammed it up in every scene, taking jokes past the point of no return, going far too overboard in the physical comedy, in general making me care less about a movie that I was already having trouble connecting with in the first place. Shirley MacLaine was quite charming, and sexy, as Irma, but her character suffers from being paired up with Lemmon and having to work with his nonstop slapstick. The same is true of Lou Jacobi, and just about everyone else in the cast for the most part.

What I missed most from Irma La Douce was the trademark witty dialogue and smart writing from Wilder. I didn’t find much wit at all in Irma La Douce and the character of Lord X was the opposite of smart, dumb and not funny in any way. Some of this was avenged in Wilder’s direction, I did like his visual take on the French streets and on the smallness of the lifestyles being led.

The saddest thing about Irma La Douce is that deep down there is a good movie present. There were moments where I laughed a lot, or where I was caught up in the films charm or the sex appeal it was striving for. But, those moments were overpowered by the many moments where I cringed at another Jack Lemmon joke fallen flat or the story getting so preposterous it went beyond even farce capacity. Lastly, Irma La Douce was far too long, staying well past the point when it should have ended. The actual ending felt more like a whimper after the film had sputtered along for a good fifteen minutes too long.

I had good expectations going into Irma La Douce, and it’s safe to say that I was let down. This is the first film from Billy Wilder that I haven’t liked and it’s the first time I’ve felt the need to repeatedly cringe, and not in a good way, while watching Jack Lemmon going completely out of control on my TV screen. If you are a big Shirley MacLaine fan then you will no doubt want to see Irma La Douce, the same goes if you are a Wilder completist. Otherwise I can’t recommend this film to anyone, green stockings or not.




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