Green With Envy, Jack Lemmon Get’s His Girl!
DIRECTED BY BILLY WILDER/1963
STREET DATE JULY 15, 2018/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
” It shows you the kind of world we live in. Love is illegal – but not hate. That you can do anywhere, anytime, to anybody. But if you want a little warmth, a little tenderness, a shoulder to cry on, a smile to cuddle up with, you have to hide in dark corners, like a criminal.”
Irma La Douce is not a new story, it’s as old as it gets. A beautiful Parisian prostitute known for her green tights and alcoholic dog finds love, true love in the arms of the first honest “John” she comes across, a down-on-his-luck ex-cop who just wants her “love”, exclusively. Charming, fun and full of twists this comedy from comedy king Billy Wilder was a smash hit back in 1963. It was the fifth highest grossing film of that year and had multiple Academy Nominations and a win for Best Score. Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Lou Jacobi all give fantastic performances and all the pieces are there for a hit but for some reason the charm was lost on me… Let’s dive in.
Shirley MacLaine plays Irma La Douce “Irma the Sweet” the most popular hooker in all Paris. Her pimp takes all her money, treats her rough and won’t even buy her curtains for her small studio apartment. Enter the naive young policeman Nestor Patou, Jack Lemmon. He’s shocked by the “red-light district” of Paris and on his first day arrests all the street walkers and humiliates all the men in their company, one being the police sergeant. He finds himself fired, poor, drunk and back at the same bar as Irma. They fall in love, he takes down Irma’s pimp and she makes Nestor her new panderer. But Nestor can’t get over the number of men who are asking for Irma, he wants her love all to himself. So with the help of bartender Moustache, Lou Jacobi, they concoct a plan so that Nestor is Irma’s only lover. Twists and surprises ensue and the story takes a turn that’s not in your average Moulin Rogue or Pretty Woman hooker story.
So here’s the upside, Irma La Douce is classic Billy Wilder tongue-in-cheek fun. He’s playing around with a hot button topic and making it light and silly. There’s no dark side to prostitution in this romp, Irma’s happy to sell herself to take care of her man! While this is not Wilder’s strongest work like Some Like It Hot or The Apartment, Irma La Douce is solid comedy and very enjoyable. The witty performances from Lemmon, MacLaine and Jacobi are fantastic and it’s fun to see the physical humor from each of them. Lemmon’s performance is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, his timing is perfect! The biggest laughs for me were from Jacobi who’s Moustache narrates the story and surprises Nestor with all of his life experience. And who can resist a young Shirley MacLaine in constant green bows and hosiery? She’s beautiful, believable and a force, no wonder Nestor falls in love with her instantly! It’s also fun to see Wilder back with his Apartment friends, Lemmon and MacLaine. The three of them have great chemistry, but MacLaine wasn’t Wilder’s first choice!
“It’s a hard way to earn an easy living.” – Moustache
Wilder was a Marilyn man, the one and only Marilyn Monroe that is and Irma was supposed to be a blonde! Wilder was insistent on getting the duo from Some Like It Hot back together with Lemmon and Monroe as his leads Nestor and Irma but tragedy hit in 1962 when Monroe took her own life. When you watch Irma La Douce, and you know about Monroe, Marilyn feels right for the part and MacLaine, while wonderful, feels like a distant second. Monroe isn’t the only thing missing from this frivolous farce, where’s the music? Irma La Douce is based on the 1956 French musical with the same name. As you watch the film in all it’s color and charm you are just waiting for Lemmon and his band of pimps to break out into dance or for the prostitutes in the streets to start snapping their fingers and MacLaine to lead them in a snappy tune. It feels like a musical without the music and this is one reason why the movie drags along.
Other reasons Irma seems exhausting are the length of the film and the never ending story line. At two and a half hours with no sing-a-longs and a story that continues to pivot and turn, it feels like too much. Something should have been cut or shortened; as the drama drags on, the funniness of the first half gets lost in the details. I found myself saying out loud to nobody… “How much longer can I watch Lemmon lose!” This is the small loss of the film, it’s still a great watch but just make sure you don’t start it at 10:00pm!
Kino Lorber does right by Wilder with the 4K restoration, all the charm of the original is there and the saturated colors dazzle the eyes! One of the Blu-ray extras is an audio commentary by Film Historian Kat Ellinger giving you all the details about the film, it’s director and actors. Super interesting and fascinating to listen to, these added details really make you appreciate and love the work of art that is Irma La Douce. This is a quality Blu-ray and a must have if you are a Wilder, Lemmon or MacLaine fan.