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Irma La Douce
Remind Me
,Irma La Douce

Irma La Douce

Marilyn Monroe as a Parisian hooker? It's hard to believe but the blonde superstar was originally in the running for the title role in Billy Wilder's Irma La Douce (1963). Despite the fact that Monroe and Wilder had clashed repeatedly during the making of Some Like It Hot (1959), both realized the advantages of working together again since the latter film had become a box office smash. Contract negotiations were proceeding smoothly until Monroe read some unflattering comments from Wilder in the newspaper about her inability to remember lines. She called his home, leaving a scathing message with his wife, and that was the end of their new collaboration. It was just as well because Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond had yet to come up with a suitable screenplay for Irma La Douce which was based on a popular 1956 French stage musical. (There was also a Broadway adaptation with a British cast.)

Three years and two films later (The Apartment (1960), One, Two, Three, 1961), Wilder and Diamond finally came up with a solution. They relegated the musical numbers to the background, cast Shirley MacLaine as the carefree, unrepentant streetwalker of the title, and proceeded to make a tart comedy about prostitution and society's hypocritical attitudes toward it. I.A.L. Diamond was quoted as saying, "The prostitute is one of the most pervasive figures in literature and has always held a peculiar fascination for writers and audiences. On screen, she is usually portrayed as a hard-boiled 'hostess' or a tragic figure leaning against a lamppost. But the poules around Les Halles, whatever their personal problems, are a raucous bunch. And this is the spirit we have tried to capture on film."

To prepare for the title role, Shirley MacLaine, accompanied by co-star Jack Lemmon, had an extensive interview with a professional prostitute in Paris by the name of Marguerite. In fact, their research session was interrupted at least once when Marguerite hurried away briefly to service one of her clients. As for Lemmon, many of his closest friends warned him about accepting the part of Nestor, the naive cop who eventually becomes Irma's pimp. They said it would ruin his image but these same people had also urged him not to appear in Some Like It Hot, arguing that the drag gimmick would grow tiresome quickly. Once again, Lemmon followed his instincts and practically stole the film. The New York Times review said, "Mr. Lemmon is little short of brilliant - vigorous, incisive and deft. His magnificently keen and agile clowning is what really carries this film."

Irma La Douce was mostly filmed on the Sam Goldwyn lot in Hollywood where Alexander Trauner had designed an authentic-looking Parisian set featuring a winding street in a red-light district. Exterior shots were filmed on location in Paris and Andre Previn was recruited to compose and conduct the score. In his autobiography, No Minor Chords, Previn wrote, "I remember a long scene in Irma La Douce in which Jack Lemmon, the complete innocent, prepared for his first carnal night with Shirley MacLaine. The sequence was full of jokes, both verbal and visual, and the trap of underlining all the comedic bits with music was certainly seductive. Billy asked me to write romantic music instead; not erotically romantic, but sweetly and simply so, disregarding all the pratfalls. Of course he was right, and the final result was curiously touching."

At the 1963 Academy Award ceremony Previn won the Oscar for Best Music Score. Irma La Douce also received Oscar nominations for Shirley MacLaine (Best Actress) and Joseph LaShelle (Best Cinematography). Film buffs will spot Tura Satana (star of Russ Meyer's Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill!, 1965) and Bill Bixby (TV's The Incredible Hulk) in minor roles.

Director/Producer/Screenwriter: Billy Wilder
Cinematographer: Joseph La Shelle
Composer: Andre Previn
Editor: Dan Mandell
Art Director: Alexandre Trauner
Associate Producer/Screenwriter: I.A.L. Diamond
Associate Producer: Doane Harrison
Set Designer: Maurice Barnathan, Edward Boyle
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly
Cast: Jack Lemmon (Nestor Patou/Lord X), Shirley MacLaine (Irma La Douce), Lou Jacobi (Moustache), Bruce Yarnell (Hippolyte), Herschel Bernardi (Inspector Lefevre), Hope Holiday (Lolita), Tura Satana (Suzette Wong), Bill Bixby (Tattooed Sailor), Herb Jones (Casablanca Charlie), Louis Jourdan (Narrator)
C-143m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford