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A Movie A Day: IRMA LA DOUCE (1963)
Shows you the kind of world we live in. Love is illegal, but not hate.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] I’ve seen most of Billy Wilder’s big movies… His SUNSET BLVDs, his DOUBLE INDEMNITYs, his Monroe flicks… But there’s something to watching two of his films back to back that you don’t get from watching his masterpieces over the years… You pick up on a visual fingerprint, a tonal voice, even in two completely different movies.

IRMA LA DOUCE is a radically different story from THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. Set in France, IRMA the unlikely love story between an uptight young police officer (Jack Lemmon) and a very successful hooker, the titular Irma La Douce (meaning Irma, The Sweet) played by Shirley MacLaine. She’s about as physically beautiful as she would ever be in this film… of course, I’m partial to the color green and that’s Irma’s favorite color. Her clothing, stockings and underwear are all green, which combines with her auburn hair to make gorgeous Christmas present I’d love to unwrap. Okay, that came off much creepier than it sounded in my mind. Sorry about that, but you get the point. MacLaine is adorable with a capital A in this movie.

Sure, this movie romanticizes prostitution and doesn’t ever deal with the dangers of it, outside of Irma’s asshole “manager,” but sometimes you don’t want reality. There are a thousand movies about the realities of prostitution… sometimes you need a little whimsy and romance. Lemmon starts out as the one honest cop in Paris who is walking his new beat when he notices a high number of attractive ladies lining a particular street. He inquires about them inside the local café, Chez Mustache, which is run by a character called (wait for it) Mustache, a kind of goofy guy who loves to tell tall tales. Or so you think at the beginning. About halfway through you’re not so sure he’s isn’t telling the truth about fighting in wars, working as a doctor, being a criminal mastermind, etc. Mustache is played by Lou Jacobi, a portly immediately likable man. He seems to be an overseer, the great watcher of everything going on in this story. Unlike Marvel’s big bald baby-man, Mustache likes to get involved. Sometimes it’s in a Jiminy Cricket way, usually with Jack Lemmon, trying to make him see the folly of “by the book” living. Something can be wrong and legal just as something can be right and illegal. Sometimes, he advises against common sense, sometimes he just sits back and lets shit happen, whipping out the seltzer bottle when things get too crazy. Needless to say, Lemmon doesn’t stay a cop long. He busts the entire street and upsets the pay-off routine, so that means his badge.

You can tell there’s some chemistry between Lemmon and MacLaine during the bust and that attraction, I assume, is what brings him back to this area when he’s let go. He sits down at Chez Mustache and consults with the wise and seemingly all-knowning Mustache. While there, he strikes up a conversation with Irma, which gets her pimp upset and he has some words with her about it. Lemmon is at the end of his nice guy rope, so when this pimp puts his manhandles Irma, Lemmon stands up to him, which begins a zany David and Goliath type bar-room brawl between the two. Lemmon only comes out on top because of sheer persistence and luck, but in doing so he essentially gains this pimp’s position in the pimp circle, including becoming Irma’s new “manager” and boyfriend. There are a few glorious days as their romance blossoms. His nice-guy persona is exactly what MacLaine wants and she wants to do good by him, show up the other girls on the street and really shower him with wealth and trinkets.

Which fuels the next big plot point. Lemmon just wants to take Irma and leave, wanting her off the street and out of the arms of strangers. Irma on the other hand thinks she’s losing any power to make her new boyfriend happy if she does that and her love only encourages her to take more johns. Together Mustache and Lemmon concoct a plan to limit Irma’s work by inventing a new, rich Lord who will pay her so much money per (non-sexual) visit that he could be her only client. Lemmon borrows 500 francs from Mustache and undergoes a make-up job and personality change, making himself unrecognizable. He uses his knowledge of the English from movies as the basis for his insane accent and knowledge of the UK. That means there are endless run-on sentences that have gibberish from events covered in films like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA.

Of course this sets off a chain reaction that really gums up the whole works. He soon finds himself in debt to Mustache and has to take a day job while Irma sleeps hauling fish and vegetables around the market, which only makes him exhausted and causes him to sleep through their free time together. Suspicions start and Irma thinks he’s falling out of love with her and sneaking off to see another girl… and soon enough she finds herself falling in love with Lord X! Now this movie does go to some ridiculous places including a last act that makes absolutely no fucking sense, but by that time I was with the movie and invested in both Lemmon and MacLaine, so I didn’t mind that there seemed to be 20 minutes of confrontation that could be avoided with one sentence spoken in an English accent. And that’s only the beginning… when Lemmon gets himself out of the police trouble he’s in he does so in a way that is at once the most unbelievable and the hardest for him to pull off. And don’t get me started on the very last minute… I love the last line, but what the hell? But like I said, the romance and chemisty between MacLaine and Lemmon combined with Wilder’s fantastic direction and his script with co-writer I.A.L. Diamond creates a lush, light and entertaining world that I greatly enjoyed spending some time in.

They also populated that world with a lot of really interesting characters, the best of which is Mustache, but film fans can spot a lot of great people, like Tura Satana from FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! as another girl of the streets, Bill Bixby as a sailor looking for a good time and James Caan’s first big screen appearance as a sailor listening to a hand radio. It’s pretty much a featured extra role, but he’s the focus of one shot and even in this small appearance (which consists of about 15 steps and a knowing smirk) you can tell this man was made to star in movies. Final Thoughts: The colors, the scope frame and music all add to an atmosphere of effortless entertainment. There are flaws in the story, but by the time they rear their heads you should be completely invested in these characters and want to follow it through with them. While not as instantly iconic as the previous Lemmon/MacLaine/Wilder team-up THE APARTMENT it has a fantasy quality that hits me dead center. I need to rewatch THE APARTMENT because my initial reaction is I prefer this film’s whimsy, even if I acknowledge the greatness of THE APARTMENT and that the story is less flawed than IRMA LA DOUCE. I just love MacLaine as Irma, the perfect character for her energy and innocent spunk and Lemmon’s Nestor is her perfect companion. I think this is a lovely movie and perfect for a hopeless romantic.

Here are the final run of A Movie A Day titles: Friday, January 2nd: THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE (1974)

Saturday, January 3rd: THE GOODBYE GIRL (1977)

Sunday, January 4th: LOST IN YONKERS (1993)

Monday, January 5th: THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975)

Tuesday, January 6th: CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978)

Wednesday, January 7th: A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977)

Tomorrow we move on to a Neil Simon run via Jack Lemmon! That Neil Simon run is what leads us to our final AMAD entry: A BRIDGE TOO FAR. Don't be sad, though. I have something special in the works, a fitting tribute to the column, I think, which will be going up the week after AMAD concludes. Stay tuned for more on that. See you guys for the next one, THE PRISONER OF 2ND AVENUE! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
December 11th: Being There
December 17th: The Party
December 18th: Casino Royale
December 19th: The StrangerDecember 20th: Brother Orchid
December 21st: The Petrified Forest
December 22nd: Moontide
December 23rd: Notorious
December 24th: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
December 25th: The High Commissioner
December 26th: The Silent Partner
December 27th: Payday
December 28th: A Stranger Is Watching
December 29th: The New Kids
December 30th: Serial
December 31st: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

Readers Talkback
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  • Jan. 2, 2009, 3:56 p.m. CST

    The world needs more films to romanticize prostitution....


  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:01 p.m. CST

    Pretty Woman!

    by CharyouTree

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:02 p.m. CST

    I agree MacLaine was hot back in the day.

    by Tacom

    Especially in this movie.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:03 p.m. CST

    Always thought the title was Irma La Douche

    by skimn

    and had to do with feminine hygene.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:06 p.m. CST

    And look at that cast for California Suite!!

    by skimn

    They don't make em like that anymore.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:08 p.m. CST

    Look for Grace Lee Whitney (Star Trek's Janice Rand)

    by C.K. Lamoo

    As on of the hookers in some hot outfits.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:21 p.m. CST

    And a young James Caan! Anyway....

    by earlfist

    For the first hour this is so superb and then it jusy goes down toilet fast. I love Lemmon and I'm in love with Shirley and I love the first half of this flick. I don't think this compares to "the apartment" Which works as both a romance and a satire. Still better than an Owen Wilson flick.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:29 p.m. CST

    I'm a La douche

    by IndyAbbey Jones

    isn't that what Shia Labuef would say if he were french-itallian

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:43 p.m. CST

    Condolences to John Travolta and his family

    by skimn

    His teenage son Jett passed away. Death at a young age is so tragic.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:55 p.m. CST

    I love the last twist.

    by CorpseRide

    Even though it makes no literal sense. It's just the perfect end of a shaggy dog fantasy, a little wink to the audience about the sillyness of the movie. A director needs to be very sure about what he thinks his movie is to put that something that absurd in there - in a way, it's not disimilar to the ending of Being There - half the audience will laugh and applaud and the other half will just go 'wut?'.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 4:57 p.m. CST

    A Movie a Day, still? Really?

    by Trazadone

    Jesus, I thought this annoying column would end with 2008. How about, "I read a book a day"? "Getting some exercise a day"? "I did something meaningful with my life a day"? Seriously, it's just sad, man. I figure you spend about 20 hours/week watching and reviewing movies the whole world has already seen. You usually get about 6-12 people commenting, which essentially means that you're wasting an awful lot of time. Can't you move it out of "Latest news" at least? It's not news that you're watching old movies, it's just a mood killer. I don't know why, but it just depresses me every time I see it.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 5:04 p.m. CST

    la douche is french for ...

    by abetyler

    the shower

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 5:30 p.m. CST

    I get depressed everytime I see Trazadone's name

    by Continentalop

    Maybe you should make a column called "Bitching For a Day." At least that way I can avoid it.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 5:51 p.m. CST

    its ok skimn

    by IndyAbbey Jones

    Nic cage did shoot travoltas son, but in an odd twist of fate travolta will adopt cage's son by the end of the its a happy ending<P>sorry to give away the ending, but really who hasn't seen that movie before?

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 6:03 p.m. CST

    This Column's Merit...

    by Flummage

    Is, of course, a subjective one, different people have different opinions etc...etc...</p> But, quite honestly, I would offer that this is very possibly one of Ian’s quietly finest moments. Not a single instance of writerly show and tell, or a grandstanding news coup probably forgotten as soon it's arrived, whatever it's worth. Not some incalculable function in 21st century societal consumerist/consumer revolutions... but a steady, diligent, generously written example of love for cinema.<p> AICN is hardly the only place on the internet to get film digestables, almost certainly not the best, but as an example a modern movie geek's understanding and exploration of cinema, of a more retrospective adoration of the medium, it's as good as this site has ever had. When I find the time to read it, the column is always appreciated and it will certainly be missed when it's gone. </p> As you were, Quint.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 6:14 p.m. CST


    by Flummage

    My spellcheck's favourite AICN substitute harpy. How he mocks us all.<p> Damn you, Ian.<p> Damn you.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 6:45 p.m. CST

    well, this column IS depressing

    by Stengah

    mm these movie a day articles get what.. 15, 20 hits a day? every time i see those itallics, i just want to close my laptop. no offense to quint, i can tell you put alot of effort into the column.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 6:50 p.m. CST

    i hate AMAD

    by IndyAbbey Jones

    its such a terrible idea for a column

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 7:14 p.m. CST

    Is that even her in the DVD cover?

    by gotilk

    Jeeze, could they have picked a worse shot of her. I mean look at all the other pictures from the film. My gahd she looked good.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 7:23 p.m. CST


    by Quint

    If it's not your thing, no worries, but don't feel sorry for the readership. You can't judge popularity by talkbacks alone. If that was the case Scriptgirl would be the most popular feature of this site.<BR><BR>The talkbacks depend, usually, on how well known the movie I'm talking about is. The Hitchcock talkbacks are always big... The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes one from yesterday is inching towards 100 TBs... but if there were 3 talkbacks on each article that wouldn't matter to me. As long as the feedback I keep getting through email, TB and personal encounters stayed at the same level I'd be fine. This column has been the most popular thing I've done for this site.<BR><BR>If I could keep the column going without break for another 7 months I'd do it in a heartbeat, but I just can't keep up the balancing act and need to shift my focus to daily news as well as other responsibilities new to 2009.<BR><BR>That said, I am definitely going to keep up a vintage film conversation on this site. It's one of my passions now and that's not going away even if AMAD has to come to an end.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 7:32 p.m. CST

    What a Way to Go

    by johnnyangelheart

    Is my favorite Shirley MacLaine movie. It seems to be on TV fairly often so you have probably seen it already.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 8:59 p.m. CST

    maybe once a week? AMAW

    by jrags1138

    I dusted off the deluxe Double Indemnity last night and will rewatch Apartment for tonight, excellent choices on your lists keep me digging through my stacks, plus I have become addicted to Turner Classic channel

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 9:02 p.m. CST

    What the fuck...

    by mode_7 with mori's new site? The dude might as well be working for fucking entertainment weekly or something. Off topic I know, but this talkback was the most active so fuck off.

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 9:57 p.m. CST

    I don't know...

    by wampa 1

    ...but it sure smells good!

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 10:15 p.m. CST

    ooooh man...

    by RockLobster800

    Shirley Mac Claine was soooo friggin cute back in the day. I was absolutely head over heals for that girl in this and The Apartment-she is a poster for why people shouldnt get old. It's tragic because she couldnt help it, but she was a major hottie back in they day by gum!

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 10:16 p.m. CST

    or mac laine even..

    by RockLobster800

    damn..the point still stands!

  • Jan. 2, 2009, 10:25 p.m. CST


    by Stengah

    Hopefuly I didn't offend you man. I apreciate your contributions to the website, and I actually enjoy your writing but yes i dont think this column is for me. I've enjoyed some articles from the column too, especially october. But anyway, last week of AMAD, you're almost at the finish line.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 4:47 a.m. CST

    should be 7MAD


    SEVEN MOVIES A DAY. C'mon, pussy!

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 6:25 a.m. CST

    You're lazy!!!

    by Frightreviews

    Hahaha jk. I bet with Mori gone Quint is picking up some slack, so this isn't too surprising. Still, I enjoyed the column (except in October... *old man shaking fist*) and like many others, heard about some movies I should check out. So thanks for the all too brief run sir. <br><br> And trazadone, feel free to continue your daily bitching at my site ( you think Quint's sad? I'm coming up on 2 years of daily horror movies. I've watched more DTV sequels than a man ever should. And i probably get 1/100th of the hits per review that AMAD does. Mock away...

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 6:43 a.m. CST

    Quint - Sincerely, thank you!

    by Mr. Poohgas

    I've appreciated AMAD since the beginning, I don't think I've missed one of them. I'm going to miss them when they are gone, but you're only human ... or half-human ... maybe a Sub-Mariner.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 10:19 a.m. CST

    This has been a cool feature

    by losder

    It's sort of like eating spinach. I could take it or leave it on some level, but it's been good for me.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 11:48 a.m. CST

    Tura Satana was more than an actress in this film

    by Bloodstained

    She was also Billy Wilder's top mistress at the time and was fucking his brains out every chance they could get to be together.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 11:54 a.m. CST


    by Negator76

    --You know what this site could use less of? Dickheads like you with no appreciation for film, who bitch and moan about everything they're too lazy to scroll past. You think AMAD is a 'mood killer'? Since when do dipshits like you need to be in the 'mood' to masturbate yourselves raw? Shut it down, kid. You're seriously asking for a punch in the cunt.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 1:25 p.m. CST

    Quint, I loved this series!

    by TattooedBillionaire

    I don't always post, but I'm always reading. Idiots like Trazadone aren't really films fans and are only here waiting for the next superhero news, so just ignore that shit.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 2:38 p.m. CST

    What ? Movies were created in 1977

    by theplant

    You can't fool me. Star Wars was the first movie ever made.

  • Jan. 3, 2009, 3:28 p.m. CST

    Whats wrong with waiting for the next superhero news?

    by crazybubba

  • Jan. 7, 2009, 1 p.m. CST

    It was the best column I have read here.

    by dannyocean


  • Jan. 9, 2009, 8:40 a.m. CST

    Just read an article in the washington post

    by crazybubba

    that not only is Obama a Spidey fan(one of the writers on AICN has already mentioned this), but so is the guy he nominated to be the surgeon general, sanjay gupta, a doctor who does a show on CNN. Just sayin for those comic book snobs.