Irma la Douce

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Irma la Douce
Theatrical release poster
Directed byBilly Wilder
Screenplay by
Based onIrma la Douce
1956 play
by Alexandre Breffort
Produced by
CinematographyJoseph LaShelle
Edited byDaniel Mandell
Music byAndré Previn
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • June 5, 1963 (1963-06-05)
Running time
147 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$25.2 million[2]

Irma la Douce (French: [iʁ.ma la dus], "Irma the Sweet") is a 1963 American romantic comedy film directed by Billy Wilder from a screenplay he co-wrote with I. A. L. Diamond, based on the 1956 French stage musical of the same name by Marguerite Monnot and Alexandre Breffort.[3] The film stars Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.


Nestor Patou, an honest policeman, has been transferred from the Bois de Boulogne to Les Halles, a more urban neighborhood in Paris. He finds a street full of prostitutes working at the Hotel Casanova and raids the place. The inspector fires Nestor, who is mistakenly framed for bribery.

Kicked off the force and humiliated, Nestor finds himself drawn to the very neighborhood that ended his career with the Paris police—returning to Chez Moustache, a popular tavern for prostitutes and pimps. Down on his luck, Nestor befriends Irma la Douce, a popular prostitute. He reluctantly accepts, as a confidant, the proprietor of Chez Moustache, a man known only as Moustache. In a running joke, Moustache tells of a storied prior life, claiming to have been, among other things, an attorney, a colonel in the Foreign Legion, and a doctor who worked with Albert Schweitzer in Africa, ending with the repeated line, "but that's another story". After saving Irma from her abusive pimp, Hippolyte, Nestor moves in with her, and unwittingly becomes a new one.

Nestor becomes infatuated and devises a plan to derail Irma's life as a prostitute. With the help of Moustache, Nestor disguises himself as Lord X, a wealthy English lord, who becomes Irma's exclusive client. Lord X has supposedly been rendered impotent by his service in World War II but is eager to support her in exchange for two visits each week. To finance Lord X's expensive habit, Nestor takes graveyard shifts in the marketplace; missing all night and tired all day, Irma suspects an affair.

Irma seduces Lord X and persuades him to take her to England. At that point, Nestor decides to end the charade and kill off his alter ego. Unaware he is being tailed by Hippolyte, he tosses his disguise into the Seine. Seeing Lord X's clothes floating in the water, Hippolyte concludes Nestor killed him.

Arrested and sent to prison, Nestor escapes when he discovers that Irma is pregnant. He narrowly avoids being recaptured when the police search for him at the apartment; donning his old uniform, Nestor blends in with the other police and eludes capture.

With the help of Hippolyte, Nestor arranges for the police to search for him along the Seine from which, dressed as Lord X, he emerges. Vindicated of the murder, Nestor and Irma agree to get married. At the church, Irma goes into labor and has their baby. Moustache identifies the real Lord X as a guest. As Lord X leaves, a clearly baffled Moustache looks at the audience.



The film was conceived in 1962 as a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe.[4] The project would have reunited her with Wilder and Lemmon, both of whom had worked with her on Some Like It Hot. After Monroe's death, Shirley MacLaine was cast in the film after starring in The Apartment.[5] MacLaine was paid $350,000 plus a percentage.[6]

While the film was mostly shot at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio in Hollywood, some exteriors were shot around Paris: Les Halles, the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, and the banks of the Seine.


The film was successful, grossing $25,246,588 in the United States and Canada[2] on a budget of $5 million.[1] It was the fifth highest-grossing film of 1963, earning an estimated $12 million in rentals in the United States and Canada.[7] Irma la Douce earned over $15 million in worldwide rentals, but because of profit participation for Wilder and the two stars, United Artists only made a profit of $440,000 during the film's theatrical run.[6] It was the most popular film of all time in the Netherlands with admissions of 3.6 million.[8]

Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it "a brisk and bubbly film" with Lemmon "little short of brilliant" and MacLaine having "a wonderously casual and candid air that sweeps indignation before it and leaves one sweetly enamoured of her."[9] Variety praised the "scintillating performances" by Lemmon and MacLaine but thought that the film "lacks the originality of some of Wilder's recent efforts" and that the 147-minute running time was "an awfully long haul for a frivolous farce."[10] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times reported that "I found it a brilliant, though outrageously outspoken comedy."[11] Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post panned the film as "overblown and overlong, two hours and three quarters tediously spent on a single joke."[12] The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "Though the film stretches for two and a third hours, and rarely ventures away from the two principals and the studio-built Rue Casanova, the humour and spontaneity endure surprisingly well ... most credit goes to Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon for yet another tour de force of comedy playing."[13] The film has a rating of 76% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.[14]


Year Award Category Recipients and nominees Results
1963 Academy Awards Best Original Score Andre Previn Won[15]
Best Cinematography, Color Joseph LaShelle Nominated[15]
Best Actress Shirley MacLaine Nominated[15]
Golden Globe Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical Shirley MacLaine Won[16]
Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy Jack Lemmon Nominated[16]
Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical Irma la Douce Nominated[16]
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Actress (Migliore Attrice Straniera) Shirley MacLaine Won[17]
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Comedy Screenplay Billy Wilder Nominated[18]
1964 BAFTA Awards Best Foreign Actress Shirley MacLaine Nominated[19]


Irma La Douce
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedJuly 13, 1998

All compositions by André Previn,[20] using themes by Marguerite Monnot.

  1. "Main Title" – 2:14
  2. "Meet Irma" – 1:42
  3. "This Is the Story" – 3:16
  4. "Nestor the Honest Policeman" – 1:54
  5. "Our Language of Love" – 2:04
  6. "Don't Take All Night" – 5:43
  7. "The Market" – 6:28
  8. "Easy Living the Hard Way" – 3:16
  9. "Escape" – 2:13
  10. "Wedding Ring" – 1:35
  11. "The Return of Lord X" – 1:24
  12. "In the Tub with Fieldglasses" – 2:27
  13. "Goodbye Lord X" – 3:17
  14. "I'm Sorry Irma" – 1:38
  15. "Juke Box: Let's Pretend Love" – 3:07
  16. "Juke Box: Look Again" – 2:16
  17. "But That's Another Story" – 0:38

The film also features an a cappella enticement song set to the tune of Alouette.



In 1968, the Egyptian film Afrit Mirati (My Wife's Goblin) starring Salah Zulfikar and Shadia, contained a soundtrack titled Irma la Douce performed by Shadia. The Egyptian film Khamsa Bab (Door Five) was based on the story in Irma la Douce, with Nadia El Guindy playing the part of Tragy, the Egyptian Irma character.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Box Office Information for Irma la Douce. IMDb via Internet Archive. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Box Office Information for Irma la Douce. The Numbers. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  3. ^ Tibbetts, John C. (2000). Video Versions: Film Adaptations of Plays on Video. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 168. ISBN 978-0-313-30185-8.
  4. ^ Hogan, Katie (March 18, 2019). ""This is not just a job, it's a profession" – 'Irma La Douce' (Blu-Ray review)". VultureHound Magazine. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  5. ^ Potton, Ed (March 15, 2019). "Irma la Douce (1963) review". The Times. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  6. ^ a b Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 171
  7. ^ "Top Rental Films of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 37. Please note this figure is film rentals accruing to distributors, not gross takings.
  8. ^ "Netherlands All Time Top 10". Screen International. November 19, 1993. p. 20.
  9. ^ Crowther, Bosley (June 6, 1963). "The Screen: Wilder's 'Irma la Douce'". The New York Times. p. 37.
  10. ^ "Film Reviews: Irma La Douce". Variety. June 5, 1963. 6.
  11. ^ Scheuer, Philip K. (July 3, 1963). "'Irma' Audaciously Funny Wilder Film". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 9.
  12. ^ Coe, Richard L. (June 22, 1963). "Now, Irma's Not So Sweet". The Washington Post. D6.
  13. ^ "Irma La Douce". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 31 (361): 20. February 1964.
  14. ^ "Irma La Douce". Rotten Tomatoes. June 5, 1963. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  15. ^ a b c "36th Academy Awards (1964) – Movies from 1963". FilmAffinity. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  16. ^ a b c "21th Golden Globes Awards (1964) – Movies from 1963". FilmAffinity. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  17. ^ "David di Donatello Awards 1964". FilmAffinity. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  18. ^ "Writers Guild Awards (WGA) – Movies from 1963". FilmAffinity. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  19. ^ "BAFTA 1965: British Academy Film Awards (Movies from 1964)". FilmAffinity. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  20. ^ "Irma la Douce [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] – André Previn | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  21. ^ "Irma la Douce". IMDb. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  22. ^ Singh, Prerna (June 6, 2018). "Manoranjan Film Review: An Attempt To Break Stereotypes Around Sex Work". Feminism In India. Retrieved December 24, 2019.
  23. ^ "My Wife's Goblin". IMDb. Retrieved December 24, 2019.

External links[edit]