Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Street Walkers of Pairs

The Billy Wilder Centennial Series

With such classic titles as Sunset Blvd., Some Like it Hot, and Sabrina to his credit, it is perhaps surprising that Billy Wilders most financially successful film is the now largely forgotten Irma la Douce (Irma the sweet). Irma is a non-musical adaptation of Alexandre Brefforts play of the same name, and boasted the long anticipated re-teaming of The Apartmant stars Jack Lemmon and Shirly MacLaine. Lemmon plays Nestor Patou, who after only six months on the Pairs police force is transfered from patrolling a childrens playground to the city's 'pleasure district'. Shirley MacLaine is Irma, the most popular prostitute in the area. Nestor and Irma meet on his first day on patrol, only he doesn't realize she is a "street walker", until after she is arrested as part of a raid he authorizes on the Casanova Hotel. This same raid ends up costing Nestor his job as the police chief (Herschel Bernardi) was enjoying himself at the hotel at the time of the raid.

Now without a job, Nestor stops in at the bestro across from the hotel for a drink, and ends up in a fight with Irma's "err, business manager". Through luck and the use of a low-hanging bar lamp, Nestor wins the fight and the heart of Irma. Now before he knows it Nestor is Irmas jiggalo (I don't apologize for not knowing how to spell that word), but he is so jealous of her sleeping with other men that he can't leave their profitable situation alone. With the help of Moustache, (a brilliant preformance by the now 92 year old Lou Jacobi) the owner of the bestro, Nestor disguises himself as the mysterious Lord X, a British nobel who will pay Irma 500 Francs (Franks?) a visit just to play cards with him twice a week. With this new money flow Irma doesn't have to sleep around, but Nestor has to work himself near to death while she is sleeping to afford keeping up the illusion.

Since Nestor is working all day (when Irma sleeps) he is now sleeping all night, and Ms. La Douce begins to think her man is seeing other women. Eventually Irma gets so convinced of her suspicions that she decides to run away with Lord X, leading to much comic confusion. Irma la Douce is a surprisingly sweet (pardon the pun) and charming film, that is ultimately about a mans efforts to reform a women and getting a little corrupted in the process. Capped by Andre Previns Academy Award winning score, and a closing 'topper' to rival "nobody's perfect", Irma la Douce is a strong comedy, that while lacking The Apartments pathos testifies to the enduring chemistry of its leads. A forshadower of Wilders later racer fair, Irma non-the-less harkens back to the more innocent identity comedies of the directors heyday.


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