Irma la Douce

Irma la Douce ([iʁ.ma la dus], "Irma the Sweet") is a 1963 American romantic comedy film starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, directed by Billy Wilder. It is based on the 1956 French stage musical Irma La Douce by Marguerite Monnot and Alexandre Breffort.

Irma la Douce
Italian release poster
Directed byBilly Wilder
Produced byBilly Wilder
I. A. L. Diamond
Edward L. Alperson
Doane Harrison
Alexandre Trauner
Written byBilly Wilder
I. A. L. Diamond
Alexandre Breffort (play)
StarringJack Lemmon
Shirley MacLaine
Narrated byLouis Jourdan
Music byAndré Previn
CinematographyJoseph LaShelle
Edited byDaniel Mandell
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • June 5, 1963 (1963-06-05)
Running time
147 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$25,246,588[2]


Irma la Douce tells the story of Nestor Patou (Jack Lemmon), an honest cop, who after being transferred from the park Bois de Boulogne to a more urban neighborhood in Paris, finds a street full of prostitutes working at the Hotel Casanova and proceeds to raid the place. The police inspector, who is Nestor's superior, and the other policemen, have been aware of the prostitution, but tolerate it in exchange for bribes. The inspector, a client of the prostitutes himself, fires Nestor, who is accidentally 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 hangout tavern for prostitutes and their pimps. Down on his luck, Nestor befriends Irma La Douce (Shirley MacLaine), a popular prostitute. He also reluctantly accepts, as a confidante, the proprietor of Chez Moustache, a man known only as "Moustache." In a running joke, Moustache (Lou Jacobi), a seemingly ordinary barkeeper, tells of a storied prior life, claiming to have been, among other things, an attorney, a colonel, and a doctor, ending with the repeated line, "But that's another story". After Nestor defends Irma against her abusive pimp, Hippolyte, Nestor moves in with her, and he soon finds himself as Irma's new pimp.

Jealous of the thought of Irma being with other men, Nestor comes up with a plan to stop Irma's prostitution. But he soon finds out that it is not all that it is cracked up to be. Using a disguise, he invents an alter-ego, "Lord X", a British lord, who "becomes" Irma's sole client. Nestor's plans to keep Irma off the streets soon backfire, and she becomes suspicious, since Nestor must work long and hard in the market at night to earn the cash "Lord X" pays Irma. When Irma decides to leave Paris with the fictitious Lord X, Nestor decides to end the charade. Unaware he is being tailed by Hippolyte, he finds a secluded stretch along the river Seine, and tosses his disguise into it. Hippolyte, not having seen Nestor change his clothes, sees "Lord X"'s clothes floating in the water, and concludes Nestor murdered him. Before Nestor is arrested, Moustache advises him not to reveal that Lord X was a fabrication. He tells him, "The jails are full of innocent people because they told the truth." Nestor admits to having killed Lord X, but only because of his love for Irma.

Hauled off to jail, but with Irma in love with him, Nestor is sentenced to 15 years' hard labor. Learning that Irma is pregnant, Nestor escapes from prison, with Moustache's help, and returns to Irma. He narrowly avoids being recaptured when the police search for him in Irma's apartment, but donning his old uniform, Nestor simply blends in with the other police. 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. Knowing he cannot be re-arrested for a murder the police now know did not occur, Nestor rushes to the church, where he plans to marry Irma. As she walks down the aisle, she begins to experience contractions, and they continue during the wedding ceremony. Nestor and Irma barely make it through the ceremony before she goes into labor and delivers their baby. While Nestor and everyone else is occupied with Irma, Moustache notices one of the guests sitting alone at the front of the church. Rising from his seat, and walking past Moustache, the guest is none other than Lord X! A clearly baffled Moustache looks at Lord X, and then at the audience. "But that's another story", he says.



Though the film is not a musical, it won André Previn an Academy Award for Best Score - Adaptation or Treatment. The scene in which Shirley MacLaine exclaims "Dis-donc!" while dancing on a table appears to be a tribute to the musical from which the film is derived.

The film was nominated for two other Academy Awards: Best Actress in a Leading Role (Shirley MacLaine) and Best Cinematography, Color.


Irma la Douce was conceived as a Marilyn Monroe vehicle in 1962. The project would have reunited her with director Billy Wilder and actor Jack Lemmon, both of whom had worked with her on Some Like It Hot in 1959. After Monroe's death, the movie was recast with Shirley MacLaine, who had worked with Wilder and Lemmon on The Apartment (1960). MacLaine was paid $350,000 plus a percentage.[3]


The film was a hit, grossing $25,246,588 domestically[2] on a budget of $5 million.[1] It was the fifth highest-grossing film of 1963, earning an estimated $11 million in theatrical rentals.[4] 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.[3]

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."[5] 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."[6] Philip K. Scheuer of the Los Angeles Times reported that "I found it a brilliant, though outrageously outspoken comedy."[7] 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."[8] 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."[9]

The film currently holds a score of 79% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 19 reviews.[10]


Irma La Douce
Soundtrack album by
Released13 July 1998

All compositions by André Previn, 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 movie Afrit Mirati (My Wife's Goblin) starring Shadia and Salah Zulfikar contained a soundtrack titled Irma la Douce performed by Shadia. The Egyptian film خمسة باب (khamsa bab) was based on the story in Irma La Douce, with Nadia El Guindy playing the part of Tragy, the Egyptian Irma character. [11]

See also


  1. Box Office Information for Irma la Douce. IMDb via Internet Archive. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  2. Box Office Information for Irma la Douce. The Numbers. Retrieved September 5, 2013.
  3. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company The Changed the Film Industry, Uni of Wisconsin Press, 1987 p 171
  4. "Top Rental Films of 1963", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 37. Please note this figure is film rentals accruing to distributors, not gross takings.
  5. Crowther, Bosley (June 6, 1963). "The Screen: Wilder's 'Irma la Douce'". The New York Times. p. 37.
  6. "Film Reviews: Irma La Douce". Variety. June 5, 1963. 6.
  7. Scheuer, Philip K. (July 3, 1963). "'Irma' Audaciously Funny Wilder Film". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 9.
  8. Coe, Richard L. (June 22, 1963). "Now, Irma's Not So Sweet". The Washington Post. D6.
  9. "Irma La Douce". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 31 (361): 20. February 1964.
  10. "Irma La Douce". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 16, 2019.
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