The songs are gone, but the Broadway musical about the life of a French whore in Pigalle (the seedy red-light district of Paris) retains the colour, the wit, and the exposure of French hypocrisy – and the writing and direction by Billy Wilder add an extra dimension.
Jack Lemmon plays Nestor Patou, a naive new Parisian policeman who raids the Hotel Casanova and detains the working girls and their customers but is booted out of the force because the arrested clients include his superior, an inspector.
Returning disillusioned to the Rue Casanova, Nestor sees a prostitute called Irma la Douce (Shirley MacLaine) and beats up her pimp to stop him from bullying her. Then he himself becomes her pimp.
Irma is the top poule and the best pro on the block. Transparent blouses, plunging cleavage, lace lingerie and nudity are the packagings of her stock and trade – and Shirley Maclaine wears them artfully and with style.
Nestor falls in love with Irma and doesn’t want to share his “girlfriend” with anybody else, so he takes on an alter-ego – a British gentleman called Lord X – to become her sole client.
Lemmon does a series of impressions of English actors, but it isn’t until the last one – a gap-toothed imitation of Terry-Thomas – that you realise what he was attempting.
A nice Billy Wilder comedy/drama with perfect casting. Shirley MacLaine is a very strong lead, and Jack Lemmon (Wilder’s favourite actor) is brilliant as always.
This is the film that Shirley MacLaine says changed her life. I wouldn’t touch that one with a barge pole.
Nestor Patou/Lord X
Irma La Douce
Kiki the Cossack
Grace Lee Whitney
Mimi the MauMau
Customer from Texas