Irma La Douce (1963): Billy Wilder’s Version of French Musical, Starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in Oscar Nominated Performance

Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce, from a screenplay by Wilder and frequent collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, is based on a 1956 French stage musical, which had played successfully in London and New York.

Shirley MacLaine received her third Best Actress Oscar nomination for playing the titular role, a Parisian prostitute with a heart of gold.

Co-star Jack Lemmon plays an eccentric Parisian cop, who uses all kinds of uniforms, gimmicks and tricks (eye-patches that move from eye to eye, mustaches and beards, various accents and uniforms) in order or keep Irma as his personal girl.

Unfortunately, Wilder made a dull movie that is neither effective as a stage production nor funny as a big-screen entertainment.  Overstaying its welcome by at least half an hour, the picture is grating.

MacLaine and Lemmon, who had teamed so successfully in Wilder’s 1960 Oscar-winner The Apartment, overact and seem to be out of control.

The lack of interesting secondary characters is very much felt in this two-hand comedy.

Wilder’s version excludes the song lyrics, but still retains Marguerite Monnot and Alexandre Breffort’s tunes, orchestrated by Andre Previn, who earned the third of his four Scoring Oscars.

Despite mixed-to-negative reviews, “Irma La Douce” was extremely popular at the box-office, reaffirming the stature of its two stars.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Actress: Shirley MacLaine

Cinematography (color): Joseph LaShelle

Score (Adapted): Andre Previn

Oscar Awards: 1


Oscar Context

“Tom Jones” is the first all‑British film to win the Best Picture Oscar since Olivier’s “Hamlet,” in 1948.  Artistically, “Tom Jones” was superior to all the other nominees in 1963: Kazan’s personal drama, “America, America;” Mankiewicz’s problematic “Cleopatra,” which almost sank Fox; Ford’s tired and old-fashioned anthology, “How the West Was Won;” and “Lilies of the Field,” which won Sidney Poitier the Best Actor, thus depriving Finney of the honor.

The winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Patricia Neal for Martin Ritt’s drama “Hud.”

LaShelle, who was also nominated in 1963 (alongside other lensers) for “How the West Was Won,” lost out to Leon Shamroy, who received the award for “Cleopatra.”

Narrated by Louis Jourdan.

The film was extremely popular with audiences all over the world. Made on a budget of $5 million, it grossed over $25 at the box-office.


Music by André Previn
Cinematography: Joseph LaShelle
Edited by Daniel Mandell
Production company: The Mirisch Corporation
Distributed by United Artists
Release date: June 5, 1963
Running time: 147 minutes