Irma la Douce ["Irma the Sweet"] 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 confidant, 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 boyfriend, 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 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 rearrested 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.Jack Lemmon as Nestor Patou/Lord X
Shirley MacLaine as Irma la Douce
Lou Jacobi as Moustache
Bruce Yarnell as Hippolyte
Grace Lee Whitney as Kiki the Cossack
Joan Shawlee as Amazon Annie
Hope Holiday as Lolita
Sheryl Deauville as Carmen
Ruth Earl as one of the Zebra twins
Jane Earl as one of the Zebra twins
Harriette Young as Mimi the MauMau
Herschel Bernardi as Inspector Lefevre
Cliff Osmond as police sergeant
Tura Satana as Suzette Wong
Billy Beck as Officer Dupont
Edgar Barrier as General Lafayette
Bill Bixby as the tattooed French sailor
James Caan as the U.S. soldier with radio
Louis Jourdan as Narrator
Paul Frees as Trailer Narrator
Though the film is not a musical, it won André Previn an Academy Award for Best Score—Adaptation or Treatment. There is also a scene in the film, in which Shirley MacLaine exclaims "Dis-donc!" whilst dancing on a table, which appears to be a deliberate 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 in 1960 on The Apartment. MacLaine was paid $350,000 plus a percentage.
The film was a big hit grossing $25,246,588 domestically on budget of $5 million. It was the 5th highest-grossing film of 1963, earning an estimated $11 million in theatrical rentals. 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 its theatrical run.
All compositions by André Previn. using themes by Marguerite Monnot.
- "Main Title" 2:14
- "Meet Irma" 1:42
- "This Is the Story" 3:16
- "Nestor the Honest Policeman" 1:54
- "Our Language of Love" 2:04
- "Don't Take All Night" 5:43
- "The Market" 6:28
- "Easy Living the Hard Way" 3:16
- "Escape" 2:13
- "Wedding Ring" 1:35
- "The Return of Lord X" 1:24
- "In the Tub with Fieldglasses" 2:27
- "Goodbye Lord X" 3:17
- "I'm Sorry Irma" 1:38
- "Juke Box: Let's Pretend Love" 3:07
- "Juke Box: Look Again" 2:16
- "But That's Another Story" 0:38
The film also features an a cappella enticement song set to the tune of Alouette.Irma la Douce was remade for French television in 1972.
The film is remade in India as the controversial Hindi film Manoranjan with Sanjeev Kumar and Zeenat Aman reprising the roles of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine respectively.
In 1968, the Egyptian movie Afrit Mirati (My wife's Goblin) starring Shadia and Salah Zulfikar contained a soundtrack entitled Irma la Douce performed by Shadia. The Egyptian film خمسة باب (khamsa bab) was also based on the story in Irma La Douce, with Nadia El Guindy playing the part of Tragy, which was the Egyptian Irma character.