19 October 2010

Irma La Douce (1963)

Pottering in the Woodend Bookshop the other week, I found a copy of the 'Irma La Douce' screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, published in 1963.

It appears to be a cheap movie tie-in paperback, badly typeset, a Midwood-Tower Book, "First printing anywhere". Other books under that imprint appear to be almost exclusively 'naughty books' of the early sixties, the kind you still find in Opp shops, with titles like 'A World Without Men' in illustrated covers in garish colours. Which makes me think that perhaps the primary consideration for the publishers was the film's subject matter and the opportunity to put Shirley MacLaine in a transparent blouse on the cover.

Opening it at random, I came across this exchange. Irma the streetwalker is complaining to Moustache, the wordly barman, of her money troubles.

Irma: If only Monsieur Camembert were still around. You remember Monsieur Camembert, don't you?
Moustache: Do I? Big spender.
Nestor: Who's Monsieur Camembert?
Irma: That's what we called him - he was a cheese wholesaler at the market - used to see me twice a week - always gave me five hundred francs - so I didn't have to see anybody else. I had lots of time then - went to cooking school and I knitted sweaters and I played solitaire - he was such a nice man.
Nestor: What happened to him?
Irma: His wife died - so he stopped coming around.

That is why I love Billy Wilder scripts so much. Even with collaborators, that sweet but sour Viennese Jewish sensibility is always there.

It been years since I saw the film, but I remember it to be only a moderately good Wilder of that strange mid-sixties period, where the things he did so well before didn't seem to click anymore and good scripts were let down by poor casting and a general air of uncertainty. He wasn't alone in that, of course. Hitchcocks of the same period often have similar problems.

It is reported that Wilder originally wanted Marilyn Monroe, who he had worked with on 'Some Like It Hot', for the part of Irma. She died before the production began, as did Charles Laughton, who was first choice for Moustache.

There are, as always, some great jokes.

The pimps' union is called the "Mec's' (tough guy's) Paris Protective Association" (MPPA), which is also the acronym for Motion Picture Producers Association.

Irma: A painter once lived here. Poor guy, he was starving. Tried everything, even cut his ear off.
Nestor: Van Gogh?
Irma: No, I think his name was Schwartz.

Other Billy Wilder posts: The Front Page, Billy Wilder: A little bit less and Stalag 17.

No comments: