Irma La Douce Delightfully Shows A Hollywood In Transition

Billy Wilder always had a penchant to see what he could get away with within the confines of the Hays Code and the mentalities of classic Hollywood, particularly when it came to sex. Think about Barbara Stanwyck’s entrance in “Double Indemnity,” draped in a towel and entering in a double entendre verbal sparring match with Fred MacMurray, or the iconic image in “The Seven Year Itch” of Marilyn Monroe’s white dress being blown into the air by a subway grate. There’s also, of course, the fairly explicit for 1959 queerness of “Some Like It Hot.” Wilder loves extra-marital affairs and taboo relationships.

“Irma la Douce” was made in the waning days of the Hays Code, and the chance to directly deal with the actual realities of sex work, particularly in this lighthearted way, probably was not open earlier in Hollywood. Especially for a film of this scale with this pedigree. This is Billy Wilder, Jack Lemmon, and Shirley MacLaine reuniting after their Best Picture winner “The¬†Apartment” from three years earlier (which just so happens to be my favorite film of all time), and it swings them from the heartfelt drama of that picture to full-out, vivacious farce. MacLaine, in particular, really gets to let loose playing a character full of unbridled energy and unabashed sexiness. She and Lemmon have just as sparkling chemistry as they do in “The Apartment,” but the joy here is more in their comedic interplay instead of the emotional one. The world and taboos Billy¬†Wilder wants to showcase are the primary focus here, and they all have a lot of fun with them.

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