28 December 2006 | bkoganbing
"But That's Another Story"
When I first saw Irma La Douce as much as I liked it, I was puzzled by the fact that Billy Wilder had chosen to do this hit musical without any songs in it. Very much like Fanny from a few years ago which also had a French setting and came to the screen without its score. The Broadway cast album was a staple in my house and I certainly enjoyed the songs that Keith Mitchell and Elizabeth Seal and the rest of the cast did on Broadway.
What made it more puzzling was the presence of Bruce Yarnell in the movie cast, the possessor of a really nice baritone voice, he played opposite Ethel Merman in the Lincoln Center revival of Annie Get Your Gun. That together with the fact Shirley MacLaine first made her mark in musical roles, in fact she had starred in the screen version of Can-Can the two years before.
Well, according to the recent biography of Billy Wilder by Ed Sikov in fact this film started out as a musical. Somewhere there is some footage of MacLaine, Yarnell, possibly even Jack Lemmon and Lou Jacobi doing some musical numbers lying in a vault somewhere. Wilder said he thought the numbers slowed the pace of the story and midpoint in the film he just scrapped what he had shot and didn't bother with the rest.
Personally I wish he had kept the numbers in, maybe it would have made Irma La Douce run too long. Who knows maybe we'll get to see them some day.
Shirley MacLaine got an Oscar nomination for her performance in the title role. She's a good natured working girl who has the misfortune to get busted by the one cop in Paris who is not winking at prostitution on his first day on his new beat. That would be Jack Lemmon who for his honest law enforcement gets himself fired.
That far from ends it as Lemmon falls for MacLaine and like he did in The Apartment sees himself as her savior. The rest of the film is the ridiculous lengths Lemmon goes to save MacLaine from her life of sin and debauchery.
His one confidante is Lou Jacobi who plays Moustache the owner of a local bistro where the girls and their mecs(that's French for pimp) hang out. His role was originally intended for Charles Laughton.
Billy Wilder has a well deserved reputation as a cynical observer of humankind and had some run ins with several Hollywood greats. But he became an unabashed admirer of Charles Laughton after working with him on Witness for the Prosecution. The tenderest part of that Wilder biography tells about how Wilder kept visiting Laughton up to the end discussing the part with both of them knowing it was never to be. Yet I wish Laughton had lived to do the part. It would really have been special.
Bruce Yarnell's part is that of MacLaine's mec. His career too was tragically cut short by a plane crash that he was killed in later in the decade. Terrific voice, nice screen and stage presence, what a terrible thing to happen.
Though I would have liked to have seen the musical, I can't fault Billy Wilder's production of Irma La Douce. The fact that this came to the screen at all was further demonstration of the Code finally being lifted from the backs of the creative.
Maybe we will see a full blown musical adaptation of Irma La Douce some day. But that's another story.