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Irma la Douce

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Irma la Douce

Image credit: Irma la Douce, 1963

If you love the colorful costumes and sets of classic Hollywood musicals, but can’t abide characters spontaneously bursting into song, then Irma la Douce (Disc/Download) is your movie.  Starring Jack Lemmon as a police officer-turned-pimp and Shirley MacLaine as his prostitute love, this sixties gem is a Billy Wilder film on steroids.  Big visuals, big acting, big run-time—it’s a massive commitment.  But once you give into the world of the Hotel Casanova, you’re in for a real cinematic treat.

When we first see Irma, slouching against a doorway with that little dog under her arm, you instantly know—this is a woman who has seen it all, and just doesn’t give a sh*t anymore.  She views her profession for what it is (a job), and would never allow herself to be swept away by a sappy romance. Even when she “falls” for down-on-his-luck Nestor Patou, it’s with an eye-roll and a shrug.  I see glimpses of this character in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s fabulous work on HBO’s The Deuce, and at times Irma seems almost feminist in her attitudes.  She may have a boyfriend, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop working.  And thus, her boyfriend has to come up with an asinine scheme, pretending to be an English lord, wearing a silly disguise, working multiple jobs so he can afford to pay  for her time, all so she doesn’t sleep with other men.  This relationship seems doomed from the start, but with a sparkling script by Wilder and winning performances by Apartment co-stars Lemmon and MacLaine, somehow it just works.

Included within the elaborate sets built for this film is a charming bar Chez Moustache, where the pimps come for their union meetings and working gals pop in for a pastis between clients.  You could certainly join them in a straight shot of this herbal spirit diluted with a little water, but I prefer mine in a cocktail.  While watching Irma la Douce, I recommend drinking this Cocktail X.

Cocktail X

1 ½ oz Calvados apple brandy

1 oz Cointreau

½ oz Pastis

1 ½  oz Pineapple Juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice.  Shake until chilled, then strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Cocktail X

Yes, this film is long. Yes, it’s absurd.  But it’s fun to see the intersection of classic MGM musical and 1960s visual style.  There’s teased hair, plastic heart sunglasses, and movie streets too beautiful to be real, but there is also a heartfelt message about the changing social attitudes within the time period Irma la Douce was made.  As wise Moustache says of the business of sex work, “Love is illegal – but not hate. That you can do anywhere, anytime, to anybody. But if you want a little warmth, a little tenderness, a shoulder to cry on, a smile to cuddle up with, you have to hide in dark corners, like a criminal.”  Leave it to a bartender to speak the truth. Cheers!

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