On the plus side of the Irma ledger, there are scintillating performances by Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine, a batch of jovial supporting portrayals, a striking physical production and a number of infectious comedy scenes.
But Irma also misses on several important counts, and the fact that it does illustrates the sizable problems inherent in an attempt to convert a legit musical into a tuneless motion picture farce. But what hurts the film the most is its length. Two hours and 23 minutes is an awfully long haul for a frivolous farce.
The hot-and-cold scenario, based on the play by Alexandre Breffort [and musical by Marguerite Monnot], traces the love affair of Irma (MacLaine), a proud and profitable practitioner of the oldest profession, and a young gendarme (Lemmon) who gets bounced off the force when he makes the mistake of taking his job seriously. Lemmon becomes number one mec, or pimp, on the block when he knocks his predecessor’s block off, thereby inheriting Irma and the rights to her estate.
Lemmon plays his juicy role to the hilt, and there are moments when his performance brings to mind some of the great visual comedy of the classic silent film clowns. His portrayal of his British alter ego is a kind of cross between Jose Ferrer’s characterization of Toulouse-Lautrec and Richard Haydn’s caricature of an Englishman. MacLaine delivers a winning performance in the title role, and has never looked better. There’s a whale of a comedy portrayal by Lou Jacobi as the versatile bistro boss-barkeep, Moustache.
1963: Best Adapted Musical Score.
Nominations: Best Actress (Shirley MacLaine), Color Cinematography