Irma La Douce (1963) **

Billy Wilder reteamed Lemmon and MacLaine after the success of The Apartment in this somewhat surprising follow-up venture, based on a hit musical from which all the songs have been cut, rambling where its predecessor was tight ,and set in a postcard fantasy Paris rather than a sharply realistic New York. (They were to have been joined by Charles Laughton as Moustache, the wine bar owner and narrator of the story: alas Laughton died, still sporting the large moustache he had grown for the role, before shooting began.)
It is ten minutes longer than The Apartment and perhaps half an hour too long overall. It was Halliwell who perceptively noted that while Some Like It Hot never quite taxes the patience, it frequently threatens to, dragging each idea to the limit before saving the day with something surprising and new. The only element of Wilder's craft that seemed to desert him as he and the golden age parted company, actually, was his mastery of pace and editing: despite their many and varied merits, Love in the Afternoon, The Fortune Cookie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, Avanti and Irma La Douce would all benefit from pruning. Overall this one is Wilder's lighest, least sharply observant comedy since The Seven Year Itch.
But once adjusted to its lesisurely tempo and cheerful lack of import, Irma is fun in an uncharacteristically whimsical vein, with a pleasing sense of wacky farce. In particular it contains one of Wilder's zaniest trademark endings, and a rare case of the fastidious Wilder sacrificing narrative consistency for a gag. The last line of The Apartment remains his finest curtain-closer, much better than Some Like It Hot's more celebrated "nobody's perfect", because it is moving as well as just funny. But this one - a ridiculous invalidating of the entire plot topped by a reprise of the film's running-line "that's another story" - should be enough to bring down any house. (If you love absurd, plot-ruining joke endings, you'll find this one second in greatness only to that of After the Fox.)
Though a little lumpy by comparison with Wilder's own earlier work, alongside other Hollywood comedies of its time it still seems pretty nimble: compare it with the contemporaneous work of Blake Edwards, for example. Anyone coming fresh to Breakfast at Tiffany's on the strength of its reputation will see - and no doubt be surprised by - the difference almost immediately. Hollywood comedy in the sixties was a pretty flabby beast, all exotic location photography in glossy colour, and toothy stars on big wide screens. Lubitsch-style precision is a tricky thing to pull off in such conditions. Wilder was not at liberty to abandon these new imperatives, but he, perhaps alone among directors at work in these years, retained the skills needed to transcend them.