Irma la Douce is a 1956 French stage musical whose book and lyrics were written by Alexandre Breffort with music by Marguerite Monnot.
An English language version, with the new book and lyrics provided by Julian More, David Heneker and Monty Norman, opened in London's West End in July 1958. The English version uses a few colloquial French expressions, including some of the Parisian underworld slang of the original, making an exotic and entertaining feature of it, as in the titles of songs, "Le Grisbi is le Root of le Evil in Man" (grisbi is old slang word for money, also present in the 1954 Jean Gabin movie title Touchez pas au grisbi) and "Dis-Donc", and employs a narrator to guide the audience through the linguistics.
The musical tells the story of an impoverished law student, Nestor le Fripé, who falls in love with a prostitute, Irma la Douce, and becomes her protector and dependent. Through jealousy of her clients he disguises himself as a rich older man who visits and pays Irma for conversation and becomes her only client. Nestor becomes exhausted with working hard enough to make enough money for Irma to support him and decides that the only way out of his mess is to destroy his alter ego. When the older man disappears, Nestor is convicted of murder and sent to Devil's Island but he escapes and returns to Irma when he hears that she is pregnant. He manages to prove his innocence of murder by briefly assuming his disguise once more and all ends well.
The London production starred Elizabeth Seal in the title role, Keith Michell as Nestor and Clive Revill as Bob-le-Hotu, the narrator, and ran for 1512 performances.
The show transferred to Broadway in September 1960 with the same three lead actors, winning Elizabeth Seal the 1961 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, and ran for 524 performances.
It was adapted by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond into a 1963 comedy film directed by Wilder and featuring Jack Lemmon as Nestor (renamed "Nester Patout" in the movie), Shirley MacLaine as Irma, Lou Jacobi and Grace Lee Whitney. The story was altered to make Nestor a naive policeman who raids a house of prostitution and finds his superior there, so he is fired and becomes Irma's pimp. That is how the love story begins.
Though the film is not a musical, it won André Previn an Academy Award for Original Music Score. There is also a scene in the film, in which Shirley MacLaine exclaims "Dis-donc!" whilst dancing on a table, which appears to be a deliberate tribute to the musical from which the film is derived.
The film was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Shirley MacLaine) and Best Cinematography, Color.
Irma la Douce was remade for French television in 1972.