Remembering My First Movie: Irma La Douce

Irma1This post is part of the Billy Wilder Blogathon, hosted by Aurora over at Once Upon a Screen, and Kelley at Outspoken and Freckled. Check out the many great posts HERE!

I don’t actually remember watching it, but the first movie I ever went to in a theater was Mary Poppins. My grandparents took me to see it. I don’t recall watching the movie, but I do remember the movie theater. It was one of the old movie palaces. For years I thought I remembered red velvet love seats in the theater, but rejected that as a memory gone awry. Just the other day, my mother mentioned the red love seats in movie theaters in the old days. It was strange and wonderful to have the memory confirmed.

The first movie I clearly remember watching was a Billy Wilder film, Irma La Douce, dubbed into Spanish. We were living in Seville, Spain while my dad was stationed at San Pablo Air Base. We had a maid–not because we were rich, but because at the time Americans, even those with a small salary, were relatively affluent compared to some Spaniards.

The maid, Carmen–who was like another grandmother to me and my sister–had a daughter who was seeing a boy she didn’t approve of. In order to sneak out to see him, the daughter offered to take me to the movies. I think I was about four years old at the time. Her mother thought that was wonderful and agreed.

We met her boyfriend and, as promised, they took me to the movies. While I watched my first Billy Wilder film, the two of them smooched. I don’t think they unlocked lips once during the entire running time of the movie.

Of course, the subject matter of the movie was totally inappropriate for a four year old (years later I was amazed to find out Shirley MacLaine’s character was a prostitute), but I still liked it. Mostly, because at the time I thought it had cleared up the mystery of where babies came from. In one of the final scenes, Irma gets married in a church and goes into labor. She is taken into a room in the back of the church to give birth.

Oh, so that’s it, I thought. You go to church to get married, then they take you into a room in the back and give you your baby.

Regardless of how it inadvertently made me misconstrue the facts of life, I was entranced by movies from that moment on. And I think it’s highly appropriate that my first remembered film is a Billy Wilder film. Other kids of my generation can keep the experience of seeing The Sound of Music as their first movie-going memory. I’ll take a saucy Billy Wilder movie over that any time.


30 thoughts on “Remembering My First Movie: Irma La Douce

  1. I don’t remember my first time at the theater, but I apparently went to see Follow That Bird

    1. Isn’t that the Sesame Street movie? Cool!
      I gather a lot of people don’t remember the first movie they saw, most remember one they saw when they were a bit older.

  2. Lovely. My first movie was The Wizard of Oz. I was four and I still remember how utterly extraordinary it felt. At that time even television wasn’t very common, and if people did have a television (we didn’t) it was black and white for 4 hours a day. I watched it again a couple of years ago and it still gave me goose bumps of awe! Apparently, the early associations never really go away. I also ran out of the theatre at one point because I thought the ‘evil’ trees were going to climb down into the aisles and throw apples at us – my poor mother had to come find me and convince me they couldn’t actually leave the screen. I also really, really liked the ‘green witch’ and was outraged that she was melted. Dorothy became enemy number one in my eyes. In vain did my grandmother try to explain that the witch was the villain and Dorothy was the hero, but I was having none of it. I can still remember my four year old fury. Thanks for the little trip down memory lane.

    1. I have early associations with The Wizard of Oz, too. When I was a kid they showed it every Thanksgiving on TV. I never missed it.

      When it had its 60th anniversary theatrical release, we took my niece and nephew, and I was astounded by how much kids of today loved it.

      I love that you thought the witch was the hero! Have you seen the Broadway show Wicked? It fixes that injustice!

    1. Thanks! Yes, it’s funny how kids misinterpret things. They used to have at TV show called “Kids Say The Darndest Things” which was built on that premise.

  3. I don’t remember my first movie. However, back in the 80’s when Dirty Dancing came out, I remember trying to go to the movies but I was too young and couldn’t go in. My mother had to get someone to stay with me while they watched the movie. I was dying to see it though. That would have been my first movie. I believe if my memory isn’t failing, my first movie in the theater was Heman…yes a cartoon. I was about 6 or 7 years old and was living in Venezuela. But as always, I love your stories Debbie.

  4. Reblogged this on MOON IN GEMINI and commented:

    For this year’s Billy Wilder Blogathon, I’ve reached into the archives and brought out this post about my first movie-going experience. A short but fun blog about how Billy Wilder’s Irma La Douce gave me a strange outlook on life at the age of four. 🙂

  5. Irma La Douce would be a great first film for anyone! I have always loved the movie. The first movie I remember watching all the way through was Jason and The Argonauts, which was on the CBS Thursday Night Movie one October. The first movie I saw in the theatre was To Kill a Mockingbird. I was in 3rd Grade and they took our class to see it. I really didn’t appreciate it the way I do now!

    1. My mom had a thing about children’s movies–she refused to take us to see them because she hated them. There weren’t that many good ones at the time. We almost always saw movies made for adults. She took us to see Yellow Submarine because it was a “cartoon.” Unfortunately, we were much to young to get it. Of course, we saw it years later and loved it!

  6. How sweet!! And dubbed in Spanish no less! It’s funny how culture affects our experiences EVEN movie memories and such. With my own parents not learning to speak English there was never anything deemed inappropriate for me to watch. They didn’t understand anything about ratings or the like, which meant I watched whatever was served in our local theater. I’m glad of it!

    Anyway – love this Debbie. What sweet memories. I particularly love the convenience of the baby pick-up system right after the ceremony. Thanks so much for contributing this to the blogathon!


    1. So glad you liked it! It’s one of my favorite childhood memories. Someone once said me watching a Billy Wilder movie while my escorts smooched could be a scene out of a Billy Wilder movie. Kind of meta. 🙂

  7. Wonderful! I loved reading this anecdote and why the film is so special to you. Funny how kids perceive things, and even though you didn’t fully understand the plot, the magic of the film wasn’t lost on you. Guess that’s Wilder!

  8. I’ve tried watching this film and I could never get into it. However, your post has persuaded me to give it another go.

    I loved reading about your reactions to, and conclusions of, this film when you watched this as a youngster!

    1. Thanks! I’ve found going back to Billy Wilder films when I’m older gives me a whole new appreciation for them. There was a time I didn’t care for The Apartment, and now it’s one of my favorite films.

  9. This was so amusing! Taking a four-year old to see a Billy Wilder movie is a wild thing, but it helped build your taste for good movies (even with some misconstructions on “where the babies come from”). I wonder what happened to the young woman who took you to the movies and her boyfriend… please tell me if you know!
    Don’t forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! 🙂

    1. I can tell you EXACTLY what happened–they eventually married and had three children. They divorced after a few years. Carmen helped raise her grandchildren, who are lovely people. I still stay in contact with her granddaughter via Facebook.

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