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C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney), a soft drink executive stationed in West
Berlin with his wife (Arlene Francis) and two kids, is given the task of
looking after his boss' wild daughter, Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin), who flies
in for a visit. But when Scarlett runs off and marries a young Communist
named Otto (Horst Buchholz)---and with MacNamara's boss flying in to West
Berlin in a matter of hours---MacNamara has to race against the clock to
turn Scarlett's rebellious new husband into the perfect son-in-law, or risk
losing his job....
Billy Wilder's "One Two Three" is one of the greatest comedy films ever made. This wonderfully zany 1961 gem is a lightning-paced, hysterical farce (and with it's classic instrumental theme of "The Sabre Dance," you know you're in for a rollicking, rapid-fire comedy). Based on a French play, much of the movie plays out like a stage comedy, as Wilder simply turns his camera on the actors and lets them do their thing. The entire cast is simply superb, their comic timing perfect. James Cagney gives one of his all-time greatest performances as C.R. MacNamara. In almost every scene, with the bulk of the script on his shoulders, Cagney is sharp, quick on the draw, and just plain hilarious as the bewildered executive. Arlene Francis lends fine comic support as Cagney's sarcastic wife, Horst Buchholz is very funny & perfectly cast as the rebellious Otto, and the gorgeous Pamela Tiffin is simply a riot as the hot-blodded, dim-witted Scarlett. But ALL the actors in this movie are funny & terrific. Billy Wilder's direction is marvelous, and his script co-written with I.A.L. Diamond is clever and hilarious.
Some may find the quick pace of "One Two Three" a little exhausting, as the movie's energy level remains high from beginning to end, rarely stopping for air, but it works for me. This movie is pure farce, plain and simple. It makes no apologies for what it is, and it's goal is to make you laugh loudly. "One Two Three" is one of the most hysterical movies I've ever seen in my life, and it never fails to give me bellylaughs. Thank you Billy, Jimmy, and all the rest for this magnificent comedy gem.
Howard Hawks usually gets the palm for the fastest dialogue in comedies
but Wilder probably ties him here. This must be one of the funniest
comedies to come out of Hollywood, at least during the sound era. The
gags come fast -- and thick. If one doesn't work you don't have time to
be disappointed because the next one is already underway.
It's one of those movies in which the gags would be spoiled if they were described to a person who hadn't yet seen the film. For the most part they are tied closely to the plot and often build on one another. But I'm compelled to give one example. Cagney is an executive in Berlin and his first-hand man is Schlemmer. Schlemmer has a habit of clicking his heels before and after addressing Cagney. At one point Cagney chews him out and asks him, "just between us," what Schlemmer did in the war. "I was in the underground," says Schlemmer. "Oh, the resistance?" "No, the underground. The subway. I was a conductor." Cagney says supiciously, "And I suppose you never were a supporter of Adolf." Schlemmer: "Adolf who? You see, I was always in the underground. They never told us anything down there."
The dialogue is shouted rather than spoken. Heels are clicked, people leap to attention, fingers are snapped, orders are flung about. The only person who doesn't run around frantically is Lilo Pulver who does not have to run to attract anyone's attention. She can simply stand still and get the job done. She's Cagney's secretary and tells him she's thinking of getting a job elsewhere as a translator. "Don't forget I am bilingual." "Don't I know it," Cagney mutters ruefully.
But I won't go on because I'll just wind up giving away more gags. Check the trivia entries too. This was Cagney's last major role and one of Wilder's best comedies. It's simply hilarious and not to be missed.
One, Two, Three is from the fertile mind of Billy Wilder where Cold War
politics gets reduced to the absurd. This film is so fast and so funny
it's only a few steps from Monty Python.
For what was and what should have remained his swan song to the world of film James Cagney heads the cast in this. He's the man in charge of Coca-Cola's operations in Germany which is headquartered in West Berlin and he's had a lovely little present dumped in his lap. The daughter of the CEO of Coca-Cola is in Europe and now she's in Germany and he's expected to watch out for her. The daughter is played by Pamela Tiffin and she is one of the biggest airheads ever portrayed on the screen. She's fallen big time for a German kid played by Horst Bucholtz. They've gotten married.
Bucholtz is a kid who's real good at spouting all kinds of left wing slogans without delving to deeply into their meanings. He's a Communist and that drives Cagney nuts and if it drives Cagney nuts, Tiffin's father is sure to go over the top. Cagney takes it upon himself to get Bucholtz arrested on the East Berlin side as an American spy.
Of course a small memento of their married life has developed inside Tiffin so now Cagney has a real problem. He's got to get Bucholtz back and turn him into a money grubbing capitalist in his image. The frantic pace at which this is attempted, racing against the clock when Tiffin's father played by Howard St. John arrives in Berlin is what the rest of the film is about.
Wilder has a ball reducing the Cold War to its basic absurdities. The USA is symbolized by James Cagney who thinks the whole world will become America if only enough Coca-Cola is peddled. Cagney comes real close to proving it so.
The Communists come out far worse. Karl Marx's world always looked nice on paper, but always has had a real problem being converted into a functioning state. The Russians are also good at spouting the party line, but in One, Two, Three, Wilder shows how very easily they can be influenced by some of life's most elemental things and I don't mean Coca-Cola.
Cagney did not always get along with Wilder, but both men were professional enough to bury certain creative differences. Cagney was kind and patient with Tiffin who was getting her first real break in film. However he grew to positively loath Horst Bucholtz. In his memoirs which came out in the 1970s, Bucholtz was the only colleague who Cagney had anything really critical to say about.
During the middle of the film being shot, the Russians stopped the flow of traffic from West and East Berlin. Some shots had to be redone around the Brandenburg Gate, a whole set had to be constructed. I suppose a well trained cinema professional could spot the shots where the real and the fake Brandeburg were used. I sure can't. The following year, the Berlin Wall was built, so Wilder got his film done just in time.
Arlene Francis plays Cagney's exasperated wife and she of What's My Line does just fine. Cagney made an appearance on that show just before shooting started and gave the picture a big old plug.
The laughs come pretty fast and furious as James Cagney struggles mightily to prevent the arrival of "another bouncing, baby, Bolshevik."
Billy Wilder's hilarious Cold War comedy that only gets better with each
viewing. It does help some, of course, to know the politics of the region
and of that time period. Irregardless, one need not be a Hoover Institute
Fellow to pick these up quickly. James Cagney, proving his acting range was
virtually borderless, turns in a superb performance as the soft drink exec
seeking an upper echelon corporate job.
With a terrific supporting cast, Cagney's corporate dreams are about to explode, when the boss' wild daughter flies into Berlin. Creating havoc, and not to mention more stress on his wounded marriage, the daughter runs off cavorting about in the Eastern Sector.
Corporate ambitions, romance and strong politics collide in this volatile, hilarious, extremely fast paced comedy. This is how a real comedic farce is put together, and it goes off without a hitch, all the way to the last gag. There's also some great homages/inside jokes to boot. A comedy classic, and another gem from Mr. Wilder.
"One, Two, Three" is a marvelously, funny film. It has an energy that you
can't help but get caught up in.
From the time you hear the first few bars of "The Sabre Dance" thru the final shot of James Cagney, you are on a constant roller coaster, and you don't want to get off. It is a manic, wild movie that never disappoints or lets down.
The engine that drives this lunacy is James Cagney. In one of his best, funniest and energetic performances, he is nothing short of amazing. He is a whirling dervish, at the heart of a storm that he has no control over. I don't want to give any of the story away, suffice to say that he is nothing short of spectacular. In Cameron Crowe's book on Billy Wilder, Wilder laments that Cagney was so loud and energetic at the start of the film, that his character really has nowhere to go, in terms of building, and reacting to the chaos. I would agree with that assessment, but Cagney's performance does not let the audience stop and catch it's breath long enough for this to really be a factor.
Wilder and Diamond have brought us another gem. Is there another writing team that within a span of three years, have created three better pictures than the ones they have given us (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, One,Two,Three)? I doubt it.
Kudos all around to the supporting cast as well. Especially, Arlene Francis, as Cagney's wife, and Lilo Pulver as his secretary. Also watch for some "inside" jokes. Like when Cagney threatens Horst Buchholz with a grapefruit, and Red Buttons, in a cameo, doing a Cagney imitation.
Great fun from start to finish. 10/10
"One, Two, Three," is a fast paced, cleverly scripted comedy, with an absolutely stellar performance from James Cagney. Billy Wilder's direction is vigorous and tight-knit, with a tempo that doesn't let up, yet doesn't tire either. One good line after the next, in an original comedy with loads of laughs. But it's Cagney's show, and does he give it his all! This is a wonderful tribute to one of the screen's all-time great actors.
If you're planning on screening "One, Two,Three" for the first time and you weren't alive in 1961, take a moment to acquaint yourself with the political climate of the time....then get ready to laugh A LOT ! I was 17 when "One, Two, Three" came out and all these years later I am still amazed at the majesty of this film. As most of you know, this was to be James Cagney's last picture, and it took a lot of convincing by Billy Wilder to get him to do it. Cagney did come back one more time for "Ragtime", but that doesn't lessen the greatness of this, his final starring role. I saw a comment posted about the film having the perfect cast and I agree, but it's not surprising when you consider this: name me a Billy Wilder film that didn't have the perfect cast ! William Holden and Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Blvd", Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in "The Apartment", Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in "Some Like It Hot", Jack Lemmon and..well, you get the picture: Billy Wilder knew precisely who he wanted for every part and usually got them, and if he had to go with choice # 2, then choice # 2 was one lucky actor. And each supporting role, no matter how small, got the same Wilder treatment. I know because my dad was the TV Movie Host in "The Apartment". Actors knew that being in a Billy Wilder film meant the script would be first rate and the director would get a first rate performance out of them, even if it took all night. Pamela Tiffin was just terrific in this film, but sadly she never got another role worthy of her ability. The same goes for Horst Buchholz, "The Magnificent Seven" not withstanding. At least they got to do "One, Two, Three" and that might have just been enough. Right up there in the same league with "The Philadelphia Story", "Annie Hall" and the original version of "To Be Or Not To Be" starring Jack Benny and Carole Lombard, Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three" is a forever film classic for all the reasons I and others have mentioned, and for one more which it shares with every great film: "One, Two, Three" assumes you have a brain and treats you accordingly. " SCHLEMMER !!!!!"
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Mention James Cagney's name, and most people will mention one of his
gangster films like G-Men or The Public Enemy or at a push will mention
one of his just as memorable Song & Dance roles like Footlight Parade
or Yankee Doodle Dandy. While it is true he could be both Tough and
Elegant, largely forgotten was Cagney's wonderful ability to play
comedic Characters. (Who can forget his film stealing role as the
tyrannical Captain in Mister Roberts).
One such film that highlights his comedy talent, was Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three. Made in 1961, it shows us a 62 year old Cagney still at the top of his game 30 years after he became a star.
Set in a post war yet pre détente Germany, the film is a fast, frantic, romantic, hilarious farce set against the non too funny backdrop of the Cold War which to be honest was far from 'cold' when the movie was made with the Cuban Missile Crisis just months away and American tolerance of the 'red menace' at an all time low.
Cagney plays MacNamara, a tough-talking Middle Management executive for Coca-Cola trying to secure the Coca-Cola rights on the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. He Hates Communists, Hates Fascists, and loves his work. He is short tempered, sharp tongued and quick witted. He has two women in his life his wife Phyiliss, played fantastically by the always fantastic Arlene Francis, and his yummy blonde and easily corruptible secretary Ingeborg (Lilo Pulver). His organised yet double life is thrown into turmoil when his bosses 17 year old yet wild insatiable daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) arrives with the bosses strict instructions to 'look after her'. Instead of staying for the intended two weeks she stays for two months and appears to have successfully curtailed her wayward lifestyle, until one night she fails to return to the MacNamara home, frantic with worry for her safety (and the safety of his Job), MacNamara is calling everybody and his dog in West Berlin that may have a clue to her whereabouts. His Driver finally admits that since her arrival in Germany she's been crossing the Brandenburg Gate into East Germany every night has been courting and now married to a fully fledged card carrying communist called Otto (Horst Buchholz). Knowing that this will be the final nail in his coca-cola coffin if his boss ever finds out, MacNamara proceeds to concoct a plan to erase the marriage from the books and have Otto incarcerated in the East by having him arrested for being an American Spy. MacNamara pleased with his handy work returns home to find out that Scarlett is in a 'family way' with Otto's baby, now he must get Otto Back from the clutches of the East German forces, and pass him of as a blue-blooded, non commie capitalist entrepreneur.
The friction between Cagney and Buchholz on camera is brilliant yet the two actors constantly fought off set with Cagney labelling Buchholz as the most un-cooperative active he had ever worked with with Cagney even threatening to 'put him, (Buchholz) on his ass' which made the interplay between their respective characters all the more realistic as two people that detest the sight of each other.
Red Buttons makes an early movie appearance as an American MP and steals his scene by doing an impersonation of Cagney circa 1931 right in the face of Cagney circa 1961, which even though his back is to camera you can tell Cagney is cracking up though forever the professional, he gathers his composure well enough to complete the scene. There is also a blink-and-you'll-miss it in-joke where Cagney threatens to hurl a half grapefruit in Buchholz face in homage to the memorable scene he did 30 years before with Mae Clarke in The Public Enemy Another classic line is when Cagney utters rival screen gangster Edward G Robinson's immortal final line from Little Ceaser 'Mother of Mercy is this the end of Rico'.
From the opening titles the pace of this movie is set with the fast paced sabre-dance theme. Cagney refuses to let the film slow down either from the moment he first appears on screen he shows more vitality and energy than the rest of the cast combined and still moves with the agility of someone half his age.
I love this movie and is a perfect example of a sixties screwball sex-farce. typical Wilder, but a role a little different than Cagney was used to playing, but he rose to the challenge perfectly. It was to be another 20 years before Cagney made another Movie, but hell, he needed a long rest after giving it his all in this one.
Jack Lemmon once said that the film would have been much better had a more comedic actor been cast as Otto, I personally would have loved Lemmon himself in the role, but in 1960's Hollywood, any actor willing to play an anti-American communist was committing occupational suicide such was the paranoia surrounding Communism.
This movie can never be remade as it is too racially and politically intolerant for today's politically correct audiences to digest with comfort, which doesn't really upset me as the performances is this movie could never be bettered
This, and not Doctor Strangelove, is the supreme satire of the Cold War. From Cagney's hilarious opening narration, to its wonderful punch line, this masterpiece sustains a comic pace and energy that would almost no active film maker could hope to equal. The interrogation of Piffle is unforgettable, as is the meeting between Cagney and the commissars in the beer hall. In a word-MAGNIFICENT.
Although "One, Two, Three" was made at a tense and crucial point in the
War standoff, it is bitingly funny and has aged well. As previous
have noted, the performances are top notch, particularly those delivered
Cagney, Bucholz and Arlene Francis. The satire is thick in every scene,
with particularly sharp barbs aimed at the behavior and attitudes of
post-war Germans. The parodies of and references to Cagney's earlier
are also very funny. Cagney's makeover of the committed young Communist
A definite "10"...Wilder during his career peak, and Cagney delivering a fitting career finale.
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