|Poster by Saul Bass|
One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961)
C.R. "Mac" MacNamara (James Cagney) is a high-ranking executive in the Coca-Cola Company, assigned to West Berlin after a business fiasco a few years earlier in the Middle East (about which he is still bitter). Nevertheless, Mac is angling to become head of Western European Coca-Cola Operations, based in London. After working on an arrangement to introduce Coke into the Soviet Union, Mac receives a call from his boss, W.P. Hazeltine (Howard St. John) in Atlanta. Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin), the boss's hot-blooded but slightly dim 17-year-old socialite daughter, is coming to Berlin and Mac is assigned the unenviable task of taking care of this young whirlwind.
One, Two, Three is also the last film of actor James Cagney before his retirement and also one of his great performances. He carries the film on his own. He also represents the classic Hollywood in the early 1960's where the New Hollywood was about to take the silver screen and put aside those dusty stars and directors.
Almost entirely shot into Mac’s office and some exteriors of Berlin and the airport, One, Two, Three demonstrates how a strong script can set everything for a great comedy. Written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, the plot is intelligent and is like a mix of Ninotchka, that Wilder co-wrote, and an Hungarian one act play by Ferenc Molnar. It is truly a great use of the stereotypes of the time on the battle between the West and the East. Much like the battle between Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola; to use another figure that the film offers. One of the annoying things of this movie is the fact that the dialogues are so fast that they are almost yelled all along the picture. But much like any other screwball comedies it is almost an entire dispute the entire film that characterizes the genre. So yes they yell but every line is a pleasure and the delivery from Cagney, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Lilo Pulver, Horst Buchholz, Hanns Lothar, and Howard St. John is deadpan funny.
As often, heavy dramas gain respect and recognition and most of the time get the biggest awards. One, Two, Three is no rest with that and Cagney could at least been nominated for his performance at the Oscars. However, this movie isn’t on many lists of great films and not even on AFI’s 100 Comedies. It leaves me wondering who makes those lists and on which standards do they make their picks because this is definitely an omission. One of the greatest lesser known films from Billy Wilder who often gets its impact diminished because he left a bigger mark as a master at comedies than in a more serious genre. A great comedy that I highly recommend.