In a screenplay that otherwise buzzes with novelty, One, Two, Three fails itself with a title that gives away nothing of it’s whirlwind plot. Maybe if the movie weren’t about PR, or lacked positive qualities, but One, Two, Three has everything to recommend and nothing to gain from a puzzling name.
Co-written by Billy Wilder and I. A. L. Diamond (the same team responsible for Some Like It Hot) and directed by Wilder, One, Two, Three is a Cold War comedy starring James Cagney as C. R. MacNamara, the back-dealing head of Coca Cola’s West Berlin branch. The boss’ daughter, Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin), is visiting and MacNamara, fishing for a transfer to London, agrees to chaperone. The usual goes wrong. Scarlett sneaks out at night. She falls in love with a boy (Horst Buchholz) but, because of when the film is set, the place she’s sneaking is East Berlin, and the boy she’s loving is a Communist. Watch MacNamara bribe and sell his way out and you’re in for a ruthless good payoff.
Flaws are fair play, as commercialism and communism get tossed out like the nagging wife stereotype Mrs. MacNamara refuses to entertain. Played by Arlene Francis, if naming a young woman, Scarlett, so you can make Gone With the Wind jokes, is easy, you won’t mind it after hearing Francis say her lines.
One, Two Three received positive reviews but was considered a financial loss. If the jokes are hot today, they had to be edgy in 1962. You have topical humor — MacNamara’s German assistant, Schlemmer (Hanns Lothar), insisting he didn’t know what was going on during WWII. You have pre-topical humor — a quip about the Germans trading missiles for Cuban cigars, pre-dating the Cuban Missile Crisis. Filming had to move to Munich, when the Berlin Wall was built overnight, making the production part of the history it considers.
With fast dialogue to rival His Girl Friday, that’s exactly what Wilder wanted according to film historian, Michael Schlesinger (translating the film was a challenge for writing subtitles that could keep up with the film’s clip).
Schlesinger provides the commentary track for Kino Lorber’s new DVD release. Two snippets of Wilder being interviewed round-out the the bonus features but, besides having done his research, Schlesinger is prepared. Always aware of good places to talk, or dive deeper without interruption, Cagney’s big speech arrives and Schlesinger has already talked it up. That’s the kind of knowledge that comes from watching a movie multiple times. Pointing out places to notice actors reacting, no reflection is rushed and fans of FX’s FEUD will be tickled to learn Joan Crawford was upset when she learned One, Two, Three was promoting Coca-Cola. Wilder prefered using brand names for realism, and Crawford’s deceased husband was Pepsi’s CEO.
One, Two, Three couldn’t have picked a worse title but it’s flawless script and comedic timing are high marks. One of the easiest films to suggest picking up.
Available 5/30 and for pre-order here.