One, Two, Three
) is a comedy film directed by Billy Wilder
and written by I.A.L. Diamond
, based on a one-act play Egy, kettö, három
by Ferenc Molnar
. The comedy features James Cagney
, Horst Buchholz
, Pamela Tiffin
, Arlene Francis
, Leon Askin
, Howard St. John
, and others. It would be Cagney's last film appearance until Ragtime,
23 years later.
The film is set in Berlin during the Cold War, before the building of the Berlin Wall, and politics is predominant in the setup. Diamond and Wilder's social satire and sharp humor skewers targets on all sides of the divide — capitalists and communists, Americans, Germans, and Russians, men and women alike exhibit their own weaknesses and quirky foibles. As in Avanti! (1972), the humour of the film is partly based on the contrast between people from different cultures.
C. R. "Mac" MacNamara is a high-ranking executive in the Coca-Cola Company, assigned to West Berlin after a business fiasco a few years earlier (about which he is still bitter). After working on an arrangement to bring Coke across the Iron Curtain, Mac receives a call from his boss. Scarlett, the boss's hot-blooded 17-year-old daughter, is coming to Berlin, and Mac receives the unenviable task of taking care of this young whirlwind.
An expected two-week stay develops into two months, and Mac discovers just why Scarlet is enamored of Berlin. She surprises him by announcing that she's married to a young man, Otto, who happens to be an East German Communist with ardent "anti-Yankee" views. The socialist couple are bound for Moscow to make a new life for themselves ("They've assigned us a magnificent apartment, just a short walk from the bathroom!"). Since Mac's boss is coming to check up on his daughter the very next day, this is obviously a disaster of monumental proportions, and Mac deals with it as any good capitalist would — by framing the young Communist firebrand and having him picked up by the Stasi, the East German secret police.
Under pressure from his stern and disapproving wife, and with the revelation that Scarlett is pregnant, Mac sets out to bring Otto back with the help of his Russian business associates. With the boss on the way, he finds that his only chance is to turn the fierce young man into a son-in-law in good standing — which means, among other things, making him a capitalist.
Homages and references
- The film makes several references to Cagney's earlier films, including a Cagney impression from Red Buttons, and the "grapefruit to the face" incident in The Public Enemy. Cagney also refers to his contemporary Edward G. Robinson by using his "Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Rico?" line from Little Caesar.
- Many events of the Cold War are mentioned such as the Berlin Airlift, and the Space Race; the movie even presages the future Cuban Missile Crisis.
- Cagney's male (and former SS) assistant crossdresses to deceive the Soviets, but gets men interested in him, just like Jack Lemmon in Wilder's Some Like it Hot.
- A reference to Cagney's Yankee Doodle Dandy is the use of a Cuckoo Clock that played Yankee Doodle Dandy, complete with Uncle Sam with an American flag in his hand that pops out when the "time" is right.
- Cagney noted that he quit Hollywood after this film due to fatigue from an inordinate number of lines in a lengthy movie helmed by a demanding Wilder, and to a feeling of jealousy when, during filming, he heard from a friend about to set off on a leisurely yachting trip.
- James Cagney as C.R. "Mac" MacNamara
- Horst Buchholz as Otto Ludwig Piffl
- Pamela Tiffin as Scarlett Hazeltine
- Arlene Francis as Phyllis MacNamara
- Liselotte Pulver as Fräulein Ingeborg (Mac's secretary)
- Howard St. John as Wendell P. Hazeltine
- Hanns Lothar as Schlemmer (Mac's assistant and henchman)
- Leon Askin as Peripetchikoff
- Ralf Wolter as Borodenko
- Karl Lieffen as Fritz (Mac's chauffeur)
- Hubert von Meyerinck as Count von Droste-Schattenburg
- Loïs Bolton as Melanie Hazeltine
- Peter Capell as Mishkin
- Til Kiwe as Reporter
- Henning Schlüter as Dr. Bauer
- Karl Ludwig Lindt as Zeidlitz
's lively Sabre Dance
marks the moments when Mac moves into energetic action.
The film won kudos from the staff at Variety.
They wrote, "Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three
is a fast-paced, high-pitched, hard-hitting, lighthearted farce crammed with topical gags and spiced with satirical overtones. Story is so furiously quick-witted that some of its wit gets snarled and smothered in overlap. But total experience packs a considerable wallop.
Critic Bosley Crowther applauded the work of Cagney and wrote, "With all due respect for all the others, all of whom are very good—Pamela Tiffin, a new young beauty, as Scarlett; Horst Buchholz as the East Berlin boy, Lilo Pulver as a German secretary, Leon Askin as a Communist stooge and several more—the burden is carried by Mr. Cagney, who is a good 50 per cent of the show. He has seldom worked so hard in any picture or had such a browbeating ball. His fellow is a free-wheeling rascal. His wife (Arlene Francis) hates his guts. He knows all the ways of beating the rackets and has no compunctions about their use. He is brutishly bold and brassy, wildly ingenious and glib. Mr. Cagney makes you mistrust him—but he sure makes you laugh with him. And that's about the nature of the picture. It is one with which you can laugh—with its own impudence toward foreign crises—while laughing at its rowdy spinning jokes.
- Academy Awards: Oscar, Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Daniel L. Fapp; 1962.
- Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Motion Picture - Comedy; Best Supporting Actress, Pamela Tiffin; 1962.
- Laurel Awards: Golden Laurel, Top Comedy, 4th place; Top Male Comedy Performance, James Cagney, 4th place; 1962.
- Writers Guild of America: WGA Award (Screen), Best Written American Comedy, Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond; 1962.