One, Two, Three 1961 ****

Billy Wilder’s touch came and went; not all of his comedies sit well today, as only the best in humour stands the test of time. One, Two, Three was a flop in 1961, out of step with public interest, but it’s now clear that it’s Wilder at his best. James Cagney plays C.R. MacNamara, the manager of the US Coca-Cola operation in Berlin, a city still divided into East and West. When his boss sends his daughter over for a few months, MacNamara rises to the challenge of keeping the girl out of trouble, but the day before his boss arrives to collect her, the girl vanishes, only to reappear married and pregnant.  Despite a two-hour plus running time, One Two Three plays as a farce at breakneck speed, with Cagney ripping through his dialogue with real verve. There’s wonderful touches, like the secretary performing as a dancing girl to charm Russian businessmen, the vibrations of her dancing on the table causing a huge Communist portrait to fall off the wall, the photo of Khrushchev revealed to be plastered over an image of Stalin. References to John F Kennedy and the pop-music of the day are knowing but not overplayed. There’s a reason why Billy Wilder and screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond are regarded as all-time greats when it comes to wit; there’s an edge to the jokes about Germany’s past which, given that Wilder would later flirt with making Schindler’s List, indicate a pointed and political political point of view. Music by Andre Pervin.


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