Films, Humor, Reviews.

One Two Three: A movie that never gets old

Review, Title One, Two, Three, Studio MGM/UA, Rating 5.0,

One, Two, Three (1961)

Director: Billy Wilder

Review

Clip: Yellow polka-dot bikini torture



This is a highly informed madcap comedy set in the heart of the Cold War, geographically and in time: Berlin of 1961, just before the Wall went up. Billy Wilder cranks up the pace from the beginning and leaves you out of breath at the end.

The movie features Cagney as a ruthless and relentlessly scheming Coca-Cola executive who’s desire is to take charge of all foreign operations in London, thereby living a luxurious ex-pat life, with the company paying not just salary and bonuses, but basically paying for his living expenses for he and his family, and where he can take ongoing language lessons from beautiful women. But he had slipped up on his way and was semi-exiled to Berlin, from where he was expected to grow Coca-Cola’s market in the dour Iron Curtain countries.

Wilder mixes in corporate politics, ex-Nazi’s who can’t quite suppress the regret they feel for their lost world, the tensions of the East-West ideological conflict, youthful idealism and enthusiasm (for politics and sex, respectively), materially deprived and easily bribed Soviet bureaucrats, poor Germans who are desperate for low-paying jobs, and so on. Only someone with the awareness of Billy Wilder could have written this and pulled it off.

This is one of both Billy Wilder’s and Jimmy Cagney’s best movies, each of whom had many. Pamela Tiffin was brilliant as a gushing Southern boy-crazed teenager, and Horst Buchholz was good as the young East German ideologue who despised the corrupt West, only to be easily corrupted when the opportunity arose.

Wilder mixes in a fair amount of unsub-titled German dialog, with great effect; Wilder was so skilled a writer that even a viewer without any understanding of German could understand those scenes.

The movie was released at the end of 1961, and a small intervening historical event, the building the Wall in August of 1961, required some post-production modifications to the opening of the movie and the plot to accommodate the new Cold War reality.

Perhaps what makes the movie one I will watch again and again is that the setting is eerily recognizable to me; as a eight year old, I visited West and East Berlin for a week in May of 1961 with my family, right around the time the movie was being shot. Wilder captured the Zeitgeist with this movie, so much so that when I watch it it makes me feel like I am back in the Berlin of 1961.

Eins, Zwei, Drei! Sitzen machen!

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