One, Two, Three
Directed by Billy Wilder
Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond from a play by Ferenc Molnar
Bavaria Film/The Mirisch Corporation/Pyramid Productions
Otto Ludwig Piffl: Is everybody in this world corrupt?
Peripetchikoff: I don’t know everybody.
Wilder moves back into Ninotchka territory with this rapid-fire Cold War farce.
It is immediately before the building of the Berlin Wall. After suffering a couple of tours in Purgatory, Coca Cola executive C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney) is heading up the company’s Berlin office. His great dream is a promotion to the London office. The gatekeeper to his dream is his boss in Atlanta, Wendell P. Hazeltine. So, when Hazeltine asks MacNamara to house and chaperone his wild daughter Scarlet (Pamela Tiffin) while she is in Berlin, he can hardly refuse.
The seventeen-year-old Scarlet is untameable. MacNamara finally learns that she has been spending all the time she should have been at museums over in East Berlin. Worse yet, she has married a committed Commie named Otto Ludwig Piffl (Horst Buchholz) and is now pregnant. And her father and mother will arrive in Berlin shortly …
MacNamara leaps into action, determined by hook or by crook to wrest Otto from East Berlin and civilize him immediately. With Arlene Francis as MacNamara’s long-suffering wife.
I saw this years and years ago in my youth, perhaps my childhood, and have been unable to track it down ever since. I jumped at the chance when I saw it was available on YouTube. My viewing experience was not ideal as the movie occupied only a fraction of the frame and the already rapid-fire talking seemed to approach Chipmunks level.
Nonetheless, the movie was thoroughly enjoyable. Wilder has fun harkening back to his own and Cagney’s Golden Age past. The three Russian trade officials are something straight out of Ninotchka. The director makes fun of all sides in the Cold War, skewering Capitalism and Communism with equal relish. The dialogue just sparkles. The film misses being top-tier Wilder only because of its lack of a black heart under the laughs.
By the time the film was released the Berlin Wall was up and few saw any humor in the subject matter. It was one of Wilder’s few flops to date. One, Two, Three was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White.