Monday, December 17, 2007

One, Two, Three

One, Two, Three; comedy, USA, 1961; D: Billy Wilder, S: James Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Howard St. John, Hanns Lothar, Leon Askin, Liselotte Pulver

C. R. MacNamara is the American representative of Coca-Cola in West Berlin. After failure on the market in the Middle East and South America, he plans to expand the Coca-Cola sale on Communist countries. But his boss sends him his 17-year old daughter Scarlett to watch on her. 2 months later MacNamara finds out Scarlett got - married! And on top of that with the German Otto - a Communist! In order to save himself from the anger of his boss, he transforms Otto into a perfect American Capitalist. The boss is pleased and promotes him back to work in the US.

Billy Wilder continued his long streak of inspirational phase and filmed political farce "One, Two, Three" in which he unpretentiously, subtly ridiculed both the Communists and the Capitalists, as well as the "Iron Curtain". James Cagney is in top-notch shape playing a comedian for a change, C. R. MacNamara, who is the representative of the Coca-Cola industry in West Berlin and has a map of the world in his office with dots that mark the "conquering" of that beverage (where only the Communist countries are empty). The main plot tangle of the story will prove to be a real firework of gags, quite possibly even the funniest comedy Wilder ever made: namely, Scarlett, the daughter of his boss, secretly got married to a East German, Otto, a devoted communist who plans to bring her to Moscow. In one of the highlights of the film, MacNamara goes to Otto's motorcycle and puts a balloon with a sign "Russians go home!" on it onto his exhaust pipe, and the gas inhales it and makes it visible just as the blissful young lad enters the Eastern Berlin, thus getting immediately arrested. Even better is the whole sequence where MacNamara has to transform him into a full blood Capitalist to please his boss: a great example of multi-layered, intelligent comedy, something that many physical grimace comedians would have drastically needed. Wilder achieves the maximum out of the simple concept, either through inspired dialogues ("When he turns 18, he can make up his mind if he wants to be a capitalist or a rich communist.") through subtle jokes on brute-nationalism as the core of any dictatorship (East Germans wearing banners of Khrushchev, saying: "Nikita über alles"; Schlemmer's comment: "Hotel Potemkin? Oh, I know where that is! It was formerly known as Hotel Göring, and before that as Hotel Bismarck!") or just plain sight gags that summon up everything better than a thousand words (such as MacNamara's car fleeing from three Soviet officials, whose USSR car is slowly falling apart in the chase, symbolic for the state of its origin), even in the end symbolically predicting that Eastern Germany would become capitalist-democratic.


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