Billy Wilder is responsible for some of the best, most sharply-written films of Hollywood’s golden age. Today he’s probably best known for his comedies, especially those he made with writing partner I.A.L. Diamond. Finally one of his most under appreciated films, the satirical madcap comedy One, Two, Three, is getting a well deserved UK Blu-ray release as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters Of Cinema series.
In the film, James Cagney plays C.R. ‘Mac’ MacNamara, a top Coca-Cola executive based in Berlin. When his bosses’ 17-year-old socialite daughter visits, he’s told to watch over her. To Mac’s horror she falls for a communist agitator and attempts to end the romance before his boss learns the truth, all the while dealing with corrupt businessmen and his wife’s struggle with German living.
There is a reason this one isn’t as fondly remembered as Wilder’s classic films. It hasn’t aged that well in terms of politics and humour but this to due to the specificity of the plot. Set in a very distinct time and place, this results in a lot of contemporary jokes that only work if you know a bit of history. Also, by it’s very nature as a farce it can sometimes feel a bit stagey. Having said that, the jokes that do work are very funny. The car chase where the Russian car slowly falls to pieces is a great visual gag, and the scenes with Mac employing increasingly outlandish negotiating tactics to keep his customers onside are as sharp as anything produced by Wilder. The dialogue comes thick and fast and the ensemble largely delivers it perfectly.
Best known for his gangster roles, Cagney is great as the constantly exasperated Mac. It’s an uncharacteristically comic turn, though he brings his usual dynamic energy to the role. The film even has fun with the casting, making playful references to his previous performances in Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Public Enemy. He was never a particularly subtle actor, guilty of overdoing it on occasion, but here his style is perfectly suited to the frantic pace and rapid-fire dialogue. The result is a tour-de-force in one of his finest performances.
It helps that he’s supported by an impressive ensemble, though Arlene Francis stands out as Mac’s long suffering wife, delivering withering put-downs and wry asides perfectly. Meanwhile Horst Buchholz – fresh off the success of The Magnificent Seven – hams it up outrageously as a radical Communist. He’s not done any favours by his characterisation as a humourless, one dimensional stereotype which is unfortunately something here that just doesn’t work, due to both the character and the performance.
One, Two, Three isn’t one of Wilder’s masterpieces but it has his fingerprints all over it, and is a great example of the genre. There are a few jokes that fall flat but the pace is so quick that for every dud, there’s a genuine laugh just around the corner. The script, cinematography and performances are fresh and sharp, and it keeps its energy up right until the final shot. It’s a fun, if exhausting film, and deserves more recognition.
Eureka’s Blu-rays are always a treat and this one is no exception. The Saul Bass style graphics make the box really striking, and as always it comes with a polished collector’s booklet, with in-depth essays by film critics.
One Two Three is available to order here: https://amzn.to/2IfCLl5
- Limited Edition O Card slipcase [2000 copies ONLY]
- 1080p presentation on Blu-ray
- LPCM audio (original mono presentation)
- Optional English SDH subtitles
- Brand New and Exclusive Interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard
- Feature Length Audio Commentary by Film Historian Michael Schlesinger