Release: 15th April 2019
Cagney is C.R. “Mac” MacNamara, a top soft drinks company executive shipped off to (then West) Berlin and told to keep an eye on his boss’ 17-year-old Atlanta socialite daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) while she visits Germany. Scarlett’s tour seems endless, and Mac discovers she’s fallen for a (then East) Berlin communist agitator and the young couple are bound for Moscow! Mac has to bust up the burgeoning romance before his boss learns the truth, all the while dealing with his wife Phyllis (Arlene Francis) and her own impatience with German living.
One might consider Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three to be a vulgar and tone deaf love letter to capitalist America. One might assume that through the loud and nippy insufferable arrogance of the entrepreneurial spirit, Wilder is taking one mighty swing at the Soviet nation. But then again, one might have no real sense of Billy Wilder and what he stood for; because One, Two, Three is without a doubt one of Wilder’s most obvious digs at the hubris of Uncle Sam.
There is no doubt that One, Two, Three has that trademark acerbic wit Wilder carried through his illustrious career. Moving at 1000 miles an hour, it spins James Cagney through the farcical world of xenophobia and the presumed ascendancy of capitalist culture. Like The Apartment before it, One, Two, Three is about the anti-hero everyman who, through circumstance, happens upon an opportunity to do the right thing after doing the wrong thing first. What is more interesting is that Horst Buchholz’s Otto provides a vessel not only for the ‘Russian problem’ but also for any dark, foreign figure that, sadly to this day, is feared and revered among bigoted parents through the United States and beyond. It would be a further 6 years until Sidney Portier would emerge to tackle similar issues of derision in more overt ways with Look Who’s Coming To Dinner; but both films share a marked attitude of thumbing their noses at bigotry.
Although this is far from Wilder’s greatest work (The Apartment, Some Like It Hot and Sunset Boulevard have that market cornered), it is still very much a product of it’s director’s impatient sensibilities and eye for framing (check Cagney’s opening journey into the office for a masterclass in physical comedy and camera work). It biggest failing is that it lacks real heart. Even when Cagney eventually undoes his ills, you never quite get a sense of relief or elation; which might well be down to a lack of character development. There is also the problem of Cagney’s MacNamara just not being a very nice person. It might be the weight of previous roles, or maybe his mean-spirited look, but this reviewer can never quite move past the fact he just feels like a bit of a douche.
Daniel Fapp’s cinematography would earn him an Oscar nomination, and the Golden Globes threw the film an cursory nod too, but One, Two, Three would never amount to much in a career of outstanding efforts. It is far from a bad film, in fact at some points it is a total riot; but One, Two, Three remains a B-grade picture in Wilder’s repertoire. Master of Cinema, meanwhile, have done the film proud with this 1080 presentation.
Film Grade: B
A couple of half decent Interviews, but nothing that will overly engage or inform keen Wilder fans.
Special Features Grade: D+
Although it remains classic Wilder, this film is hardly a Wilder classic.