Friday, April 27, 2018

THE 1961 BLOGATHON: One, Two, Three

Steve at MovieMovieBlogBlog is turning another year older. He's turned 57 of them to be exact and is commemorating the event with The 1961 Blogathon. Click HERE to celebrate.

I enjoy the way Billy Wilder amuses himself and us by laughing at politics.

Ninotchka, Ninotchka (Greta Garbo): "The last mass trials were a great success. There are going to be fewer but better Russians."

General Sebastiano, Five Graves to Cairo (Fortunio Bonanova): "Can a nation of belchers understand a nation that sings?"

In One, Two, Three Wilder hilariously shows his disdain by pulling the leg and tweaking the nose of both Capitalism and Communism and the excesses of both. A Cold War is not such a hot thing, but Cold War humor is something else again. Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond based their screenplay on a short play by Ferenc Molnar with a few ideas from Ninotchka.

Mac: "On Sunday, August 13, 1961, the eyes of America were on the nation's capital where Roger Maris was hitting home runs #44 and #45 against the Senators. On that same day, without any warning, the East German Communists sealed off the border between East and West Berlin. I only mention this to show the kind of people we're dealing with - REAL SHIFTY!"

James Cagney stars as C.R. MacNamara, the head of Coca-Cola in West Berlin. MacNamara had been looked over for promotion and has a plan to open up the Russian market to their product, ensuring he gets "the London job". Unexpectedly, the head office in Atlanta isn't interested in doing business with the Reds. They have a more personal project for Mac.

Scarlett: "Tell daddy I'm going to the U.S.S.R. That's short for Russia."
Mac: "Are you out of your seventeen-year-old mind? Russia is to get out of, not to get into!"

Pamela Tiffin plays Scarlett Hazeltine, the almost legal daughter of Mac's boss. She has been sent abroad to forget some fellow or other, and it is now the MacNamara's turn to entertain and watch over the girl. The girl has other plans, sneaks out at night, and falls for a "marvy" Communist Party member. Their secret marriage has Mac apoplectic. The discovery of this betrayal by Scarlett of America and acceptable behavior will certainly scotch "the London job".

Otto (to Scarlett): "I'll pick you up at 6:30 sharp, because the 7:00 train for Moscow leaves promptly at 8:15."

Horst Buchholtz plays Otto Piffl, a rabidly loyal Party member, who just happens to fall under the spell of the hotblooded Scarlett. She doesn't really have a clue about all the political rhetoric her hubby spouts but is willing to follow him anywhere. Mac sees only "the London job" and devises a plan to get Otto out of their lives forever. The plan is contingent on an ingenious cuckoo clock which presents a reliable 15-minute show of Uncle Sam waving a flag to the tune of Yankee Doodle Dandy. When Otto returns to East Berlin with this little item in his sidecar, he is arrested. Under unbelievable torture (Could you stand up under a barrage of Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini?), Otto confesses to being an American spione.

Phyllis: "Why can't you get yourself a nice permanent job in the home office in Atlanta?"
Mac: "Atlanta? You can't be serious! That's Siberia with mint juleps!"

Arlene Francis plays Phyllis MacNamara, Mac's wife. On one hand, she could be considered long-suffering as she has put up with constant travel and Mac's proclivity to spending time on "language lessons" with various secretaries. On the other hand, Phyllis has a ready wit that is a great weapon and shield.

Ingeborg: "Here's your mail, here's your Wall Street Journal, and here's my resignation."
Mac: "Resignation? What are you talking about?"
Ingeborg: "You do not work me overtime anymore, you do not take advantage of me on weekends, you have lost all interest in the...umlaut. So obviously, my services are no longer required here."

Lilo Pulver plays Mac's current secretary Ingeborg. She's a very attractive, very efficient and very mercenary girl. All of those characteristics will come into play as the plot of One, Two, Three unravels. Hanns Lothar plays Schlemmer, Mac's number one assistant. His willingness to go along to get along will also prove useful in a funny performance.

Howard St. John and Lois Bolton play Scarlett's parents, who are arriving in Berlin within 24 hours to take little Scarlett off of Mac's hands. Mac's joy at having gotten rid of Otto quickly disappears when it is determined that Scarlett is in the family way. Now Mac has to put his ingenuity to work at getting Otto out of East Berlin and back into Scarlett's arms.

Mac: "Did you have any trouble getting out of East Berlin?
Schlemmer: "No. But I had a little trouble in West Berlin. I was picked up by an American soldier in a Jeep. He was very fresh. Wanted to take my picture for something called "Playboy"?

The Russians with whom Mac had been negotiating the Coca-Cola rights had been quite taken with Fraulein Ingeborg. Fraulein Ingeborg is exchanged for the Trade Commission's help in getting Otto released. Actually, the Trade Commission is dismayed to learn that instead of Fraulein Ingeborg, they got Schlemmer in a dress. You can't trust anybody!

Otto: "You mean I've been a capitalist for only 3 hours and already I owe $10,000?"
Mac: "That's what makes our system work. Everybody owes everybody."

The Hazeltines plane is scheduled to arrive at noon. Mac has 3 hours and 2 minutes to turn his bouncing baby Bolshevik into a respectable capitalist. It must be done one-two-three. Otto is less than thrilled, but the prospect of becoming a father, and Scarlett's emotional displays work wonders. Also, maybe - just maybe, he's not so put off by the haircut, manicure, silk shirts, nylon socks, cuff links, etc. that is being provided for him by Mac. Don't worry, Mac is keeping an itemized list, including the installation of Otto as manager of the bottling plant. Mac is sure to get his money back, plus "the London job".

Otto is officially adopted by a down at his heels Count, giving Scarlett a title. Count von Droste Schattenburg is played on screen by Hubert von Meyerinck, but his dialogue is by the familiar voice of Sig Ruman. Unnerving, but comforting at the same time.

It is a race against time to the airport with the perfect son-in-law. Mac did his job too well. Hazeltine is so impressed with this Aristocratic relative that he promotes him to, you guessed it, "the London job."

Mac hasn't been forgotten. He's been promoted back to Atlanta. A fed-up Phyllis is at the airport taking the kids back to the States. Mac pleads his case. The family huddles and votes to give Mac another chance. The vote was 2 to 1.

Instructions to the Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond screenplay:

"This piece must be played molto furioso. Suggested speed: 110 miles an hour on the curves, 140 miles an hour in the straightaways."

There is nothing subtle about One, Two, Three. The dialogue is barked staccato and the pacing is - well, it's "one-two-three". High energy is required of the entire cast, and they provide it. The sarcasm and contemporary (now historical) references come fast and it takes a couple of viewings before you catch everything. Nonetheless, One, Two, Three is so amusing that returning to it every once in a while is worth it.

Daniel Rapp was nominated for an Oscar for his black and white cinematography (winner: The Hustler). The movie was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture - Comedy (winner: A Majority of One). Pamela Tiffin was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress (winner: Rita Moreno, West Side Story).

Our 60-year-old star, James Cagney, found One, Two, Three a rough shoot and decided to retire. He would remain so for many years until accepting the role of Police Commissioner Waldo in 1981s Ragtime.

"In this business you need enthusiasm. I don't have enthusiasm for acting anymore. Acting is not the beginning and end of everything."

Retirement for Cagney meant years on his farm in Stanfordville, New York with his wife, Billie.


  1. Beautiful summary of a hilarious movie. Its subject matter obviously makes it more dated and less urgent than when it was first released, but James Cagney ablaze is enough to make it work. Billy Wilder had previously tried to get movies made with The Marx Bros. and Laurel & Hardy, but the plans were scotched; I'm glad he was at least able to nab Cagney before his retirement.

    1. Harnessing Cagney's energy alone would solve crises for generations!

      A very happy birthday to you.

  2. My God, how could I miss this blogathon?

    Oh well, you wrote a great piece about one of my all-time favorite films. I literally love it to death. For me it's near perfect. The dialogue and the cast are brilliant.

    It's very special to me because I remember the Cold War (admittedly not in the 60s but in the 80s) and know what a divided city looks like. I bet a lot of the references would be lost on today's audience.

    1. The dialogue is so sharp and the cast puts it over perfectly. This film makes me laugh. I think the over-the-top political rhetoric of our current time only makes this "period piece" more relatable. Specifics may be lost on some, but not the attitude.

  3. I've heard this title so many times but never knew what the plot was about or that it had such a fantastic cast! I enjoyed your write-up, CW, and this sounds like a real little gem. Can't go wrong with Wilder... Even his "flops" have their amusing moments.

    1. Truly, Billy Wilder never bores, and in One, Two, Three he barely gives you time to think. It's a dandy.

  4. I thought only Hitchcock could get away with a movie poster like that.

    1. Wilder is an interesting character. His talent is unquestionable. He knew how to promote himself without looking like that was what he was doing.

  5. This was the first Billy Wilder movie I ever saw. I remember they showed it on one of those CBS (fill in the day of the week) Night Movies in the Seventies. I loved it then, although I hardly understood a lot of the references. I have seen it many times since and it remains one of my all time favourite Billy Wilder movies (it might actually be my third favourite after The Apartment and Some Like It Hot). You did a great write up on it!

    1. Thanks so much. I love this movie as well. The Cold War humor speaks to me. I think it comes from reading too much Carre in my younger years.

  6. Could I hold up? Nein! Nein! American Spion! Best bit in the whole movie. Its got its funny moments. Thanks for the post.

  7. One of my favorite Billy Wilder films and favorite Cagney films. You're right about the manic pacing--and perhaps that puts off some viewers. But I think it's perfect for this very funny film. The cast is first-rate and it's a great reminder that Hollywood didn't do right by the lovely Pamela Tiffin. She was a fine comedienne!

    1. I dig the pacing, but I imagine it could be off putting for some.

      Indeed. Pamela had the ability and appeal for a much better career. So much has to do with luck.

  8. This is a film I always remind myself I need to watch again. I saw it once a few years ago, and while I wasn't enamored of it, I did love Cagney and the crazy pacing. In my opinion, you can never go wrong with Wilder. Sometimes it just takes more than one viewing to appreciate everything he did. I'll be sure to keep your lovely review in mind the next time One, Two, Three comes on TCM.

    1. We need to laugh at politics these days. It comes a little easier when it is the politics of another time. It is amazing though, how many things can be looked at through today's eyes.

  9. You're so right about Billy Wilder and his ability to satirize politics. He's a treasure for that, and so many other things.

    I cannot believe I STILL haven't seen this film, despite best intentions. However, you've pushed it to the top of my TBW List. Great review, too!

    1. There's always a scramble on those old watch lists. Mine seems to have a mind of its own. It's kinda pushy too.

  10. I remember reading tha Cagney didn't like horst Buchholz's behavior on set. I wonder how much of it was responsible for Cagney's loss of enthusiasm for acting... Anyway, One, Two, Three is a wonderful film - one that, as a history nerd, I hold close to my heart.

    1. I can easily imagine Cagney thinking "I'm too old for this nonsense."


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