Cult Movie: Wonderful Billy Wilder comedy One, Two, Three

James Cagney plays CR 'Mac' MacNamara in Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three
Ralph McLean

One, Two, Three

WITH timeless beauties like Some Like It Hot and The Apartment to his name Billy Wilder will always be rightly renowned as one of the greatest director's of Hollywood's golden age.

Not all the master film maker's cinematic offerings are held in quite the same esteem however. One, Two, Three – the director's wonderful but undeniably undervalued 1961 comedy – is a perfect case in point.

A fast and frantic satire on corporate politics and Cold War paranoia, it's a freewheeling gem of film that has somehow fallen through the cracks with the passing of time. A brand new re-issue on Blu-ray as part of Eureka Entertainment's ongoing Masters Of Cinema series will hopefully see it reassessed and allowed to join the top table of Wilder's fabulous films.

James Cagney plays CR 'Mac' MacNamara, a top soft drinks executive who is sent by his boss to West Berlin to keep an eye on his 17-year-old socialite daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) while she visits the German city.

While on his surveillance duties, Mac discovers Scarlett has fallen for an East Berlin communist activist and that the couple are planning to elope to Moscow. Mac must break up the unacceptable tryst before his all-American boss finds out about it and before his own wife, who can't stand life in Germany, drives him certifiably insane.

In some ways it's easy to see why this film isn't always held in quite the esteem of Wilder's better-loved comedies. It's wild and wondrously fast (so fast in fact that Cageny couldn't stand the pace and 'retired' from films for many years after it!) but it's also full of Cold War gags that don't really register with modern audiences.

As a political satire, it does feel a little hemmed in by its era, but if you can get by the many dated jokes there's plenty to enjoy in this whip-sharp farce.

Cagney is great as the flustered executive, and he even gets to spoof his old gangster persona with a nod to The Public Enemy at one point. His tendency to over-reach a little and chew some scenery is mostly reigned in and the result is a memorable comic performance from a true American original.

The portrayal of communism may feel outmoded and cliché ridden to audiences today but there are supporting roles, such as Arlene Francis' turn as Mac's disgruntled wife Phyllis, that more than make up for any Thespian shortcomings.

As you'd expect from a Wilder comedy, the dialogue spits along with real venom and there are several comic set pieces – like the car chase where the Russian car slowly disintegrates in front of our eyes – that live long in the memory.

It may not be the director's greatest ever film, but it certainly deserves a better reputation than it currently has. Hopefully, this lovingly put together release, adorned with fabulous extras and an attractive sleeve as Eureka releases always are, will help fix that.

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