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One, Two, Three

One, Two, Three(1961)

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teaser One, Two, Three (1961)

Billy Wilder wrote and/or directed a wide variety of pictures during hislegendary career, both in Germany and America. But he's probably best knownfor the merciless comedies he created with screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond.Though One, Two, Three (1961), a mile-a-minute battle royal pittingCoca-Cola against Communism, is just as biting as you'd expect it to be,Wilder's trademark cynicism is eclipsed by the sight and sound of JamesCagney constantly shouting his dialogue at top volume. The former star of The Public Enemy (1931), no springchicken at this point, seems on the verge of a coronary throughout thepicture.

In Cameron Crowe's book, Conversations with Wilder (Alfred A. Knopf), the director commented on Cagney's delivery, saying "We knew that we were going to have a comedy, we [were] not going to be waiting for the laughs. But we had to go with Cagney, because Cagney was the whole picture. He really had the rhythm, and that was very good. It was not funny. But just the speed was funny...The general idea was, let's make the fastest picture in the world...And yeah, we did not wait, for once, for the big laughs. We went through the big laughs. A lot of lines that needed a springboard, and we just went right through the springboard...We just did it, nine pages at a time, and he never fumbled, he never made a mistake." [This last remark, however, wasn't completely true according to a Cagney biography].

In the film, Cagney plays C.R. MacNamara, Coca-Cola's head of bottling in Germany and a total company man. As far as Wilder and Diamond are concerned,the Atlanta-based company represents the good ol' U.S. of A. MacNamara's a snorting, rampagingmass-marketer who would like nothing more than to become the head ofoperations for all of Europe. To that end, McNamara agrees to overseeScarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin), the teenage daughter of a Coca-Colabig-wig (Howard St. John), while she tours the continent. Unfortunately,Scarlett gets married on the sly to Otto Ludwig Piffl (Horst Buchholz), a fullycommitted Communist hippie, without MacNamara's approval. Her father willsoon be arriving in Germany, so MacNamara desperately attempts to presentOtto as a Capitalist.

One, Two, Three was filmed in West Berlin and Munich in the summer of1961. Cagney agreed to star in the picture mainly because of thelocation shoot. He grew up in New York City's Yorkville district, an areathat was teeming with German immigrants, and he had fond memories of tripsto the corner butcher shop. Cagney loved his neighbors' language just asmuch as their food, so he thought spending some time in Berlin would be apleasurable experience. It was, to an extent. He didn't, however, count onbeing driven nuts by his director or one of hisfellow cast members.

Wilder's insistence on breakneck, rat-a-tat-tat timing to each and everyscene soon began to wear on Cagney. One sequence, in which he had to spitout a steady stream of complex dialogue while selecting clothes for awedding, was the breaking point. He had only received the script pages thenight before, and he wasn't completely comfortable with them. Wilder'sresolve to shoot the scene in one take was repeatedly hindered when Cagneystumbled over the line, "Where is the morning coat and striped trousers?"It eventually took 57 takes to get it all out with 100% accuracy. Cagneywas genuinely irked that Wilder couldn't accept even the slightest bit ofparaphrasing.

But that was nothing compared to his feelings toward Buchholz, the onlyactor who Cagney, a consummate gentleman, ever openly disliked. "I gotriled at S.Z. Sakall," he once said, "in Yankee Doodle Dandy [1942] fortrying to steal a scene, but he was an incorrigible old ham who was quietlyand respectfully put in his place by (director) Michael Curtiz. No harm inthe old boy. But this Horst Buchholz character I truly loathed. Had hekept on with his little scene-stealing didoes, I would have been forced toknock him on his ass, which I would have very much enjoyed doing."

In the midst of all this, Cagney was slowly coming to the conclusion that heno longer enjoyed acting and was ready to hang it up. During his stay inGermany he had loaned his boat to his good friend, Rolie Winters. One day,while the set was being readied, he wandered out of Munich's Bavaria Studiosinto glorious sunlight. "On this particular day, I had just received aletter from (Rolie) with a picture enclosed. The photo was of Rolie and hiswife and of a number of other friends sitting in the boat, raising theirglasses to the camera and me...then the assistant director came and said,'Mr. Cagney, we are ready.' So inside the studio I went, and as they closedthe giant doors behind me and I found myself in that great black cavern withjust a few spotlights dotted here and there, I said to myself, 'Well, thisis it. This is the end. I'm finished." He stayed retired for the next 20 years, with 1981's Ragtime beinghis final big-screen appearance.

Produced and directed by: Billy Wilder
Writers: Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond (based on a play by Ferenc Molnar)Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Editing: Daniel Mandell
Music: Andre Previn
Art Design: Alexander Trauner
Principal Cast: James Cagney (C.R. MacNamara), Horst Buchholz (Otto LudwigPiffl), Pamela Tiffin (Scarlett Hazeltine), Arlene Francis (PhyllisMacNamara), Lilo Pulver (Ingeborg), Howard St. John (Hazeltine), HannsLothar (Schlemmer), Lois Bolton (Mrs. Hazeltine), Leon Askin(Peripetchikoff), Peter Capell (Mishkin), Ralf Wolter (Borodenko.)
BW-109m. Letterboxed.

by Paul Tatara

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