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James Cagney
Remind Me

One, Two, Three

Billy Wilder wrote and/or directed a wide variety of pictures during his legendary career, both in Germany and America. But he's probably best known for the merciless comedies he created with screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond. Though One, Two, Three (1961), a mile-a-minute battle royal pitting Coca-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 James Cagney constantly shouting his dialogue at top volume. The former star of The Public Enemy (1931), no spring chicken at this point, seems on the verge of a coronary throughout the picture.

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, rampaging mass-marketer who would like nothing more than to become the head of operations for all of Europe. To that end, McNamara agrees to oversee Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin), the teenage daughter of a Coca-Cola big-wig (Howard St. John), while she tours the continent. Unfortunately, Scarlett gets married on the sly to Otto Ludwig Piffl (Horst Buchholz), a fully committed Communist hippie, without MacNamara's approval. Her father will soon be arriving in Germany, so MacNamara desperately attempts to present Otto as a Capitalist.

One, Two, Three was filmed in West Berlin and Munich in the summer of 1961. Cagney agreed to star in the picture mainly because of the location shoot. He grew up in New York City's Yorkville district, an area that was teeming with German immigrants, and he had fond memories of trips to the corner butcher shop. Cagney loved his neighbors' language just as much as their food, so he thought spending some time in Berlin would be a pleasurable experience. It was, to an extent. He didn't, however, count on being driven nuts by his director or one of his fellow cast members.

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

But that was nothing compared to his feelings toward Buchholz, the only actor who Cagney, a consummate gentleman, ever openly disliked. "I got riled at S.Z. Sakall," he once said, "in Yankee Doodle Dandy [1942] for trying to steal a scene, but he was an incorrigible old ham who was quietly and respectfully put in his place by (director) Michael Curtiz. No harm in the old boy. But this Horst Buchholz character I truly loathed. Had he kept on with his little scene-stealing didoes, I would have been forced to knock 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 he no longer enjoyed acting and was ready to hang it up. During his stay in Germany 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 Studios into glorious sunlight. "On this particular day, I had just received a letter from (Rolie) with a picture enclosed. The photo was of Rolie and his wife and of a number of other friends sitting in the boat, raising their glasses 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 closed the giant doors behind me and I found myself in that great black cavern with just a few spotlights dotted here and there, I said to myself, 'Well, this is it. This is the end. I'm finished." He stayed retired for the next 20 years, with 1981's Ragtime being his 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 Ludwig Piffl), Pamela Tiffin (Scarlett Hazeltine), Arlene Francis (Phyllis MacNamara), Lilo Pulver (Ingeborg), Howard St. John (Hazeltine), Hanns Lothar (Schlemmer), Lois Bolton (Mrs. Hazeltine), Leon Askin (Peripetchikoff), Peter Capell (Mishkin), Ralf Wolter (Borodenko.)
BW-109m. Letterboxed.

by Paul Tatara



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