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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

One, Two, Three (1961)



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"When he's 18 he can make his mind up whether he wants to be a capitalist or a rich communist."

This inexplicably little known Billy Wilder classic, a madcap screwball comedy set in post-war Berlin, is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It's also one of the fastest. Conventional wisdom suggests that one page of a screenplay equates to one minute of film. I'm guessing One, Two, Three is more along the lines of four pages to a minute. In the best tradition of classic screwball comedy, the characters act quicker than most people can think. For the first several minutes, I thought the speedy pace was compensating for material that wasn't all that funny at its core, but it soon becomes not only hilarious but wickedly clever. It satirizes communism and cold war politics with its razor sharp wit, but only as a backdrop to fuel the more important matter of saving a managerial career. Oh, and a marriage.

The center in this comic solar system that all the other characters whirl haphazardly around is C. R. MacNamara, an executive in the Coca-Cola company, whose lightning-fast scheming mind is all he's got to save himself from a riotously escalating predicament or three. Between laughs, I was mesmerized by Cagney's energy. He's always talking, talking, talking, and darned if he doesn't have a lot to say. Much of the comic hilarity comes from simply being blown away by how adeptly his character juggles concurrent crises, handling them not just broadly but down to the most minute detail.

I don't know why One, Two, Three isn't better recognized than it is. Maybe it's because Billy Wilder had just finished making Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, both masterpieces and popular favorites. But for my money, One, Two, Three can hold its own in such esteemed company just fine.