Wilder and Cagney Show That Comedy Is As Easy As “One, Two, Three”

Today we’ll be looking at what is probably director Billy Wilder‘s most underrated effort: One, Two, Three. Drawing inspiration from an obscure Hungarian play as well as Wilder’s own Ninotchka, this Cold War comedy is a hilarious jab at not only politics, but consumerism and the way big businesses operate. James Cagney shines as C.R. MacNamara, the highest ranking Coca Cola executive in West Berlin. It’s a job that comes with plenty of stress on the best of days. However, when he’s tasked with keeping an eye on his superior’s visiting, rebellious daughter (Pamela Tiffin)–and she chooses to elope with a Communist agitator (Horst Buchholz) from the other side of the Wall–he’ll have his hands full trying to save both job and sanity.

Shot in Germany, the film was a box office disappointment when it opened in theaters on December 15, 1961. This was partially due to a changing political climate, but mainly because of the fact that the film’s blend of almost dark satire and a lively, cartoonish performance from Cagney was not at all what audiences were expecting. The years have been much kinder to the film however, and it is now considered an ahead-of-its-time gem that is spoken with the same hushed reverence as similarly themed fare like Charlie Chaplin‘s The Great Dictator. Given Wilder’s incredible legacy and filmography, it’s a surprise that One, Two, Three is still somewhat under the radar. Yet there’s solace in the fact that it continues to grow its audience as more and more discerning audiences discover the charms and wit — not to mention a stunning lead performance — that it offers.