Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My 10 Favourite Things About
Billy Wilder's One, Two, Three

*There be spoilers ahead for those who care about such things. 
1. Watching Jimmy Cagney, at 62 and in what would be his final performance (until his slight respite from retirement to put in a cameo in the 1981 film Ragtime) strut, scream and swagger about, with as much vim and vigor as he had in his early gangster roles thirty years prior, and still managing to be, even in the role of an "uncool" businessman, the epitome of cool - even in his senior citizen days.

2. Red Buttons, in a tiny role as an M.P., does a Cagney impression to Cagney's character in the movie.  I just love self-referential cinema.

3. The comic tension between Cagney's Coca-Cola executive and the younger Horst Buchholz, playing a die hard card-carrying communist to Cagney's uptight executive.  In reality, there was actual tension between the two.  In Cagney's autobiography, he says that Buchholz was the only actor he really hated working with because he was uncooperative and tried all kinds of scene-stealing moves, which Cagney depended on director Wilder to correct. Had Wilder not firmly directed Buchholz, Cagney said that he "was going to knock Buchholz on his ass, which at several points I would have been very happy to do."

4. At one point, Cagney threatens to shove a half a grapefruit in Buchholz's face, lampooning the famous scene between Cagney and Mae Clarke in The Public Enemy.  Like I said, I do love self-referential cinema.
5. Watching Arlene Francis, who was much better known at the time as a TV star, being one of the highest paid women on the small screen while she was a regular panelist on What's My Line, trading barbs with, and quipping acerbic one-liners at Cagney.  These comic bon mots and winking asides, help make this rather unknown actress these days, the funniest person in the movie, even if she isn't in it all that much.

6. Another fun reference in the movie is the introduction of the three Russian commissars, who are an obvious homage to the 1939 Ernst Lubitsch film Ninotchka - a film written, or co-written at least, by Billy Wilder.

7. In order to frame Buchholz's crass but cuddly commie and get him arrested by the East German police, Cagney's conniving Coca-Cola exec gives him a cuckoo clock that plays Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Of course, thanks to Cagney's Oscar winning performance as George M. Cohan in the 1942 movie Yankee Doodle Dandy, we get yet another cinematically referential moment.  Have I mentioned how much I enjoy these?  

8. (ed. note: One would not know this by watching the film, but backstory is always crucial to understanding a film more, so this anecdote should count for something)  Midway through filming of One, Two, Three (and in the dark of night just to make things all that more ominous) the Brandenburg Gate was shut off between East and West Germany and the early construction on that infamous wall would begin.  Wilder, Cagney and the crew were forced to relocate to a Munich studio to finish shooting.  Nothing stops cinema dammit!

9. When Cagney's character finds out the teenage girl he is supposed to keep safe for her father, his boss, is pregnant - to a commie of all things(!?) - he grabs his head and says "Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?"Of course, this is yet another cinematic reference, quoting Cagney's contemporary "rival" in Hollywood, Edward G. Robinson, from the film Little Caesar.

10. The Coca-Cola connection.  I happen to be a Coke guy (as opposed to those weird Pepsi people) and it is fun seeing the comic corporate happenings going on.  Wilder even received a visit from friend Joan Crawford, then recently widowed and sitting on the board of her late husband's company PepsiCo, asking him to change his film over to the Pepsi side of things.  Of course he did not, but he did add one final injoke (the final shot of the film actually) by having Cagney's Coke man put change into a Coke machine and pulling out a Pepsi to the great man's eternal disgust.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I've been a lifelong fan of this film, too. In fact, I have an original print of the poster over my son's bed (we color schemed the room around that poster). But I wish you didn't spoil the final shot of the film; it's so insanely gratifying to come to it organically.

Anonymous said...

Ooops! Sorry. I just saw the Spoiler Alert sub-heading. Thanks for including it!!

Ed Howard said...

Great post, I love this film. Since my grandfather worked as a salesman for Coca-Cola, I've always been a Coke guy myself, and watching this film with my dad was a real blast. It's just pure energy, particularly Cagney's amazing performance.

Kevyn Knox said...

I do try to put a spoiler warning when necessary. I actually forgot this time. Thanx for reminding me.