Watching Billy Wilder’s “One, Two, Three” is like having a conversation with highly intelligent friend who thinks they know a lot about politics. The film wants to impress you with its keen inter-global know how and include as many oddball references to random dictators and political parties as possible. All of it’s easy to understand, so its baffling why “One, Two, Three” is trying make us feel like its humor is complicated.
James Cagney plays C.R. MacNamara, a Coca Cola executive situated in West Berlin during the Cold War. MacNamara’s superior orders him to take care of his debutante 17-year-old daughter Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin). But Hazeltine makes MacNamara’s life needlessly difficult after she reveals she got married toOtto (Horst Buccholz), an East German man with a distaste of all things capitalism. On top of this sanctimonious marriage, MacNamara must juggle a demanding boss, a distraught wife, unconventional employees and opposing government forces, all so he can get a promotion he’s been craving.
If it sounds like there’s a lot going on in “One, Two, Three,” there is. The movie moves at lightspeeds, where collectively, there is just maybe one minute total in the entire film where somebody isn’t saying something or something isn’t happening. At times, it’s fun and hilarious. But mostly, it’s exhaustive, with Billy Wilder giving us so much to chew that we have to vomit up what we just ate to digest anything.
“One, Two, Three” is certainly a relic of its time but not necessarily outdated. It’s one of the later films from a comedy directing giant and one of the later films from an early 20th century acting star, so its important to view just for historical purposes. While the film fails at its mission to entertain, it is enlightening as an example of Hollywood creative types feeling they have to use their platform to speak their political beliefs or critique a political system. That’s a good thing to have, proving that even though we don’t care what Wilder has to say with “One, Two, Three,” we’re still glad he can say it at all.