One, Two, Three

Movie Information

In Brief: Taking a 1929 Ferenc Molnar play, retaining the basic plot and moving it to the Cold War era with Berlin divided by the Wall (or the incipient version of it), Billy Wilder crafted what may well be his funniest movie with One, Two, Three (1961). It’s certainly his fastest-paced film, and one built around the most manic performance James Cagney ever gave — and that’s saying something. The basic idea — the manager of the Berlin Coca-Cola bottling plant having to deal with a visit from the company president’s oversexed Southern Belle daughter — is a nice start. Having to break up her whirlwind marriage to a scruffy communist is better. Having to get the husband back (and make him presentable) when it turns out she’s pregnant is the stuff of great comedy, and that’s what this is.
Genre: Comedy
Director: Billy Wilder
Starring: James Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Arlene Francis, Pamela Tiffin, Howard St. John, Hanns Lothar
Rated: NR



Looked at from a distance of nearly 50 years, it is difficult to gauge modern audience reaction to a good bit of One, Two, Three, because the film is a virtual frame-of-reference test for the era in which it was made. The topical references are many. For instance, Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin) asks Phyllis MacNamara (Arlene Francis), “Have you ever made love to a communist?” and gets the response, “No, but I once necked with a Stevenson Democrat.” References to Huntley and Brinkley, Spartacus, Kruschev’s tendency to take his shoe off and beat it on the table at the U.N. etc. may fly right past younger viewers. Then again, so might Cagney invoking Edward G. Robinson’s ending line from Little Caesar (1930) and recalling his own grapefruit bit from The Public Enemy (1931). I don’t think any of this will damage the film, though, because everything is at such breakneck speed that there’s not much time to dwell on individual bits, except maybe, “Any world that can produce William Shakespeare, the Taj Mahal, and Stripe Toothpaste can’t be all bad.” Words to live by. The last time the Film Society ran this — very early on — it was a pretty big hit with all but two viewers. They had been regulars — showing up at every show — but about 20 minutes into this, they walked out and never returned. I would love to know why.




For those familiar with the era, one of the delights of the film is the revelation of what a skillful comedienne Arlene Francis is. At the time—and even now—Francis was thought of mostly in terms of her appearances as a game show panelist (notably What’s My Line?) or possibly as the prostitute in Robert Florey’s Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). In the latter capacity, she mostly just screamed a lot while Bela Lugosi tried to mix her blood with that of his pet gorilla. That bit was memorable in its way, but it hardly prepares you for her ability to go toe-to-toe with Cagney in One, Two, Three‘s rapid-fire battle of quips. I doubt anyone else could have gotten as much good as she does out of, “This is going to be the hottest thing to hit Atlanta since General Sherman threw that little barbecue.”

The Asheville Film Society will screen One, Two, Three Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville, hosted by Xpress movie critic Ken Hanke.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

One thought on “One, Two, Three

  1. leonard pollack

    So great to be reminded of this film that I saw when I was 13 . I loved it then. Wonder if I still would today.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.