One, Two, Three

Vertigo will not be a film that appeals to everyone. As I said in my last post, its surface problems are likely to alienate normal viewers, and those interested in the medium of film will have to dig a little deeper to see the messages underneath. With that in mind, this post will look at a simpler and more readily accessible film.

The poster for the film One, Two, Three. Image Source:

The poster for the film One, Two, Three. Image Source:

One, Two, Three is a film directed by Billy Wilder, released in 1961. The film itself was shot before the Berlin Wall was fully constructed. As a result, the world within the film is a divided Germany without a wall. This results in a film that feels bizarrely optimistic about post-war politics in a way only a comedy can achieve. A review by The New York Times at the time of the film's release wished that the Berlin Crisis was as easy to solve as the film.

While the film received some praise when it was first released, it was somewhat controversial in terms of its subject matter, a fact reflected by the box-office numbers. Because the film was shot before the Wall was built, and released afterwards, many believed the subject matter came too soon. Allegedly, an unrelated screenwriter, Abby Mann, found the film so tasteless in the face of the crisis, she apologized for it at the Moscow Film Festival. Time has allowed it to become more popular financially, in markets such as Germany. Overall, it is critically well-regarded, though not as an all-time classic.

One, Two, Three is about a Coca-Cola executive in West Berlin (played by James Cagney) with big ambitions. His boss orders him to take care of his daughter (played by Pamela Tiffin) for two months. As luck would have it, she ends up married to a young capitalist-hater from East Berlin (played by Horst Buchholz). Now he has to sort out the consequences and make everything look fine and dandy before his boss returns. It's a classic “hide the truth” comedy, with the obligatory mid-film twist.

James Cagney and Liselotte Pulver in One, Two, Three.   Image Source:

James Cagney and Liselotte Pulver in One, Two, Three. 

Image Source:

The film itself is hysterical, with all sorts of jokes and situations that remain funny to this day. The script is top-notch, accentuated by funny characters from America, Russia, and Germany who pull off their roles brilliantly. My favourite is the main character's German underling, who manages to pull off a memorable butt monkey role. Buchholz's role as an angry young communist is also amusing.

When you think about it, the film has some good historical value, representing the lighthearted post-war optimism that existed at the time of its production. Furthermore, its modest box office performance shows us a sort of fatigue with this optimism, especially in light of the construction of the Berlin Wall. In a way, this film shows two extremes of post-war American expectations.

Horst Buchholz in One, Two, Three.   Image Source:

Horst Buchholz in One, Two, Three. 

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On that same vein, while the film may have historical value, its comedic aspects mean it has little to no political value. The politics within the film are too simplified for any greater understanding of the politics of the time, and the audience is left with fewer messages than a film such as Dr. Strangelove, another Cold War comedy. The timeline of its production (shot before the Berlin Wall, released after) means it was somewhat outdated at the time of its release. Still, it serves as a funny parody.

Beyond entertainment and historical value, there's not much else to the film. It's a simple film all around, created to be funny. There are no real insights behind anything. Sunset Boulevard was a film about the death of the silent era and the obsession with legacy, and it managed to balance those elements with comedy in order to produce a classic. One, Two, Three is by comparison a pure comedy. I don't believe this is a bad thing for a comedy, but it does make it a somewhat less notable film.

One, Two, Three is a good watch for anyone looking for comedy. Those looking for something deeper won't find what they're looking for. But for what it is, the film is great.


Bryan Mackay is a recent graduate from Carleton University. At his time at university, he minored in Film and thus learned a lot about the film medium and industry. He started this blog in order to post his thoughts on films made before 1970 that caught his eye for thematic or stylistic reasons, hoping that others may be interested in his thoughts and opinions on several films.