Sunday, October 2, 2011

"One Two Three" an Excellent Satire

It's no secret to those of you who read this blog, but James Cagney has recently shot up my list of favorite actors. His roles and different personas were often very complex. He was most famous for his "gangster" roles, but he often played gangsters who (although his character would NEVER admit it) may have a tough exterior, but his vulnerable side would often come through, albeit often in somewhat twisted ways. This film, written by Billy Wilder and released in 1961, was a departure for Cagney, but nonetheless, his portrayal was as brilliant as that of the other actors, and the script which they were given.

Cagney stars as C.R. "Mac" MacNamara, a Coca-Cola executive in charge of operations in West Berlin. Mac feels that he should be in London, as head of the entire European operation, whereas his wife Phyllis (Arlene Francis) feels he should take a nice executive position back at the home base in Atlanta. The back and forth between Cagney and Francis creates the first of the many hilarious conflicts of the film. His staff is very loyal. Perhaps too much so. With the exception of his beautiful secretary, his staff treats him as the dictator for whom they had previously worked. That would be a man named Adolf Hitler. This creates another hilarious wrinkle, one in which Mac makes no secret of his disdain for heel clicking, something that his assistant Schlemmer (Hans Lothar) doesn't seem to understand. Enter the largest (and prettiest) wrinkle of all. Her name is Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin), and she is the spoiled, somewhat dimwitted teenage daughter of Mac's boss, Wendell Hazeltine. Despite Mac's strict rules, Scarlett proceeds to do anything and everything she desires. When she disappears for days, Mac panics, fearing he may lose his job, and his hopes of advancement. When she returns, she's not alone. It turns out that during her outing, she has met and has intentions to marry a communist sympathizer named Otto (Horst Buchholz). Hilarity ensues and Mac and his staff attempt to stop the marriage before the arrival of the Hazeltines in Berlin.

This is one of my absolute favorite new films (new to me, that is). Billy Wilder was a master at very sophisticated, dry and sharp humor. This film has plenty of that. And this was an excellent vehicle for Cagney because, even in his gangster films, he had a very dry and sarcastic wit that translated beautifully into doing a straight comedic film. And while Scarlett may APPEAR to be dimwitted, well, as they say, appearances can be deceiving. The fast pace of the writing in this film, going from joke to joke so fast, your head will spin, was pulled off by every single actor in the film with great aplomb. It's almost absurd that a teenager would have such a large vocabulary when she's trying to convince a parental figure that marrying a man, and a communist at that, is the right thing to do. But it's the absurdity of the film's subject matter, not to mention the ability of each actor in the film to deliver their lines as if they were ordering a cup of coffee, that makes the film so brilliant.

As you may be able to tell, I LOVED this film. It's humor was dry, witty and sarcastic, which is right up my alley. Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love a film full of fart jokes and potty humor as much as the next guy. But every once and awhile, I need a break from all the gas and pratfalls to actually expand my mind and be entertained at the same time. This film is fantastic and HIGHLY recommended.

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