Wednesday, January 7, 2009

One, two, three

For those of you who are familiar with Jimmy Cagney's creepy portrayals of gangsters in films such as White Heat and The Public Enemy, we have a treat for you. One, Two, Three is one of Cagney's later films (1961) and it is a wonderful farce that shows his explosive energy and great comic timing. Directed by the legendary Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot), this film is set in West Berlin at the height of the Cold War. Doesn't sound like a promising background for wacky comedy, but trust me...
Cagney is soft drink executive stationed in West Berlin who is saddled with babysitting the boss' beautiful teenage daughter. Not too bad a problem, until she comes home with her new husband Otto in tow - a Communist agitator. Otto is played by Horst Buchholz, who was the pretty boy in The Magnificent Seven. He's not the greatest actor in the world, but he does an appropriate job of portraying a surly young man.
However, it's Cagney's rapid-fire delivery and over the top fits of temper that are the true source of pleasure in this movie. His attempts to teach the young man to become an acceptable capitalist and son-in-law before the boss arrives are pretty comic, and when the East German police throw a spanner in his works, the pace gets cranked up a notch. There's a scene of Otto being broken by the Communist agents by having to listen to "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini" that seems not quite so funny in these days of debate over what is appropriate interrogation and what's torture, but the rest of the movie is light and amusing. A true gem for anyone who admires the talents of James Cagney or Billy Wilder.

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