One, Two, Three (1961) Classic Movie Review 84

One, Two, Three (1961)

One, Two, Three (1961)

She married a communist? That's going to be the biggest thing to hit Atlanta since General Sherman threw that little barbecue.

Today’s movie is One, Two, Three (1961) starring the great James Cagney. I’m going to have to say right off the bat that this may be the greatest product placement movie of all times. It’s as fun little comedy with former Nazis, Communists, and God forbid, Capitalist.

This movie wasn’t quite Cagney’s last role, as he showed up in Ragtime (1981).


The great James Cagney played the lead role of C.R. MacNamara. The word great is thrown around a lot, but with this guy, it’s true. Cagney was a real tough guy and a song and dance man as well. Cagney, of course, was born in New York City in 1899. After high school, he attended Columbia University but left school upon his father’s death in the 1918 flu pandemic.

Cagney had a variety of jobs bellhop and night doorman. He learned to tap dance, was a street brawler, and was a good amateur boxer. His mother encouraged his boxing but refused to let him turn pro.

Cagney, who began working behind the scenes in theater, was called one night to replace his sick brother and thus began his acting career. He began working on Broadway and in Vaudeville. In 1924, he and his wife moved to California. But they had no luck and headed back to New York.

Cagney was in a play title “Maggie the Magnificent” with actress Joan Blondell. Al Jolson brought the right for filming but insisted that Cagney and Blondell be given their roles. The film came out under the title Sinner’s Holiday (1930) and resulted in Cagney signing a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. Cagney made four more movies before his breakout role, in The Public Enemy (1931), a classic gangster film. The studio continued this theme casting Cagney with Edward G. Robinson in G Men (1934).

A champion of actor equity he was involved in the formation of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933. In Footlight Parade (1933) Cagney was able to show his substantial dancing ability. In Here Comes the Navy (1934), he met his lifelong friend Pat O’Brien. This movie is fascinating as it was partially shot on the USS Arizona and shows some great views of this iconic ship.

Cagney was involved in fierce contract negotiations during his entire time a Warner Brothers. In 1936, he began making independent films, but most were nothing to speak about. Cagney eventually won his lawsuit and returned to Warner’s.

Now back at Warner’s Cagney began to make movies of different genres. But back in the gangster role in Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) he played Rocky Sullivan a condemned criminal that a friendly priest begs him to “turn yellow” before his execution so young boys won’t idolize the law breaker.

Cagney was accused of being a communist sympathizer in 1934 and in 1940. Cagney was cleared by U.S. Representative Martin Dies, Jr., on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Cagney’s last gangster role for a time was The Roaring Twenties (1939) with Humphrey Bogart. In December 1941, Cagney began working on Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) playing the lead role and song and dance man George M. Cohan. Cagney received the best actor Oscar for this film.

One, Two, Three (1961)

One, Two, Three (1961)

In 1942, Cagney formed an independent studio through United Artists. That same year he was elected president of SAG. He continued to raise money for the war and perform in USO shows. Following a series of poor performing movies, Cagney returned to Warner Brothers.

Right of the bat, Cagney turned in one of his most memorable roles in White Heat (1949). He made other films but the next one of importance to me is Mister Roberts (1955). This film was directed by John Ford.

In 1955, Cagney was cast on the Western film Tribute to a Bad Man for MGM. They offered him These Wilder Years (1956) with Barbara Stanwyck. In 1956, Cagney played Lon Chaney Sr. in Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). Later in 1957, Cagney tried directing but did not care for the work.

Another film from this later time was Shake Hands with the Devil (1959) where Cagney played an Irish Republican Army commander. In 1960, Cagney took on the role of Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey in The Gallant Hours (1960), the story of Guadalcanal Campaign in the Pacific Theater of World War II.

Of course, in his next to the last movie, Cagney showed what a masterful talent he was with the comedy caper One, Two, Three (1961).

Cagney retired until 1986, turning down roles in My Fair Lady (1964) and the Godfather (1972). Suffer from poor eyesight due to diabetes, Cagney rarely appeared in public. In 1974, Cagney appeared at the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award. Charlton Heston said of Cagney that he was “…one of the most significant figures of a generation when American film was dominant, Cagney, that most American of actors, somehow communicated eloquently to audiences all over the world …and to actors as well.” In his acceptance speech, Cagney said to impressionist Frank Gorshin, “Oh, Frankie, just in passing, I never said ‘MMMMmmmm, you dirty rat!’ What I actually did say was ‘Judy, Judy, Judy!'” This was a joking reference to an oft attributed misquotation of Cary Grant.

Following a stroke and being unable to pursue his hobbies, Cagney was encouraged by his wife and Zimmerman his caregiver to take a role. This role turned out to be a small but very important role in Ragtime (1981).

Cagney died at his farm in Stanfordville, New York in 1986, of a heart attack. He was 86 years old.

One of my favorite Cagney quotes on the subject of hard times and work, he said “It was good for me. I feel sorry for the kid who has too cushy a time of it. Suddenly he has to come face-to-face with the realities of life without any mama or papa to do his thinking for him.”

Horst Buchholz played the Otto Ludwig Piffl, Communist turned capitalist. Horst was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1933. And they never heard of the Nazis. Horst was placed in a foster home in Czechoslovakia during World War II. Back in Berlin, he moved to the west sector and began acting on stage. In 1952, he moved into German films and became a well-established actor.

He then went on to make one British film before securing his role in The Magnificent Seven (1960). What? Horst began making national and international films. He turned down the role of Sherif Ali in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) because he was already signed up to do One, Two, Three (1961).

Although he continued to make great films, his career was never propelled to the next level. By the 1970s and 80s, he was working mostly in television. He came back onto the radar with his role in Life Is Beautiful (1997). The film won best foreign film and was nominated for best picture. Horst continued working until 2002. He died the next year of pneumonia.

Pamela Tiffin played wild southern belle Scarlett Hazeltine, Tiffin was born in Oklahoma in 1942. She became a model in New York. On. A trip to California she met Hal B. Wallis gave the teen a role in Summer and Smoke (1961). Tiffin’s first performance was critically acclaimed Director Billy Wilder liked her comedic skills so he cast her in One, Two, Three (1961). She made more comedies in the early 1960s before leaving for Italy. She worked in film over there until she retired in 1974 to raise a family.

One, Two, Three (1961)

One, Two, Three (1961)

Arlene Francis played Phyllis MacNamara, the neglected wife of C.R. McNamara. Francis was born in Boston in 1907. From an early age, she wanted to be an actress. Her movie debut was in Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), with Bela Lugosi where he tied her to a cross to extract her blood.

Francis made her Broadway debut in 1936. Francis also worked with Orson Welles’ Mercury Theatre productions. Francis got involved with TV game shows and was highly in demand from 1950 through the 1970s. Francis died in 2001 at the age of 93.

Leon Askin played on of the Russian delegates Peripetchikoff. He is best known for play Gen. Burkhalter on “Hogan’s Hero’s” 1965-1971.

John Banner was used as the voice of Krause / Haberdasher. Banner is known for playing Sgt. Schultz on “Hogan’s Hero’s” a comedy version of the character Sig Ruman played in Stalag 17 (1950).

Sig Ruman was uncredited as the voice of Count von Droste Schattenburg. Ruman was cover in Episode 76 – House of Frankenstein (1944).


The movie begins with American executive C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney) driving through a divided Cold-War Berlin and talking about how hard the other side was to deal with. When he pulls up to the building, it is revealed that he runs the West Berlin office of Coca-Cola. He dreams only of being sent to run the London office.

At the office, most of the male workers seem to be SS men in hiding. These include his executive assistant Schlemmer (Hanns Lothar) who can’t stop clicking his heels together when he says yes. MacNamara also has a lovely secretary/girlfriend, Fräulein Ingeborg (Liselotte Puler), that is in addition to Mrs. MacNamara (Arlene Francis) and two children.

MacNamara dictates to his secretary that he is meeting with the Communists to try and get Coke of the sold on the other side, Iron Curtain. The three Communists, Mishkin, Peripetchikoff, and Borodenko and immediately take notice of Fräulein Ingeborg. They reach an agreement but the delegation wants Fräulein Ingeborg to deliver the contracts.

MacNamara explains to Schlemmer how he got in the doghouse with the company and was sent to South America and is now working his way back up the line to the London job. He gets a call from his boss Hazeltine in Atlanta, saying that his sweet 17-year-old daughter is coming to Berlin for a couple of weeks and MacNamara and family needs to watch after her. This forces Mrs. MacNamara to cancel her trip and he had to cancel his plans with Fräulein Ingeborg.

When Scarlett Hazeltine (Pamela Tiffin) and she is a real hussy, kind like Scarlett O’Hara cubed. Time passes and it seems Scarlett has stayed with the family for two months. MacNamara’s driver didn’t show up in the morining. Fräulein Ingeborg threatens to quit because he hasn’t been giving her anytime. Mr. Hazeltine calls from Atlanta to say he is coming to Berlin to pick up his daughter. Mrs. MacNamara calls to say that Scarlett is missing. The driver comes in says he has been dropping her every night at the Brandenburg Gate (east Berlin) And picking her up in the morning. This morning she was a no show.

Scarlett shows up at the office and says she has been seeing a boy on the eastern side for about six weeks. Scarlett call Otto Ludwig Piffl (Horst Buchholz) up and announces that they are married. He is a dirty slob and a hardcore Communist. The two men have a political debate in the office. Finally, Otto and Scarlett tell that they are leaving for the U.S.S.R. that night. Mrs. MacNamara calls and finds out what’s going on.

Scarlett goes to get her clothes while MacNamara and Schlemmer put things on Otto’s motorcycle that will get him arrested by the East Germans. Otto is arrested with a “Ruskie go Home” balloon and a cuckoo clock that plays Yankee Doddle Dandy.

Mrs. MacNamara happily gets Scarlett ready to go. Mr. MacNamara comes home happily and says Otto has been arrested. He plans on getting the marriage annulled. Scarlett passes out and they call a doctor. The doctor announces that Scarlett is pregnant.

Mrs. MacNamara says she is ready to go home. She calls him out on his girlfriends. She also insists that he get Otto out of jail. MacNamara, Schlemmer, and Fräulein Ingeborg he’d to East German. Ingeborg has on a new polka dotted dress and hat that MacNamara bought her. He meets the three Russian trade commissars and agrees to trade his secretary for the release of Otto. Ingeborg dances on the table while the men negotiate. They make the deal at sun-up. The East Germans break Otto using Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot bikini. The Russians spring Otto just after he confesses to being a spy. They dress Schlemmer in the dress and Otto, Ingeborg, and MacNamara escape with the Russians in pursuit.

Back at the Coke-Cola building, MacNamara has 12 hours to turn Otto into an acceptable capitalist son for the Hazeltine’s. Otto finds out that he has confessed to being a spy. Otto finally accepts that he has to take the conversion. In record time, they convert Otto into a capitalist with a royal bloodline.

Cagney is amazing as he barks orders during the transformation. `MacNamara’s wife comes in and announces she is leaving him. Mrs. MacNamara runs into Ingeborg and leaves the office. When MacNamara tries to teach Otto table manners he threatens to smash a grapefruit into his face like the scene from The Public Enemy (1931). They find a royal that is a bathroom attendant, Count von Droste Schattenburgm, who is voiced by Sig Ruman.

Three MPs come in and one is played by Red Buttons. They are looking for a woman with Yankee Go Home on her breast. Then Red Buttons does a Cagney impression before he leaves. He then finds the dress and sees the two balloons that Schlemmer used when he wore the dress.

Otto wows his in-laws and gets the London job. MacNamara is giving a job in Atlanta. He stops his wife and kids before they board the plane. He buys them a coke and the last bottle to come out is a Pepsi. His wife takes him back.

Two Important Quotes

“Billy Wilder’s film is a crackling, mile-a-minute farce, taking satiric scatter shots at Coca-Cola, the Cold War (the film is set in the months just before the erection of the Berlin Wall), Russian red tape, Communist and capitalist hypocrisy, Southern bigotry, the German “war guilt,” rock music, and even Cagney ‘s own movie image. Not all the gags are in the best of taste, and most of the one-liners have dated rather badly, but Cagney’s mesmerizing performance holds the whole affair together.”

Cagney – “I never had the slightest difficulty with a fellow actor. Not until One, Two, Three. In that picture, Horst Buchholz tried all sorts of scene-stealing didoes. I came close to knocking him on his ass.”

World-Famous Short Summary – Coke or Pepsi, Capitalist or Communist

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Beware the moors

One, Two, Three (1961)

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