One, Two, Three

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Time Out says

Thu Jan 12 2006


HIGH ANXIETY Harried Coke exec Cagney lays it out in broad strokes.

Possessed by a mania that would be alarming from an actor a third his age, 61-year-old James Cagney tears through Billy Wilder's farce like a speed freak, barking out orders (he plays a Coca-Cola executive working in West Berlin), waving his arms and basically throwing down from start to finish. If there's a faster comedy from the '60s—or even from the screwbally '30s—than One, Two, Three, I don't know it; while Wilder's pitch-black sensibility was better deployed elsewhere (Sunset Blvd., Ace in the Hole), his pacing of witticism after countless witticism was never this dizzying.

That doesn't necessarily make it brilliant, though with Wilder, you're pretty much guaranteed a level of craft that should be treasured. The movie works best as a prescient parody of take-no-prisoners corporate colonialism, with Cagney handling the vexations of foreign markets and his boss's Hiltonesque teenage daughter (Tiffin) with the same solution: piles of cash. A last-act makeover of the girl's impulsively acquired Commie husband (Buchholz) into a high-born aristocrat, complete with top hat, monocle and family insignia, is a breathtaking display of bucks-on-the-barrelhead brawn. Cagney makes it all fresh and light, though he's fighting against the script's (now dated) political jokes and, unlike Ninotchka, has no romantic thaw to work with. Still, the overall feel of the film is refreshingly naughty. If it were made today, Coke would be the hero and Cagney just a walk-on bit. (Opens Fri; Film Forum.)—Joshua Rothkopf

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