Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Rail of Yesterday: One, Two, Three (Billy Wilder, 1961)

The Rail of Yesterday is an excuse to talk about films of the past.

I'm going to say something that may be considered blasphemous, and Lord knows I couldn't blame you for seeing things that way.

I could really take or leave Billy Wilder. I like a few of his movies well enough, but I don't have a really strong connection to them.

That said, I really loved One, Two, Three, which takes Wilder's frequent protagonist, an overburdened man testing the limits of society's structures for fiscal advancement, and throws him into the fray of Howard Hawks' nonstop comedy in a population made up entirely of Ernst Lubitsch's cartoonish supporting characters, and the result absolutely kicks ass.

Without giving away the twists and turns, the film is about a Coca-Cola executive, C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney), trying to expand the Coca-Cola empire, and trying to advance his own career within that empire, within the West Berlin branch, all the while looking after his boss' daughter. Naturally, with East Berlin right across town, tensions run high between capitalism and communism, with recent German history hanging just within sight. And that's all I'll say about that.

There is, naturally, a personal bend to my response, as I find extreme belief systems, and especially the state of capitalism and communism in the 1960s, really funny. Though the film obviously skews American in its political leanings, there are more than a few digs at Western culture, and practically nonstop jokes about Nazis and communists. Really, what's not to love?

And it just comes like an avalanche, much like His Girl Friday - building and building until, at the final race towards the climax, you'll be laughing at the sheer pace and audacity of it all. I'm really pretty surprised that this doesn't have greater recognition than it does, as it certainly deserves a place alongside Some Like it Hot.

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