Monday, May 2, 2011

One, Two, Three

Billy Wilder, 1961, bw (8.6*)
One of Wilder's funniest films, a spoof of both capitalism and cold war politics. This is also the last film of James Cagney, and it's a fine one to bow out with - I can't think of any other comedy of his that is this funny from beginning to end, never marred by a message or anything serious (such as Wilder's The Apartment, or Cagney's other late comedy gem in Mister Roberts).

Cagney plays the Coca-Cola man in Berlin, and he's chomping at the bit to open up the "commie market" behind the Iron Curtain, and sell Coke to another 200 million people. At about this time, he gets the air-headed daughter of the Coke CEO, Pamela Tiffin as Scarlett, dumped into his care until her dad's arrival, along with her leftist slogan spouting boyfriend from East Berlin, Horst Bucholtz, who is dim enough to not really understand what he's talking about.

Cagney's dilemna is the impending arrival of the CEO (Howard St. John) - he's got to somehow either get rid of Bucholtz or convert him to capitalism quickly, so this puts a countdown timer on the film's plot. There are other plot twists I won't reveal here.

Cagney is quick and sharp in this, with perfect comic timing. There's plenty of rapid-fire dialogue to help, similar to the Howard Hawks gem His Girl Friday. The pace may seem a little exhausting, but it works in comic farce like this one. Wilder also gets to poke fun at both sides in this one, making them all look like caricatures of idealogical propaganda, as Cagney thinks getting communists to drink Coca-Cola will turn them into capitalists.

Wilder shot this film in Berlin (at one point using the Brandenberg Gate), and complete it just one year before the wall was built.

Wilder is one of the great directors, here's a small list of his best films:
The Front Page, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Lost Weekend, The Spirit of St. Louis, The Seven Year Itch, Sabrina, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, Witness For the Prosecution, The Fortune Cookie.


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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.

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