Farce is a great tool for comedy. It allows a creative to dismantle an idea, project or concept that they disagree with or are opposed to. In the case of Billy Wilder and One, Two, Three, the divide of East and West Berlin is displayed as a backdrop to a man desperate for a promotion with Coca-Cola. It soon devolves from there, One, Two, Three is not just about that delicious, black liquid pumped with sugar, drugs and who knows what else. A delicacy I took part in for years, but no more. It’s Diet Lemonade and cinnamon buns for this man. But I digress, the James Cagney-led comedy is one that the leading man would hang his hat on for two decades. His penultimate piece of film sees him collaborate with a fine director indeed.
Rapid relief is the key strength of Wilder’s work here. There is enough within the piece to work around the jokes that do not draw a laugh. They come thick and fast, so where an awkward stench should be, it is wafted away rather immediately. Naturally, the funnier jokes are found in the accidental wordplay or the jabs at pre-war culture and living. “What are you going to do with roller skates in Venice? All the streets are underwater” and so on and so forth. Much of the humour in One, Two, Three comes from comedic silliness dictated as angered fact. It is a route that reminds me of Airplane!, where a manic crisis is met with comedy gold recited as a matter of life and death. It has all the ruminating tensions of Cold War semantics, with icy but necessary relationships between MacNamara and his Russian comrades.
Much of the humour is expected, and the jokes lead down the exact, correct avenues. One joke in particular takes a considerable length of time to get to the punchline, long after the audiences have predicted the Russian blinded by love would want to bump off his wife, mother-in-law, brother-in-law etcetera. It is funny but longwinded. Still, it is a by-product of the genre, and we cannot expect every joke to work. But we should, considering it is Wilder, and Wilder is a master of both humour and direction. Here, he does display some of his finer qualities. There are the obvious elements of wordplay that blend nicely into his story, and the disastrous, manic third act that ensures a happy ending for just about everyone. It is nice to see him apply this to something with ties to reality.
Wilder is, for me, not often known for having his pulse on the beating system of society. He lingers around the edges with Some Like it Hot and its ties to the Valentine’s Day Massacre but never includes it as something more than a happenstance occurrence or bit of influence. Here, though, One, Two, Three presents him at the top of his game while also commentating and criticising the relationship between East and West. It is fantastic, fast and funny. Stapling its happy ending onto this was inevitable, and the freeze-frame gag has aged as poorly as relations between the United States and Russia, but One, Two, Three is a fun and engaging time. It is light, digestible and entertaining, and it would be rude to desire anything more than that.