Earlier today I enjoyed John Nolte's post on James Cagney's Top 5 movies at the Big Hollywood site. The ensuing discussion in the comments section was very enjoyable. There are so many good Cagney performances that it's difficult to narrow a list down to five.
One film which came up repeatedly in the comments was Cagney's next-to-last film, ONE, TWO, THREE. I hadn't seen the film for many years and was inspired to get it out and watch it this evening.
ONE, TWO, THREE is a deliriously frenetic comedy in which Cagney plays C.R. MacNamara, Coca-Cola's man in West Berlin. He's forced to play host for two months to his Atlanta boss's daughter, Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin). On the eve of her parents' arrival in Berlin to take her home, Scarlett announces to MacNamara that she's secretly married to a Communist, Otto (Horst Buchholz). MacNamara is in big trouble unless he can turn Otto into a respectable capitalist in the matter of a few hours.
Cagney gives what surely must be one of at least his 10 best performances; the dizzying final half hour in which he barks out nonstop orders in his quest to rehabilitate Otto is a tour de force by Cagney.
The supporting cast is excellent, especially Tiffin as the ditzy but ultimately lovable Scarlett. (Scarlett's mother is named Melanie, of course...) Arlene Francis plays MacNamara's long-suffering wife and Lilo Pulver is his comely secretary, Ingeborg. Howard St. John plays Scarlett's father.
This film has a little bit of everything, with razor-sharp dialogue and incisive political commentary. The humor ranges from sophisticated wordplay to flat-out slapstick. The film made me think of the way GILMORE GIRLS drops cultural allusions right and left, assuming that the audience is keeping up; the jokes include a couple of sly references to early Warner Bros. gangster films, including Cagney's own THE PUBLIC ENEMY, filmed three decades previously.
The film's rather unique setting is a bottling plant for that ultimate American icon, Coca-Cola, with location shooting in Germany giving the film an added sense of realism. The non-stop action is brilliantly scored by Andre Previn, who makes great use of Khachaturian's Sabre Dance to accompany the film's multiple manic car rides through Berlin.
ONE, TWO THREE was directed by Billy Wilder, who cowrote the screenplay with I.A.L. Diamond.
ONE, TWO, THREE is available on DVD. The print is excellent. The only extra is a trailer.
This movie has also been released on VHS.
Highly recommended...and don't forget Coca-Cola to go along with it.