Billy Wilder Henry Hart - Essay

Henry Hart

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[One, Two, Three] is 1961's best comedy. Which is a rather sad fact, for Wilder comedy is socially disintegrative. It amuses, but it devitalizes, and we are less, not more, after it's over. However, while it's unreeling it's engrossing.

Au fond, or au naturel, Wilder is a bird of passage, a luftmensch, an intellectual vagabond. He bites the back, not the hand, that feeds him. Not only is nothing sacred to him, but nothing is ever on the level, and his wit consists in tilting truth until even the staidest mind is unsteady. To what end? Nothing, really, except a sort of verbal revenge of the "out" upon the "in".

Wilder burlesques everybody—the Coca-Cola tycoon …; the South; nubile fillies from the South; Coca-Cola's go-getting sales director in Berlin; West Germans and East Germans; ex-Nazis and Prussian aristocrats; German Communists and Russian Communists; communism and capitalism; marriage and infidelity; and innumerable other aspects of contemporary life, sacred and profane. (p. 37)

It's the rapid-fire of gags … which really keeps this film moving. And breathless pace is all important, for, had the audience ever been given time for thought, the whole thing would have fallen apart. The gags are almost all grade-A….

Billy Wilder is one of those ex-Viennese who believe things are hopeless but not serious. In fact, this ancient wheeze is actually one of the gags in this film.

One, Two, Three is amusing throughout all of its 108 minutes. But not vitalizing. Quite, in fact, the reverse. (p. 38)

Henry Hart, "Film Reviews: 'One, Two, Three'," in Films in Review (copyright © 1962 by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures, Inc.), Vol. XIII, No. 1, January, 1962, pp. 37-8.