Saturday, 13 August 2011

"Haben Sie eine Tattoo on your Glockenspiel?"

(Don't panic! - it's just the German film poster.. ;"p )

Based on 1929 Hungarian one-act play EGY, KETTÖ, HÁROM by Ferenc Molnár (1878 -1952) – who just by the way wrote several plays which later were adapted to the screen - Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond wrote the script of the famous cold war comedy which Billy Wilder directed and which targets them all: Americans, Germans, Russians, Communists, (Ex-) Nazis and capitalists: ONE, TWO, THREE (1961).

Today it’s exactly 50 years the Berlin Wall was build on August 13, 1961 so.. ..what better “excuse” is there to watch and talk about this film??

In a nutshell:

C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney), Top manager of the German Coca Cola branch in West-Berlin, is ordered to babysit his boss Wendell P. Hazeltine’s (Howard St. John) daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin).

Scarlett secretly marries Otto Ludwig Piffl (Horst Buchholz), who lives in East-Berlin and is a convinced communist. But now Hazeltine and his wife Melanie (Lois Bolton) are up to visit West-Berlin – and their daughter of course. So MacNamara has to get rid of Otto...

Simple: just let him get arrested by the GDR police!!

But - to top it all: Scarlett is preggers.. Now Otto has to return..

"It’s not Anti-America. It’s Anti-Yankees.”

Watch out for:

  • Frederick Hollander who conducts a band which is playing “YES WE HAVE NO BANANAS” (sung in German) in “Grand Hotel Potemkin”, which was actually just the ruin of Anhalter train station in Berlin- Kreuzberg.

Come across:

As almost always it’s more fun to watch Billy Wilder films when you know some classics – so you will get some of the “targets”:
  • Red Buttons as the MP guy does kind of a James Cagney's gangster character impression from Cagney's 1930s flicks..

  • James Cagney (5' 6½" (1.69 m)) is referring to fellow gangster performer Edward G. Robinson with the famous quote from THE LITTLE CESAR (1931): “Mother of mercy – is this the end of little Rico?” - well, ok - in THE LITTLE CESAR Edward G. Robinson (5' 5" (1.65 m)) somehow skipped that "little" part.. ;") ~ just for my own pleasure: yay! Edward G. and I have the same height!! yay!!! .. ahem.. ok.. where was I? oh, yes - I know.. ~

  • Cagney refers to his own character Tom Powers from THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931) when he pretends to push a grapefruit into Otto’s face.

  • The three Russian commissars Peripetchikoff (Leon Askin), Borodenko (Ralf Wolter) and Mishkin (Peter Capell) are a reference to NINOTCHKA (1939) to which Billy Wilder co-wrote the script..

  • I wish I were in hell with my back broken.” is also used by Humphrey Bogart’s character Linus Larrabee in SABRINA (1954) - as is known also written and directed by Billy Wilder.

  • Mrs. Hazeltine’s (Lois Bolton) first name is Melanie and her daughter’s (Pamela Tiffin) is Scarlett – hm, where have I heard these names before.. And they come from Atlanta.. Gee.. that sounds mighty familiar.. I must have Rhett it somewhere.. ... Well, somehow it's GONE WITH THE WIND I fear.. ;")


  • James Cagney paused from appearing in films for 20 years after ONE, TWO, THREE.

  • The Pepsi references in final scene are due to Joan Crawford who was appointed to the board of directors of Pepsi-Cola and protested against using Coca Cola instead of Pepsi Cola for this film.

  • The east German police man who confiscates the Coca Cola at the Brandenburg Gate when MacNamara (James Cagney), Schlemmer (Hanns Lothar) and Fräulein Ingeborg (Lilo Pulver) pass the Gate to get Otto back is Helmut Schmid. From 1961 to his death he was Lilo Pulver’s husband.

  • The Coca Cola residence in Berlin-Lichterfelde (yes, the original building was used for this film..) was left in 1992 – it is still possible to visit it. It was also used in a German comedy movie about the German reunification: GOODBYE LENIN! (2003)

  • Horst Buchholz was sometimes quite difficult to be with – not to the delight of the through and through professional James Cagney.. or like Cagney put it: "[I] was going to knock Buchholz on his ass, which at several points I would have been very happy to do." ...uhm.. nice..
    Some sources say it was also due to his troubles with Buchholz that Cagney decided to retire from film business..
    But actually - I think Billy Wilder - who was without question a genius - wasn't that easy to work with, too.. Appearently James Cagney had to do one scene about 30 times till Wilder was satisfied..

    (I imagine that Cagney's grip was slightly more firm as soon as that photo was taken..)

  • The voice for Count von Droste Schattenburg (Hubert von Meyerinck) is delivered by Sig Ruman who was Col. Ehrhardt in TO BE OR NOT TO BE (1942).
    The German voice of James Cagney in ONE, TWO, THREE is Werner Lieven, who – isn’t that just amazing?? – dubbed Sig Ruman in TO BE OR NOT TO BE.. yeah.. however..

  • The film was shot from June to September 1961 in Berlin and Munich. The Brandenburg Gate was rebuilt in Bavaria Film Studios in Munich - due to the building of Berlin Wall the crew wasn’t allowed to film at the actual Brandenburg Gate in Berlin throughout the whole filming period.

A nodding acquaintance:

  • You may know Horst Buchholz as Chico from THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) or from his appearance in FANNY (1961). He also appeared in Roberto Benigni’s LA VITA È BELLA (1997) (-> LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL).

  • Leon Askin is probably best-known as Col. Burghalter from TV show HOGAN’S HEROES (1965-1971).

  • (Peter Capell, Leon Askin and Ralf Wolter as ONE.. TWO.. THREE russians..)

Murphy’s law:

  • The sign saying: “Achtung! You’re now leaving West Berlin” was no actual sign used back then in Berlin – the signs there would have been in just one language - German, English, Russian or French – no mixed languages there..

  • In the German version Schlemmer (Hanns Lothar) recognizes his "SS-Obersturmführer"(Til Kiwe) – in the original his superior is an „Oberleutnant“ which was actually a rank of the Wehrmacht - German army during WWII - but probably easier for the US audience to recognize than “Obersturmführer”, I guess.. (Not that I would have noticed in the first place.. - but back then the Germans would be a bit more aware of the military ranks of WWII, I think..)

Let’s face the music:

In this film you can hear:

  • DIE INTERNATIONALE (= THE INTERNATIONALE) - anthem of socialists, communists, social-democrats and anarchists.. - well, you hear just the refrain - there is much more text than here delivered..

  • SABRE DANCE by Aram Khachaturyan from GAYANEH

  • ITSY BITSY TEENIE WEENIE YELLOW POLKA DOT BIKINI - I love that song - if you let me wait on telephone or something like that I usually start humming or crooning that song - once my sister who was talking to me at the phone then went away from the phone for a short period of time and left me waiting - my mother came in and found a singing phone..


  • RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES by Richard Wagner from his opera THE VALKYRIE

  • YES WE HAVE NO BANANAS (here sung in German: AUSGERECHNET BANANEN - which would be literally translated mean: "Bananas - of all things" ) – it seems like this is a Billy Wilder theme song: The same song is used in SABRINA (1954).

Oh.. those Germans:

ONE, TWO, THREE was no payoff in German cinemas in 1961 - I think it was simply to close to the actual events - not a good film for escapism..

For the German version there are some meanderings:

  • The GDR police men who are arresting and interviewing (well actually torturing) Otto Piffl are speaking with a Saxonian accent in the German dubbing – they do not so in the original version.

  • Doctor Bauer who reveals that Scarlett is pregnant but doesn't remember the word "pregnant" at first leaves the house singing "Schwanger is pregnant" to the RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES melody - in German he sings: "Schwanger ist prächtig - schwanger ist trächtig." which means (and I'll leave "schwanger" as it is - you now know that it means "pregnant", don't you??): "Schwanger is splendid - schwanger is heavy with young/ in calf." ...

What ever happened to ...

  • John Allen - who played MacNamara's son Tommy? - He did several TV appearances and also appeared as porno picket in John Water's POLYESTER (1981) - I don't know if Christine Allen who played Tommy's sister is John Allen's real life sibling.. Apparently it was her only appearance in films...

Not sooo far away from Hollywood:

In this film participated some of my favourite German actors:

  • e.g Hanns Lothar (Schlemmer), who – like me – is from Hannover. ~ yay for that – doesn’t happen that often that actors from Hollywood films are from the same area like me.. – so if you want to imagine my accent – it might be like his.. Well, without the military attitude.. ;”) ~ Hanns Lothar was an amazing actor - he was the younger brother of Günther Neutze and Horst Michael Neutze, who also were popular German actors. He died in 1967 at the age of 37 due to kidney failure.

  • Then we have Liselotte “Lilo” Pulver who once was a member of the German SESAME STREET cast, which I loved back then very much.~ and now German followers know that I am over 20 years old… ;”) ~ Lilo is famous for her wonderful laughter:

    (her Fräulein Ingeborg is one of my alltime favourite film characters..– and: oh, I love to hear James Cagney call “Fräulein Ingeborg!!!” very nice.. )

  • Ralf Wolter is playing Borodenko – the bold headed Russian– as a child I loved him just because of his squeaky voice – well, he was a popular comedian actor. It’s quite funny that when he speaks German in ONE, TWO, THREE to the GDR police men you can actually hear his slight Berlin accent.. ;”) I love that!

  • And then we have my beloved Hubert Hubsi von Meyerinck (Count of Droste-Schattenburg) who is sadly dubbed – he dubs himself for the German version though.. His own voice is very distinctive: High pointed, arrogant and a bit “swishy”. He was very often casted as a General or anything else with a high military rank - most of them mean. Especially in postwar Germany when the military was more or less forbidden for Germany he was famous for his campy generals..
    He never made a mystery out of his homosexuality - even during the 3rd Reich - and he always supported endangered friends. - I am up to read his memoirs – a very witty, funny and a bit malicious man. I love him.

  • And Karl Lieffen (Fritz the chauffeur) usually had minor parts in German films. In most of them he was a meanie – just because he was able to make his voice sound very, very sharp and malicious. Yes, I love him, too.. He is great.

  • Horst “Hotte” Buchholz (Otto Ludwig Piffl) was called a kind of a German James Dean/Marlon Brando. He was the classic “angry young man” of German film back then. The information that he was bisexual made some fuss in Germany some years ago – some tough guys from the 1950s didn’t find it too amusing that their hero wasn’t just into girls...

Quotes corner:

Haben Sie eine Tattoo on your Glockenspiel?

uhm.. better don't ask that a girl you just met - really, I am only concerned about your safety, folks! - because this means - in case you don't know already: "Do you have a tattoo on your boobies?" .. though.. you will have kind of a conversation after this entrance line.. oh - just btw. it would be "ein Tattoo" - not "eine".. hey - when some Germans are going to smack you it shouldn't be for grammatical errors, should it? .. ;")

But there are some other good lines in this film (really - Billy Wilder films are full of quotes..):

"Put your pants on, Spartacus."


"It's old Russian proverb: Go West, young man."

Here is one of my favourite one-liners (though the dialogues are just great in this film, too.. like always..):

"You are back in the SS. Smaller Salary."

or the one that takes my breath away:

"The hell with Frank Sinatra!" - excuse me??!?!

There is just one more thing:

Some parts of this film are in German – are there subtitles in the US/UK (/wherever else)DVD release in this parts of the film? Or is it just left in German – with those of you who don’t speak German puzzling about what happens?

Like this scene here e.g. :

Thank you very much for listening,

yours (very well and) truly

Fräulein I...rene


  1. Another impressive post Irene and yet another film I need to see. You're just full of recommendations and must see films aren't you? I cant wait to see this movie. TCM usually airs it often so next time its on, I will be watching it and thinking of this great post.

  2. Thank you, Monty - well, same goes for you, doesn't it?

    I think since we met my to-watch-list grows and grows faster than ever. (Thank you for broadening my mind! That's great!)

  3. great work!
    I like this film very much.
    I saw this movie recently ... more than once!
    thanks for this post, Irene

  4. You are more than welcome, moixet poruc! And: Thank you for this very nice comment! :")

  5. Dang..we were talking about this again recently and I still haven't seen it. But I will...I will!

    1. Please do so, Monty!! Please!! It's just great!! And due for a re-watch at my home for sure.. ;")


I really appreciate your comments - I'll read them all and if I can think of an answer I'll post it. :")