Billy Wilder (director)
15 April 2019 (released)
22 April 2019
This riotous 1961 comedy from ace director Billy Wilder is set in West Berlin during the Cold War period though at a time when the controversial Wall hadn’t yet been constructed. James Cagney plays a high-powered US executive assigned to the Berlin branch of the mighty Coca-Cola Company but his professional ambitions temporarily fall flat when his boss entrusts him with looking after his rebellious airhead of a teenage daughter…
To put it upfront, much of the film’s success is not just down to the impeccable performances of the actors but due to perfect comic timing, relentless pace, acerbic gags poking fun at Capitalism and Communism, and last but not least taking the mick out of cultural stereotypes to maximum effect.
Cagney is C.R. MacNamara (‘Mac’), a brash and high-ranking business executive for the Coca Cola Company who oversees business at the Berlin division. His German assistant Herr Schlemmer (Hanns Lothar) still approaches Mac’s orders as if it were a military drill – clacking his boots every time Mac asks him to do this, that or the other, while Mac’s other employees rise from their chair and sheepishly utter “Guten Morgen, Mr. MacNamara” when he enters his office in the morning, a fact which irritates Mac no end. To soften all these irritations mainly brought on by typical German correctness and precision, Mac has a bit of thing going on with his more laid-back secretary Fräulein Ingeborg (Lilo Pulver). On the other hand, his wife Phyllis (Arlene Francis) and their two boys can’t wait to leave Germany as they are homesick for their native Atlanta. Unfortunately, Mac couldn’t care less as to whether or when they return to Atlanta for his real ambition lies in becoming head of Western European Coca-Cola Operations based in London! In order to achieve his goal he – with the aid of Schlemmer – is working on ways to introduce Coca-Cola to the Soviet Union of all places… cue for some relentless and acid-spiked gags between Mac, Schlemmer and three representatives from Communist Russia (via East Germany): Mishkin (Peter Capell), Borodenko (Ralf Wolter) and Peripetchikoff (Leon Askin).
Mac’s plans, however, are temporarily put on ice when he receives a phone call from Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta: his boss Mr. Hazeltine (Howard St. John) informs him that his teenage daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) is currently on a holiday throughout Europe with her next intended stop being West Berlin. Knowing only too well that his precious daughter has a bit of a wild streak in her to put it mildly, Hazeltine entrusts the MacNamara’s with looking after the girl during her stay. As Mac is soon to find out, that’s a task easier said than done! Wondering as to why Scarlett’s initial two-week stay just keeps on expanding and expanding, Mac eventually finds out that during one of the teenager’s outings she secretly visited East Berlin (as one could do quite easily before the Wall came up) where she met a handsome young Communist called Otto Piffl (Horst Buchholz) during an anti-Capitalism and ‘Yankee go Home’ rally! For the spoilt teenager it was love at first sight (apparently for Otto too) and after further nightly meetings a proud Scarlett announces to the speechless Mac that she and Otto got secretly married and plan to move to… Russia to support the ‘cause’! Fearing for his position and general future, Mac immediately schemes to break up the union but finds himself under even more pressure when Hazeltine calls again to let him know that he and his wife will arrive in West Berlin within two days to reunite with their daughter.
Meanwhile, Scarlett not only introduces Otto (clad in peasant clothes and Jesus-sandals) to Mac and everyone else, but lets slip that she’s pregnant and that she and Otto will raise their future child in the Soviet Union. Mac realises that in order to avert complete disaster he needs to come up with a fool-proof plan that will sabotage Otto’s reputation as a die-hard and loyal Communist… and the way Mac goes about putting his devilish plan into action provides an endless firework of gags for the remainder of the film. Will there be a Happy End for all involved? Yes… in that a roundabout way only Billy Wilder knows best!
James Cagney in particular is utterly brilliant as the motor-mouthed executive who instructs orders saying “Next… and next… and next… one, two, three!” and lets nothing and nobody get in the way of…getting his way! The sequences in the East German hotel are a total hoot and Horst Buchholz, who had achieved international fame only one year earlier as ‘Chico’ in the cult-Western ‘The Magnificent Seven’, clearly has a lot of fun sending up his character Otto Ludwig Piffl. Lots of other touches in this gem of a film which can only stem from the genius of Wilder, for example the oversized Coca-Cola billboards plastered all over West Berlin while the East sector is represented depicting bombed-out buildings and posters of Stalin.
This Blu-ray edition contains Special features including interviews and info-booklet.