Friday, December 17, 2010


I don’t usually find pregnancy a source of humor. So why did I find myself chuckling at this sight, repeated in several Swiss railroad stations on my recent trip?

“Maybe Baby” is the name of a pregnancy test. The product is sold, along with chocolate bars and other edible treats, in these vending machines. Cute name, of course, reminding one of the 1957 tune by Buddy Holly and the Crickets. So, a smile, yes. But the chuckles, verging on all out laughter the first time I saw one of these machines?

And why was that chuckle accompanied on the Gray-Matter Victrola by the stirring strains of Richard Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries?”

If you remember Billy Wilder’s 1961 film “One, Two, Three,” you - of course! - know the answer!

The madcap comedy, set in divided Berlin, just before the Wall went up, starred James Cagney in a vigorously funny portrayal of C.R. MacNamara, a Coca Cola executive hoping to get the company’s product to the entire Soviet bloc, the ever classy Arlene Francis as his wife, Lilo Pulver (in the polka dot dress to end all polka dot dresses!) as Fräulein Ingeborg, Mac’s sexy and oh-so-willing secretary and “Umlaut instructress,” Pamela Tiffin as Scarlett, the hot-blooded daughter of Mac’s boss in Atlanta, and Horst Buchholz as the rabid young (underwear-disdaining) Ost-Berliner Communist Otto Ludwig Piffl, with whom Scarlett falls in love, after he saves her from being arrested for taking pictures of a Workers Parade.

Mac’s boss has imposed on him and his wife to take care of Scarlett, whom he’s sent to Berlin to keep out of trouble (you know, the romantic kind…)

By the way, while the film does not contain one un-humorous scene, for me the iconic moment will always be Lilo Pulver’s deliciously provocative “table dance” in a run-down East Berlin hotel, in that polka dot dress, brandishing two flaming shish kabobs (even lighting a Russian Commissar’s cigarette with one!), to the tune of Aram Khachaturian’s “Saber Dance,”  as part of MacNamara’s ploy to get Piffl, Scarlett’s now-husband out of the East Berlin Polizei's custody…which he had earlier arranged with the help of his right-hand man Schlemmer (played by Hanns Lothar), a balloon, a motorcycle, and a cuckoo clock that plays “Yankee Doodle” as Uncle Sam pops out.

The reason Mac needs to get young Piffl released is the revelation that Scarlett is not only his bride but…well, that’s where “schwanger” enters the plot (Bet you thought I wasn’t gonna get to that, hmm?)

See, when Otto fails to pick up the packed up mink-wearing Scarlett to catch the 7 PM Moscow Express (which “leaves promptly at 8:30”), Mac explains Piffl won’t be coming, as he is in the custody of the East German authorities…at which point Scarlett collapses.

The doctor is summoned. He’s a rotund and jovial chap with a few holes in his English. As he takes Scarlett’s pulse, he looks at his watch and frowns. Mrs. MacNamara asks if this bodes ill for Scarlett. Au contraire! He simply explains he’s missing the first act of “Die Walküre!” Then, he assures everyone that Scarlett is going to be fine. Oh, yes, and that she’s “schwanger!” For the life of him, he can’t think of the English word, to the consternation of both Mr and Mrs MacNamara. Until their children pipe up. They know what “schwanger” means: “Scarlett’s gonna have puppies!”
The doctor joyfully embraces this new nugget of English medical knowledge, and leaves the MacNamara-Haus exuberantly singing, to the tune of “The Ride of the Valkyries,” Schwanger ist pregnant, Pregnant ist Schwanger…

I refuse to give away any more of this comedic Meisterstück (even if you were to torture me with a record of “Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” played eccentrically on a cheap phonograph!) But, the transformation of Piffl into the “respectable” Count von Droste Schattenburg, capitalist extraordinaire, is worth the price of admission. Oh, and did I mention Lilo Pulver’s polka dots?

By the way, if you’re reading this on the left side of the Pond, the price of admission is a region-free DVD player.

Short of that, if you don’t mind watching in chapters on your “small screen,” Underworld Projector has done us fans of the movie a great service by posting some pretty decent quality clips on You Tube (link below)

For some inexplicable reason, “One, Two, Three,” while a Hollywood film, is not available on DVDs coded for North American use. But you can get it in its European released DVD version, if you also buy that region-free player.
So glad I purchased one when I discovered the Bert Kaempfert documentary a couple of years ago!
Herr Kapellmeister! More rock und roll!

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