Is this the fastest picture in the world? The gem of a satirical cold war farce wore out James Cagney for decades.

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
Time:     108 minutes + bonus features
A director who can make a success of movies as far apart as noir classic Double Indemnity and comedy romp Some Like It Hot is one to watch, and Billy Wilder pushed the boundaries on this 1961 Oscar-nominated one (just launched in Blu-ray for the first time) by attempting to make “the fastest picture in the world.”

Firing his lines at machine gun velocity, an exhausted James Cagney retired for twenty years after making this one.

He plays C.R. “Mac” MacNamara, a Coca Cola executive sidelined in West Berlin and looking to re-establish his career, when his American boss rings to tell him that his 17 year old daughter Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin) will arrive there in a matter of hours, and can Mac look after her for two weeks?

It is highly inconvenient, with Mac’s wife and kids packing to go on holiday and Mac about to spend time with his secretary having, ahem, “language lessons”.

Two weeks turns into two months, and Mac discovers that the girl has been making overnight trips to East Berlin, married fanatical communist Otto (Horst Buchholz) and is now pregnant.

Cue a phone call from her father to say that he is visiting the next day. Panic ensues, giving us Cagney’s rocket-paced lines. Having just got Otto arrested in East Berlin (where they torture the idealist by playing the capitalist decadence of “Itsy Bitsy, Eeny Weeny, Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” until he can hardly stand any more), Mac now has to get him released and presentable to his new in-laws.

Wilder, who apparently kept just one line of the play this was adapted from, has created a capitalist vs. Communist satire, treating both sides fairly evenly.

Bonus features include an excellent audio commentary from film historian Michael Schlesinger, who comes close to delivering relevant facts as fast as Cagney delivers his lines, explaining topical references, political trivia, actors’ bios, background to the players’ relationships and myriad details that you could miss, such as the Gone with the Wind parallels. 1507 subtitles were used in this film, he tells us – and that the dialogue goes so fast that some countries could not keep up and were advised, “Just use your discretion.”

Complementing that, a 28 minute interview with film scholar Neil Sinyard looks at the film from a few steps back to give a wider perspective.

This is one for those who enjoy farces and films with plenty of silliness.

Derek Walker