I know it’s been a while since I wrote a review. I wrote this short one (for me, that is) on the wonderful A Majority of One. It stars Rosalind Russell (of course) and veteran actor Alec Guinness, who was known for more than just being Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars series. This was one of the first films Rosalind Russell filmed after her smash hit Auntie Mame in 1958. Unfortunately, she struggled with some health problems that came her way right after filming Auntie Mame. She was out of commission for the next 3 years, but she bounced back like the resilient woman she was. She filmed several movie versions of famous plays in the 1960s, such as Gypsy, Five Finger Exercise, and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad (and what a mouthful that one is!). But I think one of the most heartfelt and beautiful renditions she did of a play was in A Majority of One.
Although originally played by true blue Jewish actress Gertrude Berg, Roz, with her Catholic background, had an amazing transformation.” Her New York (but also a little European) Jewish inflections are rather genuine, considering everything. She put her heart and soul into this role, trying her best to make it authentic. She says Jewish prayers, she speaks like New York Jews do, and even spouts a Yiddish word now and then. I had seen most of her films up to this point and although it was hard to get used to, I came to LOVE this character.
A Majority of One concerns a Jewish widow, a Japanese businessman, and the prejudices present during this time between the two very different people. In a small Brooklyn apartment lives a Jewish widow named Bertha Jacoby. She lives mostly around other Jewish people, certainly not mixing on a daily basis with people of different cultural backgrounds. She has a daughter named Alice, who is married to a diplomat named Jerry Black. Jerry and “Mama,” as they both call her, clash sometimes. When she finds out that they will be leaving for another diplomatic assignment in Japan, she is taken aback. Having a son who died in World War II “at the hands of” Japanese men (according to her), she is not happy. She harbors deep prejudice for the Japanese, even though so much time has passed. In spite of all this, they are able to convince Mama to accompany them to Tokyo and live with them.
She doesn’t have a very good boat trip abroad. But things change when she meets Mr. Asano, a very important Japanese businessman. Granted, this “Japanese” man is played by a white British man (Alec Guinness), but that’s how it was played on Broadway as well. It might be done differently today, but if we can get past how wrong this actually is, we can enjoy the story. First impressions can be tough. She is very cold to him when he does nice things for her, like picking up something she dropped on the floor. He is as polite as can be and over time, he doesn’t understand why she treats him this way. They have a serious conversation about the war. He tells her he lost a loved one in the war, too. But do we need to blame every Japanese and every American living today for the atrocities of war? She softens toward him and they share a beautiful friendship. She is finally having fun for the first time in a while, but her daughter and son-in-law don’t like it. Mr. Asano is actually someone Jerry has to deal with when he gets to Japan. He doesn’t appreciate how cozy they’re getting. Mama agrees to cut off ties with Mr. Asano if it’ll make her children happy, but she reminds them they called her a bigot before, and now they are the ones who are prejudiced.
Mama has a tough time getting used to Japanese life and is always clashing with their house servant, Eddie. Eventually, Mr. Asano is hurt by the brush off he got from his good friend, Mrs. Jacoby (this is how they always address each other). He starts acting badly at business meetings with Jerry, and when it’s the final straw, Jerry blames his mother-in-law. She informs him that he was the one who forced her to break off the friendship. Feeling badly about it, she tries to find Mr. Asano to explain. In the best scene of the movie, she dresses up in a kimono, tries sake for the first time (getting gloriously drunk on it), and samples Japanese delicacies that remind her of foods she’s had in the States. She is hilarious in this scene and has a lot of fun. But when Mr. Asano formally asks her if he can court her, things get complicated. Prejudice rears its ugly head as her daughter and son-in-law cannot stand the idea of her being with a Japanese man, someone so different from her.
This film has wonderful highs and lows—dramatic scenes with heated arguments; comically charming lines; sparkling interaction between Rosalind Russell and Alec Guinness. I will not reveal the ending and what became of them, as I think I have done enough! Please watch this film at least once in your life. You might not take to it, but there are many things to discover.