Oscar Movies: A Majority of One (1961)–Rosalind Russell and Alec Guinness as Japanese? (Race and Racism)

Centering on an interracial romance between a middle-aged Jewish widow living in Brooklyn and an older Japanese businessman, A Majority of One is one of Mervyn Le Roy’s weakest films.

Adapted to the big screen by Leonard Spigelgass from his stage play, the film is theatrical, overblown, and overlong (two and a half hours).

While Rosalind Russell overacts, Alec Guinness is totally miscast as the Japanese gentleman who courts and falls for her.

Lest we miss the message, the tale begins with a title card: “A person who feels more right than his fellow constitutes a majority of one.”

The movie was praised when it was released, in 1961, for probing seriously into the nature of prejudice, racism, nationalism, and stereotyping.

Russell, in the same year she made “Gypsy,” plays Mrs. Jacoby, a Jewish widow living in Brooklyn. She lost her son in WWII, a traumatic event about which she was informed by a brief, official telegram.  Her daughter Alice (Madlyn Rhue) is married to Jerome (Ray Danton), a U.S. diplomat, newly assigned to serve in Japan.

Because of Jerome’s new post, Mrs. Jacoby is asked to join the young couple and visit Japan, which for her is still the enemy.

Aboard the ship, she meets Koichi Asano (Alec Guinness), a suave, sophisticated, and wealthy man with an big, impressive Tokyo home. WE learn that he is a widower too and has lost both son and daughter (the latter was a victim of the atomic bomb).

When the two first meet, Russell is prejudiced, reserved, and suspicious, but, gradually she begins to warm up, and a romance of sorts starts to blossom.

“A Majority of One” has another distinction: It is one of the few films of the era geared to the older crowd, though even during this period, Hollywood could not be courageous enough to cast a Japanese actor in the role in the role of Asano.

(In the same year, 1961, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” also suffered from similar, terrible miscasting: Mickey Rooney as Audrey Hepburn’s noisy and obnoxious Asian neighbor?)

Despite shortcoming of miscasting and overacting, on the page, the characters that Russell and Guinness play are far more sympathetic and appealing than their younger counterparts.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography (color): Harry Stradling, Sr.

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner was Daniel L. Fapp for West Side Story.

Credits

Running time: 149 Minutes.

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy

Screenplay by Leonard Spigelgass

Released: December 27, 1961.

 

Cast

Rosalind Russell as Mrs. Jacoby

Alec Guinness as Koichi Asano

Ray Danton as Jerome Black

Madlyn Rhue as Alice Black

Mae Questel as Mrs. Rubin

Marc Marno as Eddie