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Friday, November 12, 2010

A MAJORITY OF ONE (1962)

In this cross-cultural romantic/comedy, Alec Guinness’s Nipponese business tycoon stands out as possibly the least credible impersonation in his long & varied career. Yet he’s a monument of believability next to Rosalind Russell’s klezmer-inflected Yiddisher mama. This ersatz quality must have been contagious since the actors playing Russell’s daughter & son-in-law barely seem human. The Leonard Spigelgass play was a big critical & commercial success on B’way (with Gertrude Berg & Sir Cedric Hardwicke*) , but like other warm-hearted, sympathetic, wryly comic looks at Asian ways & American bigotry in the post-WWII environment (say, THE TEAHOUSE OF THE AUGUST MOON/’56), it hasn’t exactly aged well. Longtime megger Mervyn Leroy had been tamed into well-upholstered civility by his years at M-G-M and was now winding up his long career at Warners, his old studio, as a soundstage embalmer of hit plays. In this one, our Bkln widow & a Japanese gent meet-cute & clash on a cruise to Tokyo before discovering how much they really have in common. Working out the complications of cultural misunderstandings & geriatric romance doesn’t provide enough sparkling moments to offset our discomfort with the dated stereotyping. (The very thing that the play tries to tackle.) Especially with La Russell dropping Judaic aperçu as if she were on a bombing run. But the two leads weren’t great stars for nothing, and given a leisurely two & a half hour running time (Leroy liked to shoot every damn line of dialogue he’d paid for), they just about win you over in spite of yourself. While you wait, spot a young George Takei in a bit.

DOUBLE-BILL: To understand how this might have worked on stage, check out the docu on actress/writer Gertrude Berg, YOO HOO, MRS GOLDBERG/'09. As to Sir Cedric in YellowFace . . . you're on your own.

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