The Major and the Minor (1942)

  • First film directed by Billy Wilder (he’d been writing for movies, previously – but this is the first one he was allowed to direct himself).
  • Co-written by Charles Brackett.
  • Produced by…Arthur Hornblow, Jr.!!! (Aka – Myrna Loy’s ex-husband!)
  • Once upon a time, Ginger Rogers wants to leave New York (and the 25 jobs she’s held in the span of a year) to go home to Stevenson, Iowa. She has sealed away $27.50 & carried it with her for months, for that purpose…except here’s the catch: when she goes to buy her train ticket, they’ve raised the rates! Not it costs $32.50 to get from NYC to Stevenson, Iowa. Doesn’t that (horn)blow?
  • Not to be defeated, Ginger (her character’s name is Susan Applegate) gets the idea that hey – what if the ticket-selling man thought she was 12? Then she’d get a cheaper ticket, & still have money to spare!
  • I must say…I’m pleasantly surprised at the woman-to-twelve-year-old transformation. She looks way younger – though perhaps not twelve – but still, I’ll buy it. The shoes, hat, stockings, & pigtails are all good choices by the costume department (aka: Edith Head).

Look at you, Movie Magic. Look at you!

  • While running from the ticket-takers who spot her smoking a cigarette on the train balcony (?)…Susan stumbles into Ray Milland’s cabin – who, somehow, does not even question for a second “SuSu’s” age, and offers her his spare bunk.
  • Ray Milland is…Major Philip Kirby – and thus – we have our film title. Ha! The Major and the Minor. Ha! I dig it.
  • Unfortunately for “Uncle Philip,” his fiancée Pamela (Rita Johnson) decides to surprise him onboard the train, while the train is held up at a flooded bridge. She is not fooled by Ginger’s child costume (when she sees her, SuSu does not have her hair in pigtails), and is outraged. She throws Philip’s breakfast in his face, and says irately & woundedly, “I feel contaminated!”

It’s delightful!

Oh…except for the part where Pamela’s father is Philip’s commanding officer. (Whoops!)

  • The Colonel (Edward Fielding) is pissed, and he’s all about firing Major Kirby from his post at the Military Academy ASAFP (as soon as fucking possible).
  • Oh, for Christsakes. Philip brings SuSu to the board meeting at the Academy…and the whole lot of them buys the kid disguise – including Contaminated Pamela. (You should really trust your instincts, Pam – SuSu is not a pre-teen, & you should be concerned about Phililp’s involvement with this hoodlum.)
  • Suffice it to say, the Colonel forgives Philip, in full. (Cough, cough. For now. Cough.)
  • Contaminated Pam & Uncle Phil forcefully invite SuSu to stay with them for a few days. Excellently, Pam’s got a 12-year-old sister called Lucy (Diana Lynn) – who, instantly, is like, ‘Cut the shit, you old bag – you’re 1000% not 12.’ However…she keeps the secret.

Susan: “Why didn’t you tell your sister?”

Lucy: “Because she’s a stinker.”

  • Turns out Contaminated Pam has been molding Major Kirby into her Ideal Man – and sabotaging promotions for him, in order to keep him based at the Academy, near her. Lucy is on to this, & is like, ‘No way, Jose – I am not letting you ruin Major Kirby & his life – he’s way too good by drug down by you, Pam!’
  • All of the Baby Lieutenants take turns escorting SuSu around – and they are all awful. “You know…you & I could make beautiful music together, we two,” one says. “You’re so cruel,” says another – disappointed that SuSu is not interested in any sort of romantic partnership.
  • The scene in which Uncle Philip tries to talk to SuSu about her appeal to the Baby Lieutenants, & how they’re like moths swarming a light, culminates with the line “I’ll try and be a well-behaved lightbulb.”

Hahaha. Fantastic.

  • Yesss! The youngster switchboard operator at the Academy is played by Charles Smith (i.e. – Rudy, from THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940))! I’d recognize that mousy, do-gooder voice anywhere!
  • SuSu is escorted to the Academy dance by roughly 15 Baby Cadets. They have developed coordinated cheers featuring her name, which is equal parts adorable & sad.
  • The other girls at the dance come from Mrs. Shackleford (Gretl Dupont)’s School for Girls; all of them – no, literally all of them, including Mrs. Shackleford – have Veronica Lake hair (which they reference, by name). (Interesting.)
  • The following exchange is golden:

Cadet Osborne (Frankie Thomas): I tell you, Pop, I’ve got to have $2!

Mother (Norma Varden): Now, Clifford – I should think you’d like to spend the evening with us, when we’ve come all the way from New York.

Cadet Osborne: Aw, come on, Pop – the only way I can get a dance with her now is if I buy one from McDougal, and he wants $2!

Pop (Robert Benchley): Are you sure you wouldn’t rather buy yourself a good recording of a Brahms concerto?

Cadet Osborne: Heck, no!

Mother: Oh, Clifford.

  • While fake-flirting her way to seize control of the Academy switchboard, SuSu makes a call – impersonating Contaminated Pam – on Major Kirby’s behalf, to speed along the promotion/transfer the real Pam has been thwarting for months.
  • The call works, & Major Kirby gets his promotion. Contaminated Pam is not enthused.
  • Ray Milland is pretty good in this – he does a pretty excellent job at making us believe that he believes SuSu is who she says she is.
  • And Ginger Rogers does a great job making a distinction in her voice & demeanor when she’s playing Susan vs. when she’s playing SuSu. You really start to buy the SuSu/Kirby relationship.
  • Plot twist! Clifford’s father recognizes Susan from her job as a scalp masseuse in New York. Osborne accidentally blabs this info to Contaminated Pam – and – you guessed it…the shit starts to hit the fan!
  • Ginger’s dress in the dance scene is gorgeous – in a very modest, classic sort of way.
  • Great news – in the middle of all this, Rudy (okay, whatever – Cadet Korner) tells SuSu not to worry – he’s broken things off with his girlfriend in Minneapolis (a charmer named Mildred), so he’s free to dance with her.

Thaaaaanks, Rudy.

  • SuSu runs home & changes into Adult Susan garb (aka a very sparkly, very flowy dress) & heads back to meet Kirby, to reveal to him the truth about her age.

“It’s not a word I like to use, but that dress is super.” — Lucy

  • GASP! Kirby is not in the darkened ballroom, where he said he’d be.

“Hello, Ms. Applegate,” Contaminated Pam says menacingly from the shadows.

  • Diana Lynn as Lucy is grand. I love the way she & Ginger’s interactions are played – the two of them are great together.
  • (Btw – Contaminated Pam has threatened to scandalize Kirby’s name & ruin his career if Susan doesn’t leave immediately, without any further interaction with Kirby.)
  • Leave she does…only several weeks (?) later, who should drop by Stevenson, Iowa “with a present for SuSu”? Major Kirby.

Wuh oh!

  • Susan responds by donning glasses & a wig & impersonating her own mother. Poor Major Kirby. When the truth of all this is revealed, his head’s gonna pop off.
  • Well, you know – actually, he took it quite well, & ended up low-key making out with Whoever-she-is Applegate at the Stevenson train station.

See ya again never, Contaminated Pam!

  • (It should be noted that Kirby’s career & dignity are no longer at stake, because the artist formerly known as Contaminated Pam married a richer General (or something) & therefore lived happily ever in control (or something).)
  • Good movie. I liked it.
  • (Not bad, for Wilder’s directorial debut!)
  • Also, Ben Mankiewicz makes a great observation – it’s true – no matter how impressive the wardrobe or makeup – no audience would seriously buy Ginger Rogers as a 12-year-old girl, but through this movie, he learned that if such a thing was approached & presented in the right way – audiences would agree to roll with it…and that idea re-emerges in the form of Tony-Curtis-and-Jack Lemmon-as-women, 17 years later, in SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959).

Hm. Very interesting.


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