Now we have another delightful comedy, the classic 1942 film The Major And The Minor starring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland.
After being in New YorkCity for a year and not getting anyplace in work, Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) decides to return home by train to Stevenson, Iowa. However, the money she had saved for the trip was not enough, due to a recent rate increase. After watching a mother and her two children buy tickets, she decides to try making herself look younger so she could buy a half-fare ticket. She manages to get the ticket, but the train conductors are suspicious of her. When they catch her smoking and give chase, she avoids them by ducking into the drawing room of Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland). Due to his “bum eye,” he perceives her as the little girl she is pretending to be, and offers her a berth for the night. The next morning, some flooding delays the train, and Philip’s fiancee Pamela Hill (Rita Johnson), along with her father (and Philip’s commanding officer) Colonel Oliver Slater Hill (Edward Fielding), come to get him. They find Susan (or “Su-Su” as she is calling herself) in Philip’s compartment, and leave in a huff. Philip, realizing he is in trouble, convinces Su-Su to come with him to the Wallace Military Institute to help him out. He gets out of trouble, and Su-Su is offered a room with Pamela’s younger sister, Lucy (Diana Lynn). Lucy quickly figures out Susan is older than she is pretending to be, and enlists her help. Philip has just returned from Washington, where he had been trying to get back into active service instead of just teaching the young cadets at the Institute, but, behind his back, Pamela had been trying to prevent him getting into active service. Lucy wants to help him out. After dealing with the young cadets, Susan is able to impersonate Pamela on the switchboard for one of her friends with a husband who is high-up in the military. At the school dance, Philip receives word that he had gotten his transfer. Susan plans to reveal herself to him after the dance, but Pamela had discovered the truth, and blackmails Susan into leaving without telling Philip anything.
The Major And The Minor was the first American film directed by Billy Wilder. He, along with his co-writer Charles Brackett, had written a number of movies together, but he had yearned to direct some of his movies, especially since some of the stuff he had written got vetoed by some of the actors and directors he had worked with. Finally given a chance, he decided to do a movie that would have some commercial appeal, so that it wouldn’t be his last. Ginger Rogers was who he wanted for the part, and she liked both the script and the idea of him as a director. For her, the story was a familiar concept, as she had lived that way when she was younger, trying to make herself appear a little younger when traveling with her mother so that she could get half-fare tickets due to lack of funds (although, admittedly, that was probably when she was still young enough that she could actually pull it off).
Now, I know that this movie is not for everyone. As much as the movie relies on the idea that a woman in her mid-20s (the character’s age, not Ginger’s, as she was about 30 at this time) could pass for a 12-year-old, it does strain credibility. Although, to be fair, the train conductors are suspicious from the start, Diana Lynn’s Lucy figures it out quickly, and Rita Johnson’s Pamela and her father assume her to be an adult woman until they are given context by Ray Milland’s Philip. Of course, the young cadets are another problem, considering most of them would (and SHOULD) get in trouble, especially in today’s “Me too” culture. It’s hard to know how to feel about Major Kirby, considering we do see him develop an attraction to the “12-year-old” Su-Su, but at the same time, we do see how it also bothers him a bit (heck, in some ways, their relationship almost reminds me of Mulan and Shang from the animated Disney film).
In spite of those issues, I really enjoy this movie. For me, it is worth watching for Ginger Rogers alone (and I would be hard-pressed to try the 1955 remake You’re Never Too Young with Jerry Lewis in Ginger’s role). This movie does have many fun moments, whether they be when she is buying her ticket at the train station, or dealing with the train conductors, or trying to deal with the cadets on the switchboard. And while I’m not fond of the cadets trying to put the move on her, it is funny to see her use the same strategy on Major Kirby at the end of the movie. This is definitely a movie of another time, when things were more innocent and kids could potentially be safer when traveling alone, or somebody else could be more helpful without being dangerous. I always enjoy watching this movie, and I would easily recommend trying it out (at least, if you can get past some of the issues I mentioned before)!
This movie is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films and previously released on DVD by Universal Studios. The Blu-ray release from Arrow looks fantastic, in my opinion. Sure, there are maybe a few scratches here and there, but otherwise the transfer is as good as I could hope for! So far, this is my first disc from Arrow, and if their other releases look this good (as I’ve heard), then I look forward to more from this label!
Film Length: 1 hour, 40 minutes
My Rating: 10/10
*ranked #4 in Top 10 Disc Releases Of 2019
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Robert Benchley – I Married A Witch (1942)
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