Director Billy Wilder salutes his idol, Ernst Lubitsch, with this comedy about a middle-aged playboy fascinated by the daughter of a private detective who has been hired to entrap him with the wife of a client.
New York working girl Susan Applegate is desperate to go home to Iowa but does not have the railway fare so she disguises herself as a child to ride half fare. Enroute she meets Philip Kirby, an Army major teaching at a military school. Written by
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Play "Connie Goes Home" opened at 49th Street Theatre in New York City on 6 September 1923 and closed later that month after 20 performances. The leading roles were played by Berton Churchill and Sylvia Field. See more »
When Pamela arrives at the stopped train, she is directed left to the train car in which Major Kirby has a compartment. However, when she returns to her car which hasn't moved, she approaches it from the right, the opposite direction of Kirby's train car. See more »
Wilder's Directing Debut - "Su-Su you're a knockout!"
Billy Wilder, like his contemporary Preston Sturgis, gained attention in Hollywood at Paramount Studio as a screen writer. And oddly enough both decided to become directors because of unfair feelings towards the work of director Mitchell Leisin with their scripts. Wilder did not like Leisin's work with MIDNIGHT, and Sturgis did not like his work with REMEMBER THE NIGHT. It was unfair because Leisin did not have the cynical edge of Wilder and Sturgis, but Leisin was into bringing a more human element into his films (oddly enough, in later years, Wilder would too). They both got permission from Paramount to direct - Wilder a little after Sturgis did, because Sturgis had demonstrated he could be quite successful as a director.
THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR is Wilder's first film as director, and his first comedy. He demonstrated in it that he was above average in his ability to direct, getting the first good performance he got out of Ray Milland and an equally good one out of Ginger Rogers. He and his partner Charles Brackett did the screenplay here - a simple story of a woman who gets fed up with her failing life in New York City, and decides to return (however regretfully it may seem) to her small mid-western town. But Susan Applegate has a problem - she hasn't enough money for her ticket by train. Then she discovers she does have enough for her ticket if she can convince everyone she is a very tall teenager. So she does, as twelve year old "Su Su Applegate". Complete with pig-tales and a balloon (and temporarily accompanied by Tom Dugan, who agrees to be her "father" for a price) "Su Su" gets her ticket, only to be cheated by Dugan out of most of the remaining money she was carrying (she does kick him though!).
She ends up hiding from suspicious conductors in a private sleeping compartment with Major Philip Kirby (Milland), who is returning to his job at a military academy after a fruitless attempt to get into the war effort (it is 1942). Kirby is engaged to the daughter of the commandant of the academy, Pamela Hill (Rita Johnson). What he doesn't know is that Pamela is determined to undermine every attempt he makes to get a war job. She has connections through her father's friends, which she uses like an expert. It helps that Philip has an eye problem (though not a major one).
Because she is traveling alone, Philip takes Su-Su to the academy until they can have her picked up or driven to her home. She becomes an instant social success with all of the cadets - most of whom test out their young libidos on her by demonstrating how the Nazi blitzkrieg by-passed the Maginot Line (you have to see it to believe it). Only one person is not taken in - Pamela's sister Lucy (Diana Lynn). Lucy is going to be a scientist, and she can tell that Su-Su is just too well developed to be her age. But Lucy and Su-Su soon develop a close friendship (as Lucy eventually admits, Susan is far more of a sister to her than Pamela ever was). So Su-Su's secret is safe - and she and Lucy soon are trying to figure out how to counteract Pamela's efforts against Philip.
The film has many lovely touches, like Su-Su taking over the switch board (the cadet who is caught as a result, and who has been listening to "My Mother Done Told Me", looks angrily at her and yells out "A woman's a two-face!"). There are also the appearances of Robert Benchley as the amorous Mr. Osborne, who knew Susan as Susan in New York, but meets Su-Su at a dance at the military academy (Benchley's son is a cadet there). He goes crazy trying to figure out where he met this girl before.
But best is the interaction between Milland and Rogers, one highlight of which shows Wilder at his wickedest (and would not be repeated in 1940s comedies again). Trying to get little Su-Su to be careful with the cadets, "Uncle Philip" gives her a "birds and the bees" lecture. She asks him if he thinks she is attractive. He looks carefully at her, and says, "Why Su-Su you're a knockout!' She leaves, and he shuts the door smiling. The smile has a touch too much teeth in it - almost a sensual smile. And Milland realizes it...and a moment later he cringes thinking that he is becoming a potential child molester.
Will Philip get his wartime commission? Will Pamela get defeated, and Susan eventually reveal herself to Philip as a grown woman (she likes him very much)? You have to see the film to see how it works out. It also has the added attraction of Ginger Roger's mother Leila playing Susan's mother. Altogether a capital film, and a good directorial debut for Wilder.
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