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The greatest trick this movie pulls off is in fooling its audience that it is a piece of fluff. Admittedly, it is to a certain extent, but nobody is more conscious of the limitations of the genre than the makers of this film themselves. The satire on the mistaken identity disaster is so well done here that every scene contains valuable clues and cinematic winks at the viewer. Is it plausible that a 30 year old woman can pull off acting like a 12 year old? The initial response is no, which Billy Wilder and Ginger Rogers reinforce through the disconnect between Rogers' SuSu and the precocious reality of the adolescent set. The pedophilic subtext of the film seems to be a remarkable case of flipping the proverbial bird to the often restrictive framework of the romantic comedy genre. Rogers' inability to escape predatory advances - whether it be by grownups in the big city or 13 year old military school boys - is an ironic point well made by Wilder; this film indeed seems an exploration of extreme fate. Take the inevitable wedding of Pamela that occurs regardless of the identity of the groom, or the fact that on every date Rogers is subjected to go on with a Cadet, it becomes the exact same date. More to the point, the connection between Ray Milland's Major Kirby and Rogers does not change as they meet with Rogers taking on three separate incarnations. The film is indeed deceptively smart; because it refuses to beat you over the head with the fact, it is still absolutely unassuming and lovable.
Billy Wilder and his excellent collaborator, Charles Brackett, knew
what the movie going public of the time wanted to see. So, it's not a
surprise they achieved a great hit with "The Major and the Minor". One
has to go back to the time this film was made to realize what the
creators of this comedy accomplished. This marked the first Hollywood
film Mr. Wilder directed and his touch is everywhere. The movie stands
the passage of time.
"The Major and the Minor" works because of its two stars. Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland were versatile actors who showed perfect chemistry in the film. Both do excellent work guided by the masterful hand of Billy Wilder.
Ginger Rogers' take on the little girl is fine. Of course, we, the viewers, know what is going on, but to the rest of the people she is nothing but the innocent, and young SuSu Applegate. Ray Milland, on the other hand, is proper throughout the film until the end, when the mystery is solved. Mr. Milland's timing is impeccable and he makes his Maj. Kirby a sort of absent minded "uncle" to the young SuSu.
Billy Wilder showed a flair for this type of comedy. He got wonderful supporting performances from Rita Johnson and the disarming Diana Lynn, as the two sisters with different viewpoints on everything. Also, the opening sequence involving the incomparable Robert Benchley shows us a lecherous man who has hired the grown up Susan for a scalp treatment, that in his mind will lead into something else. Mr. Benchley and Ms. Rogers are hilarious.
This film established Billy Wilder as a director who went far and enjoyed a long career.
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.
Billy Wilder's directorial debut is one of the American cinema's classic screwball comedies. Ginger Rogers is electric as the blue-collar gal whose adventures begin when she dresses herself up as a youngster so she can afford to ride home on the train (she only has half-fare). Robert Benchley heads a magnificent supporting cast, and Ray Milland acts his role to a "tee." If you've never seen this, you are in for a treat.
Billy Wilder scores an early winner with this wonderful film. The story,
characters, and dialogue combine to make this a classic romantic comedy
the early 1940s, and the legendary writing combination of Wilder and
Bracket is as witty as ever. At a Chicago screening in June 2002, the
audience was delighted by the comedy and laughed constantly -- the
timelessness of this film is just one of its great qualities.
Billy Wilder was a genius, and this film is but one chapter of his saga...
I wish I understood how reviews are selected to be displayed as the IMDb-approved review. The current one for "The Major and the Minor" is a major disgrace. The movie article the little girl picks up at Penn Station is NOT "Why I Hit Women," by Charles Boyer, it is "Why I Hate Women." It's a joke-- obviously too subtle for some-- because Charles Boyer is of course one of the great lovers of the screen, one everyone would have known when this film was released in 1941. It's similar to when Ginger Rogers' character as a girl on the train is asked to speak Swedish for the conductors, who question her veracity. She answers, "I want to be alone." Again, this joke is something every movie viewer then would have known as an allusion to Swedish film star Greta Garbo. "The Major and the Minor" is a marvelous film and deserves better treatment on IMDb.
The enjoyable performances do a lot to help this film rise above average, and they are what initially made me love this movie. And even though the basic plot seemed to be mere fluff to me when I first saw it, I'm now persuaded that this movie definitely runs deeper. After reading other comments here that delved into the themes, I thought of a particular scene that struck me as odd when I first watched this. At the station, when Ginger first gets the idea to pose as a child, a mother is looking at magazines with her two children- a boy and a girl. The young daughter insists on buying a movie magazine and reads aloud from the cover, "Why I hit women, by Charles Boyer." The way the child says this and the very fact that this particular line is included just stayed in my mind as I watched this film. Others commented on how Ginger's character is always suffering predatory advances- both as an adult and as an eleven year old. Now I see it differently when I think of the scene where Ray Milland is looking at her with one eye closed and telling her what a knock-out he can tell she'll be in a few years. Well of course, he's really looking at a 30 year old, but he believes she's a child and I think this really brings up issues of how sexualized (and maybe preyed upon ?)women are at any age, whether they are adults or children. Well, that really makes this an odd and interesting movie, mixing some risqué topics with highly enjoyable, light-hearted fluff!
Ginger Rogers plays Susan Applegate who wants to leave New York behind and go back home to Iowa.But she doesn't have the railway fare so she disguises herself as a 12 year old girl to ride half fare.At the train she meets Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland) who takes "the little girl" with him to military school.There little Susu is surrounded by all the boys because she is a knock out for a 12 year old. The Major and the Minor from 1942 is a Billy Wilder comedy with some funny moments.It's not his best work but it is much better than many comedies nowadays.Ginger Rogers is brilliant in the lead.She makes a great kid even though she doesn't seem like a kid.In 1955 they made a remake for this called You're Never Too Young with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, which was also funny.This movie is a must see for every Billy Wilder fan because this was his American debut.
"The Major and The Minor" is director, Billy Wilder's, first directorial
movie, and it was a hit. About 90% of Billy Wilder's comedies were hits.
It's an adorable story about a New York City working girl (Ginger Rogers)
wanting to go home to Iowa, but not having enough money for the train fare
so she goes as a minor (12 years old). Along the way, she meets a Major
from a boys military school (Ray Milland) and gets involved with his life
unintentionly and falls in love.
It is an unusual story, but it works. The chemistry between Rogers and Milland is perfection. They made a great team. In 1944, they made another terrific movie, "Lady in the Dark", which was a comedy with musical numbers. This was Ginger Rogers' best movie and Ray Milland was her best leading man. They complimented each other. Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland had something in common, they could do comedy and drama easily. Not many actors can do that.
My favorite thing about this movie is the romance, but the next thing I liked is the supporting actress, Rita Johnson, who was a superb villain in comedies. She was always fighting to get the guy.
I won't say the movie is dated but you do notice the movie represents the 1940's during the war years; it shows how the people looked and acted differently than they do today.
This Billy Wilder film stars Ginger Rogers as a grown thirty year old woman
passing herself off as a twelve year old kid, PLEASE!! The storyline is
unbelievable BUT....made very funny and watchable by its stars.
Susan is a woman who is fed up with New York. She left her little hometown to find happiness in the big city, only to find it filled with disappointment. So she decides to head back home on the train. When she gets there she finds that she is short funds. Not knowing what to do she gets a hairbrained idea that she could simply pass herself off as a kid to pay less!! When the conductor on the train gets wise, she runs and hides in the compartment of Ray Milland. Ginger makes little SuSu(Susan) so cute and delightful and Milland is funny and sweet as the(obviously blind) military school teacher.
It sounds stupid but it isn't really. Give it a chance and you'll love it. ENJOY!!
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