Review: The Major and the Minor (1942)


The Major and the Minor (1942)

Directed by: Billy Wilder | 100 minutes | comedy, romance | Actors: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding, Frankie Thomas, Raymond Roe, Charles Smith, Larry Nunn, Billy Dawson, Lela E. Rogers, Aldrich Bowker, Boyd Irwin, Byron Shores, Richard Fiske, Norma Varden, Gretl Dupont

Although Billy Wilder (1906-2002) went on to become one of the greatest and most important Hollywood directors of the twentieth century, he always thought of himself primarily as a screenwriter. It was not for nothing that he had ‘I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect’ written on his tombstone. The Austrian-born Wilder, who made the crossing to America via Berlin in 1933, brilliantly intertwined light humor with a cynical view of the world. In Hollywood, he was able to work as a screenwriter for filmmakers such as Ernst Lubitsch and Howard Hawks. It wasn’t until 1942 that he would direct his first film, the light-hearted comedy ‘The Major and the Minor’. Afterwards, Wilder would always write the screenplays for his films himself – often in collaboration with regular co-writers such as Charles Brackett and IAL Diamond. Not many colleagues imitate him. Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland star in ‘The Major and the Minor’. Rogers drew on his own experiences; at the very beginning of her career she had to pretend to be younger than she really was, because her poor mother (who, incidentally, plays the role of Rogers’ character in this film) could only afford a child ticket. Milland, who would play the part of his life in the Wilder-written and directed ‘The Lost Weekend’ (1945) a few years later, got the part of Major Philip Kirby by accident; When he was waiting at a red light next to Wilder, Wilder called out to him: ‘I’m working on a movie, are you in?’, to which the sympathetic Welshman, without hesitation, ‘Of course!’ called back. Fortunately, he also liked the scenario.

In ‘The Major and the Minor’ Ginger Rogers plays Susan Applegate, a woman in her twenties who wants to try her luck in New York, but can’t find her way in the Big Apple. In a year’s time she has tried no fewer than 25 different jobs, but she has been happy with none. When she is mistreated by a pushy man (Robert Benchley) in her last job – as a head masseuse – she decides to return to her hometown of Stevenson, Iowa. There is only one problem: the money she has saved so carefully over the past year turns out not to be enough to buy a train ticket. When she discovers that children’s tickets are significantly cheaper, she poses as a twelve-year-old and knows how to deceive a lot of people. Once on the train, some people are suspicious – she’s very tall for a twelve-year-old – but the slick Susan talks herself up everywhere. However, when the conductors catch her with a cigarette, she has to hide in the sleeping compartment of Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland), who, due to his impaired vision, tumbles into Susan’s cover with butter and sugar. When the train is unable to continue due to bad weather, Kirby is picked up by car by his fiancée Pamela (Rita Johnson). Philip insists that Susan — affectionately known by him as SuSu — attends the military academy where he teaches. She can spend a few days with Pamela, her father (Edward Fielding) and younger sister Lucy (Diana Lynn). For the military in training, young SuSu is an attractive young visitor; they all try to seduce her. However, Susan only has eyes for Philip. but how does she tell him that she is much older than he thinks? And how does she deal with the shrewd Pamela?

‘The Major and the Minor’ actually revolves around one gimmick: Susan’s play, which then everyone seems to go along with. It is also important for the viewer to go along with her masquerade, otherwise it will be a long session because you are constantly amazed at so much naivety. Rogers, best known as the legendary dance partner of Fred Astaire, keeps her legs fairly quiet here (although fortunately she is allowed to go wild on the dance floor towards the end of the film). She is the shining centerpiece in this film, and it is therefore completely believable that all the boys at the military academy are competing for her hand. Milland is charming and likeable in a role that Wilder clearly wrote with Cary Grant in mind and while the sparks don’t exactly fly between the two, he and Rogers make an endearing duo. Rita Johnson and Diana Lynn stand out in the supporting roles. Although this is an early film by Wilder, it is already noticeable how good he was with dialogue. Of course it is not nearly as razor-sharp as in, for example, his later masterpieces ‘Double Indemnity’ (1944) and ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950), but the humor certainly seeps through, especially if you are a film connoisseur and, for example, the nod to Greta Garbo. fetches. The master’s hand is also visible in the scenes where Susan goes on a date with the students of the military academy. ‘The Major and the Minor’ is an early Wilder, but already offers a taste of what he would later bring to the silver screen. The film could have been more efficient – ​​ten minutes of the 100 minutes could have been cut out – but nevertheless manages to captivate and entertain from start to finish.

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