Title: The Major and the Minor
Genre: Comedy, Romance
Director: Billy Wilder
Writers: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
based on the play CONNIE GOES HOME by Edward Childs Carpenter
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Editor: Doane Harrison
Lela E. Rogers
Like one of those cock and bull stories can only be made in the Golden Age of Hollywood, where star appeal alone can justify almost any illogicality and implausibility, Billy Wilder’s THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR, his directorial debut on the U.S. soil and overall sophomoric feature, is a hoot and a half.
Ginger Rogers, who was on the apex of her career after her Oscar-winning turn in Sam Wood’s KITTY FOYLE (1940), plays Susan Applegate, a “scalp massager” (yes, that was a vocation at then) in the Big Apple, is disillusioned for the lack of prospect in this particular line of work (she is risibly harried by her client, who sweet-talks her with a line like “Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?”), so she makes up her mind to return to her hometown Stevenson in Iowa, only to find out she does not have enough money to pay for the train fare, as a last resort, she impersonates a minor so that she can travel with a child’s fare, incredibly, her ploy works and she fetches up in the compartment of Major Philip Kirby (Milland), who instantly warms up to the 12-year-old Su-Su, and after a flurry of misunderstandings, he proposes to bring Su-Su to the military academy where he teaches so that he can clear the air with his fiancée Pamela (Johnson), who mistakes Su-Su as his berth-sharing mistress, ergo Susan has to continue her masquerade and deal with her very adult feelings for the Major, on top of the unrelenting pursuits from a brigade of prepubescent cadets (jocosely indoctrinated by the same cop-a-feel move).
One of the reasons why THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR holds up quite well, apart from the aforementioned star appeal, can be attributed to the sheer impact of the monochromatic glamor, which can maximally blot out the age-telling signs of Rogers’ 30-going-13 transmutation with the minimal request of extra embellishments, and also retains as one of the raisons d’être of why vintage black-and-white cinema is still capable of alluring new audience in this day and age, it invites spectators to a bygone era for escapism and adventure, to voluntarily believe in a magickal tall tale pregnant with simplistic goodwill and wide-eyed innocuousness, something cannot be credited if it is made today without being overtly self-conscious.
Wilder and Brackett’s narrative unfolds smoothly in the tried-and-test mismatched romance pattern with a patriotic and encouraging overtone of plunging USA into the ongoing WWII, there is just one white lie separating our two protagonists although Major Kirby’s tenuous Lolita-obsession is tactfully understated and an avuncular Ray Milland makes a virtue out of Major’s oceanic obliviousness literally until the very last minute.
Rita Johnson comports herself handsomely as the backhandedly calculating and manipulative unworthy woman whereas a 15-year-old Diana Lynn as Lucy, Pamela’s little sister, excels in the archetype of a science-obsessed teenager who can see through Suzie’s pretense at first glance and precociously leverages it to benefit her own altruistic cause. But at the end of the day, it is Ginger Rogers who essentially holds court in her superfine versatility of playing women of a wide age range, and shores up the movie to the safe land with enough delectation that skirts around the story’s immanent hurdle, that manifests the breadth of her star magnetism, she can finally headline a successful comedy without tapping cheek by jowl with Fred Astaire.