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THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR, 1942
Movie Review

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THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR MOVIE POSTER
THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR, 1942
Movie Reviews

Directed by Billy Wilder
Starring: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson
Review by Steve Painter



SYNOPSIS:

A woman disguises herself as a child to save on a train fare and is taken in charge by an army man who doesn't notice the truth.

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REVIEW:

After being fed up with directors and actors changing the lines he wrote for them, Billy Wilder decided to try his hand at being a director. As a European immigrant who had worked at UFA in Germany, everyone in Hollywood expected Wilder to do a German Expressionist picture for his first, and what was expected to be his only, chance at being a director. This was not the case.Instead, Wilder decided to do the most commercial picture possible. The movie is The Major and the Minor (1942). It is most noteworthy for being Wilder’s directorial debut, but nothing more, as it has not aged well.

A girl who finds life in New York too rough decides to take a train back home to Iowa. Little does she know that train fares have gone up since she arrived in the big city. She has enough money for a half-fare, which is only available to children under 12. So Susan Applegate becomes Su-Su. This is all well and good for a short story or novel, where visuals are not important, but in a movie where visuals are most important, there is a problem. That problem is Ginger Rogers. She was an underrated actress, but here she is supposed to be believable as a 12 year old. At the time she was 30, had danced into movie lovers hearts with Fred Astaire and had just won an Oscar. If you are able to get over this minor fact, the movie is not too bad.

On the train ride to Iowa, Su-Su comes under the protection of Major Phillip Kirby, played by Ray Milland. Kirby is headed back to the Midwest to the military academy where he is basically a desk major because that is all his fiancée wants for him. His fiancée, Pamela, is not too happy with him when she finds Sue-Sue in his cabin once the train arrives at the station. After mending some bridges, Kirby is able to get Sue-Sue to stay with Pamela. Pamela has a younger sister, Lucy, who easily sees through Susan Applegate’s disguise – just like the audience.

This does not bother Lucy however as she does not like what her sister is doing to Kirby. Kirby has aspirations to leave the little academy for bigger and better things, but Pamela has the pull to ensure that he stays there. Lucy enlists Sue-Sue to help free Kirby of Pamela’s plot.

Sue-Sue posses as Pamela and is able to call Washington to have them put Kirby back on active duty, so he can accomplish what he has always wanted to. This does not sit well with Pamela, who manages to find out Sue-Sue’s secret. In an effort to save face, although it breaks her heart, Susan leaves Kirby without saying goodbye.

Being Hollywood though, the evil Pamela can’t win. Instead, Kirby decides not to marry Pamela and goes on the lookout for the mysterious Sue-Sue. He ends up at her house and speaks to her mother. As Kirby is getting ready to board the train bound for the West Coast, as he is now on active duty, he sees a woman who looks a lot like Sue-Sue, only older. It is Susan of course and we have a happy ending.

As mentioned above, Ginger Rogers was a big star at this time. Had Wilder been unable to cast her in the movie there is no telling what might have happened to his career. We might not have all the good movies that Wilder produced during the rest of his career. So a huge thank you to Rogers is in store for all Wilder fans. In fact, in 1983 when Lincoln Center decided to have a tribute to Wilder, the only actresses he invited was Rogers. He understood what she did to his career.

On the other side, there was Milland. Wilder and Milland were friends and there was no doubt that he could pull someone of Milland’s quality as an actor. But Milland was not a star. He was merely a talented actor. Stars made directors in the Hollywood studio system.

Another casting note that should be mentioned regards Susan’s mother. She was played by Ginger Rogers’ mother. Wilder wasn’t exactly thrilled when Ginger suggested this, but when her mother appeared on the set she was the consummate professional. She knew her lines and only took one take to get her scenes done.

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