Year: 1942

Director: Billy Wilder

Cast: Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding

The Major and the Minor is Billy Wilder’s American directorial debut. He also wrote the screenplay together with one of his longtime collaberators, Charles Brackett. In a period of thirteen years they wrote more than a dozen classic screenplays together for some of the greatest films in history i.e. Ninotchka, Midnight, Ball Of Fire, The Long Weekend and best of all Sunset Blvd. The Major and the Minor was based on a play by Edward Childs Carpenter.

The ever-lovable Ginger Rogers plays Susan Appleton, a young woman who after a year of starting and failing at twentyfive different jobs in New York City decides to leave the City to go home to Stevenson, Iowa and marry a local boy. When she got to the city a year earlier she held onto an enveloppe with enough money in it for her return ticket home. When she gets to the ticket counter at the train station, she’s told the fairs have gone up in the last year and that she’s five dollars short for her return ticket. She goes into the Woman’s Loung to change her appearance so that she’ll look younger; as a 12 years old girl she’s gets a ticket for half fair.

On the train a couple of conductors aren’t fooled by her masquarede and she flees into the cabin of Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland). He’s fooled by her scheme and gets mesmerized with this child, which he calls Su-Su. He lets her stay with him in his cabin. The next morning Philip’s fiance Pamela (Rita Johnson) and soon-to-be-father-in-law Colonel Oliver Slater Hill (Edward Fielding) decide to pick him up from the train in High Creek, Indiana. When they get there Pamela sees a young woman in her fiancee’s cabin and wants to break off the engagement. Philip asks the “twelve year old” Su-Su to come along to the military academy to settle things straight.

The Major and the Minor is sort of a two faced film for me. It’s a very sweet film. Ginger Rogers is great. At the time she made this, she on the height of her career as an solo actress after her six year collaberation with Fred Astaire. But it’s a movie of it’s time. It couldn’t be made now without many adjustments. Ray Milland’s character threads a twelve year old like a five year old. You would presume his character, Philip Kirby, would have some characteristics of a child predator, if his character himself wouldn’t have been such a naive and very childish character. Wilder as a director is still searching for a style; compared to other Billy Wilder films The Major and the Minor is very static. But all these dubious thoughts are in no contrast to the cheer fun this movie still brings to the audience.

Filmtrivia: Susan (Ginger Rogers) Appleton’s mother is played by Lela E. Rogers (Ginger’s mother).

By Ralph van Zuuren