Posts Tagged ‘Billy Wilder’

For Sex!(Now that I have your attention) Blogathon: 1941’s Ball of Fire

A couple months ago, fellow classic movie fan and blogger, Steve, at Movie, Movie, Blog, Blog  posted that he was hosting an upcoming blogathon, entitled Sex!(Now that I have your attention), a look at classic movies that tastefully, skillfully, without being graphic or vulgar, hinted at that something that causes a man to seek his mate, so to speak.  I saw Steve’s announcement for the blogathon, I blushed, and decided that I wouldn’t be able to participate.  Then, 3 weeks ago, I received a personal invite to participate in this blogathon!  The first day of this blogathon, June 19th, happens to be  my birthday, and not just any birthday; I was born in 1965, so I’ll let you do the math.  I decided, oh let’s have some fun and I contacted Steve and told him I was in.  Be sure to visit his site to read about the other films getting the treatment this weekend.  Sex!(Now that I have your attention!) Blogathon

I decided to take a look at  1941’s screwball, rom-com, Ball of Fire.   This film is shown on Turner Classic Movies quite regularily, and I always ignored it!  This past winter, I finally gave in and tivoed it and viewed it.  The film is a gem!  Well-directed by the late, great Howard Hawks(here is a list of his award winning films courtesy of imdb), well-written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, two gentlemen who excelled at getting those double entendres into their scripts, and well-acted by the two leads, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.  The supporting players are also great, but  more about them in a moment!  Ball of Fire poster 1  Barbara Stanwyck plays  Katharine  “Sugarpuss” O’Shea, a nightclub singer and dancer.  Sugarpuss loves her work but her problem is her gangster boyfriend, Joe Lilac(Dana Andrews in an early role).  Joe may have committed a murder and the District Attorney wants to question Sugarpuss about Joe, his whereabouts when the murder happened, etc.  Joe wants to marry Sugarpuss because then she can’t testify against him; it’s known as testimonial privilege in the US judicial system.

She loves her job!

She loves her job!  The sparkly outfit was designed by none other than Edith Head.

Enter the movie’s hero, Professor Bertram Potts, played by handsome Gary Cooper.  He is a nerd, a very serious linguistics professor.  He and his 6 professor friends, all bachelors, live in the same house near their college.  They are all working together on an encyclopedia of knowledge, and Professor Potts has taken it upon himself to learn about American slang amd then he’ll write that section for the encyclopedia.  He decides to go out daily to walk the streets of NYC and listen to the slang that is all around him.  One evening, he stumbles upon the nightclub where Sugarpuss works, and is fascinated with her language usuage.  Here are two clips, courtesy of Youtube, that show Sugarpuss entertaining the audience.  The legendary Gene Krupa has an excellent drum solo, as do other musicians in the band.  Cooper’s Professor Potts is writing down slang terms he hears Sugarpuss use in her song.  The second clip is fun, as Sugarpuss and Gene Krupa are called upon for an encore.  Note how Cooper, as the Professor, tries to use a new word, “Boogie”.   Fun scenes!

Professor Potts asks Sugarpuss to join in a roundtable at his home, so he can study slang in depth.  Sugarpuss turns down the invitation as she thinks the Professor is a bit of a nut and too dull. Sitting in her dressing room after the show, Sugarpuss gets a visit from her boyfriend Joe’s two henchmen, Joe Pastrami(the ever great Dan Duryea- a family man in real life, an expert at playing sleazy, no-good baddies in the movies!), and Asthma Anderson(Ralph Peters).   The two henchmen tell Sugarpuss that she needs to make herself scarce as the DA is looking for her.  She agrees to hide out and quickly finds Professor Potts.  She says she’ll be a part of his study, but that she needs a place to stay and before he can blink, she has it planned that she’ll stay at his house!

Some movie critics have compared Ball of Fire with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I can see a tiny bit of that fairy tale in Ball of Fire.  When Sugarpuss arrives to live at the house, in her showgirl costume and her slang speech, with her very feminine charms on display, it shocks the old professors right on their keesters!  They awaken to how nice it is to have such a pretty lady in their midst.  They begin to spruce themselves up a bit, to remember old girlfriends, their courtship days; a few remember with sweet fondness their late wives.  Sugarpuss does have to contend with the grouchy housekeeper, Miss Bragg, who is appalled that a showgirl is living in the house with 7 men, so more modest clothing is worn; the flashy showgirl number is packed away.   Sugarpuss even teaches the professors  how to do a Conga line!   It is reminiscent of how the 7 dwarfs start to warm up to Snow White and grow to love her.   The professors are wonderfully acted by: Oskar Homolka, Henry Travers, Leonid Kinskey, S.Z. Sakall, Richard Haydn, and Tully Marshall.  Here is a clip of the Conga lesson.

Sugarpuss meets the Professors!  Look at those legs!

Sugarpuss meets the Professors! Look at those legs!

The Conga Line!

The Conga Line!

 

Professor Potts and Sugarpuss are thrown together due to his work studying her grammar and  her slang, but she also uses those  times to study him, and to find out what makes him tick.   There grows a chemistry of attraction between the two, and it explodes in the scene where Sugarpuss decides to give the Professor some “Yum-Yum”, er, kisses.  Here’s a great clip of that scene via Youtube.

Preparing for some Yum-yum!  Books are handy when the guy is so tall!

Preparing for some Yum-yum! Books are handy when the guy is so tall!

Professor Potts loves Sugarpuss and wants to marry her.  Joe Lilac, gangster on the lam in New Jersey, wants to marry Sugarpuss, too. What’s a girl to do?  You’ll have to find Ball of Fire to find out how all of the love and romance plays out, with good dashes of comedy strewn over all the happenings.  Turner Classics will be airing Ball of Fire on Sunday, July 12th, at 4:00 pm eastern/3:00 pm central.   It’s available to buy via Amazon and at TCM’s Shop.    To close out my post, here are some more stills from the film, the film’s trailer,  and a fun video tribute I found made by a fan of the movie, set to Jerry Lee Lewis’s hit song, Great Balls of Fire.

Publicity Still for the film

Publicity Still for the film

Professor Potts does fight for Sugarpuss

Professor Potts does fight for Sugarpuss

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac

 

 

 

The Major and The Minor: For National Classic Movie Day Blogathon

Today, Saturday, May 16th,  is National Favorite Classic Movie Day.  Since every day of the week nowadays seems to have a special attribute assigned to it, why not a day in which to remember with fondness a favorite classic movie?  I signed up to participate and this fun blogathon  is being hosted by Rick over at Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Please visit his site to read other bloggers’ choices as to which classic film is their favorite.

My Favorite Classic Movie Blogathon 2

For my favorite film I chose 1942’s romance/comedy The Major and The Minor.  It has a lot of pluses and few minuses: written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, directed by Wilder, lead actor is Ray Milland, lead actress is Ginger Rogers, supporting actors and actresses are all good in their roles, too; Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding, Frankie Thomas, Raymond Roe, Charles Smith, Larry Nunn, Billy Dawson, and even a bit part played by Ginger’s mom, Lela Rogers!The Major and the Minor

Billy Wilder had come to America, via Germany and France, having found successes in the fields of screenwriting and directing.  With the rise of Nazism,  he left Europe behind, and decided to pursue his filmmaking talents in Hollywood.  In 1939 his work paid off with his screenplay for Ninotchka, the film that showed the world that Greta Garbo could laugh!  That film was quickly followed with two more screenwriting successes for Wilder: Hold Back the Dawn, and Ball of Fire.  In 1942 he got permission from Paramount Pictures to make his American directorial debut with The Major and The Minor.  I am so glad that Paramount gave him the green light for this delightlful movie.

Ginger Rogers portrays Susan Applegate, a midwestern,  small town gal who came to NYC in order to make it in show business.  She had saved up her money each week for train fare home as she promised herself to give it one year in NYC and if she didn’t make it, she’d take the train and head for home.  She finally has had her fill of NYC, and her year is up, but at the train station she discovers that the money she saved isn’t enough for an adult fare as the price has risen.  Dismayed, she gets an idea when she watches a mother at the ticket window purchase a child fare ticket for her daughter.  Susan realizes she has enough money to buy a child’s fare ticket.  Off she goes to the lady’s restroom to turn herself into 12 year old “Susu” Applegate.

Susan entering the ladies restroom, and Susu emerging!

Susan entering the ladies restroom, and Susu emerging!

Susu gets her ticket, gets on the train, but when  she goes outside onto a viewing platform to sneak a cigarette, the conductors, who are suspicious about her being a “child” catch her.  She flees from their clutches and dives into the first overnight compartment she can find and it belongs to Major Philip Kirby, ably portrayed by Ray Milland.

Susu meets Major Philip Kirby.

Susu meets Major Philip Kirby.

Major Kirby is itching to get into WWII.  He badly wants to serve his country.  However, he’s stuck teaching at a Boys Military Academy.  He had been in Washington D.C. to see if he could get his military status reactivated, without his fiancee knowing of his plan.  His fiancee,Pamela- a real schemer-played by Rita Johnson, and her father, Colonel Hill, principal of the Academy, -played by Edward Fielding, have no idea that Kirby wants to be on active duty.

Once the Major meets this minor, he feels protective of her.  Susu is immediately attracted to the Major but she keeps up her ruse of being a child of 12, and lets the Major treat her as he would a niece.  He lets her sleep in the lower berth of his compartment and during the night, unbeknownst to them, the train has to stop its travel due to flooded tracks further down the line.  Pamela and her father manage to drive in to rescue Major Kirby and it’s quite a funny scene when Pamela bursts into his compartment and finds Susu there in her nightgown!

Susu has to keep this act going as she gets a ride back to the Academy.  Due to the flood, Susu will have to stay at the Academy until her family can come and get her.  It’s decided that she’ll bunk in with Pamela’s younger sister, Lucy. Lucy figures out  quickly that Susu is really Susan.  Lucy and Susan make a pact.  If they can get Major Kirby’s status activated, then he won’t have to marry Pamela, who Lucy thinks is a “stinker”.  She doesn’t want the Major to marry her sister.

Lucy doesn't fall for Susan acting 12.

Lucy doesn’t fall for Susan acting 12.

Susu meets Pamela's little sister, Lucy.

Susu meets Pamela’s little sister, Lucy.

Susu is also the new “catnip” on campus for all of the cadets and there is a hilarious montage of different cadets trying to kiss Susu while giving her a tour of their campus.  If anyone ever puts an arm around the back of your neck and clutches one of your  shoulders, then describes the “Maginot Line” with their other hand watch out!  It’s a clever way to grab you and pull you in  for a kiss!

Susu has a lot of fans at the Academy!

Susu has a lot of fans at the Academy!

There’s another fun sequence at the school dance, which Susu has to attend, and the guest girl attendees all try to look like Veronica Lake, peekaboo hairdo and all.  Robert Benchley, who plays a cad at the film’s beginning and  tried to make a pass at Susan, happens to show up at the Academy’s dance because he’s the father of one of the cadets!  Susan has to avoid him as he could spill the beans as to her true identity.

Major Kirby has by  now realized he doesn’t want to marry Pamela, and there’s something “funny” about Susu that he can’t quite put his finger on.  Milland does a really good job of playing the caring Major without coming off as a “creeper” to put it in my twin daughters’ vernacular.

Like all good romance comedies, this film has a happy ending.  The Major and the Minor is such a fun movie: charming, witty dialogue, clever plot development, I highly recommend it!  If you are fortunate to have loved ones in your life who were teens or young adults in the 1940s, and they’re still sharp as a tack, you should rent this film and watch it with them.   I bet they’ll enjoy that time with you and they can explain some of the pop culture references made in the 1940s, too!  Here are a few more fun pics from the film.

The "Veronica Lake" hairdo-so popular at a school dance!

The “Veronica Lake” hairdo-so popular at a school dance!

Ginger and her mother, Lela, who plays Susan mother in the film.

Ginger and her mother, Lela, who plays Susan mother in the film.

Studio still of Milland and Rogers

Studio still of Milland and Rogers

Another studio still of Rogers and Milland

Another studio still of Rogers and Milland

 

The Major and the Minor poster 2

The Lost Weekend for 31 Days of Oscars Blogathon

Today’s post is a contribution to the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by three great gals, dedicated  fans of classic movies.  Please visit their sites to read other great posts covering all things Academy Awards: Once Upon a Screen,  Outspoken and Freckled, and  Paula’s Cinema Club.

When I learned about the annual Oscar Blogathon, I knew I wanted to participate again.  This time I decided to write about a specific Best Picture winner and I chose 1945’s The Lost Weekend.  I scoured for an online source in order to re-watch it, but struck out with that source.  I checked our Netflix and Amazon sites, via our Roku box, and again, struck out!  The local Family Video store didn’t have it.  I finally went to Rolla’s Public Library and bless them-they had the newest dvd of it!!  I settled into our comfy tv room, popped that movie into the dvd and became mesmerized again by this bleakest of  dramatic offerings.  If you are not familiar with The Lost Weekend, it is a realistic look at an alchoholic and his horrific weekend, seeking out alchohol, and the broken relationships and self-harm he leaves in his wake.     The Lost Weekend poster 1

Hollywood, from early silent films  until 1944, usually depicted an alchoholic character as a comedic, bumbling joke.  However, in  1944, writer Charles Jackson wrote his first best-selling novel, The Lost Weekend, an autobiographical, unflinching look at the horrors of being an alchoholic.   Jackson’s novel was published in early 1944 and that spring, director Billy Wilder was on a train trip from LA to NYC and while on a layover in Chicago, he bought  Jackson’s novel.  Wilder was so enthalled with the book that he stayed up all night reading the book, re-reading it, and taking notes.  When Wilder arrived in NYC, he quickly contacted Paramount Production Head Buddy De Sylva, and told him that The Lost Weekend was to be Wilder’s next movie, so please quickly buy the rights!  De Sylva had heard about the book and he had a lot of doubts that any movie about an alchoholic could be a financial success, but lucky for Wilder, the rights were purchased.

Wilder set to work.  His friend and collaborator Charles Brackett agreed to help write the screenplay and agreed to be the film’ s producer.  Now to find the lead actor.  Wilder was interested in having Jose Ferrer, currently getting raves on Broadway, to play the lead role of Don Birnum.  De Sylva nixed that idea as Ferrer wasn’t that well-known.  The  scuttlebut in Hollywood was that any actor who agreed to play the lead would be committing career suicide.  Wilder knew that that wouldn’t be the case and even said, “Not only did I know it was going to make a good picture, I also knew that the guy who was going to play the drunk was going to get the Academy Award!”  In 1942, Wilder had been allowed to direct his first movie, a romance comedy, The Major and the Minor.  The lead actor in that film, Ray Milland, had worked well with Wilder and so he was asked to consider the lead in The Lost Weekend.  Milland gladly accepted the challenge that this role would provide his career.

One tiny production problem popped up: Milland didn’t drink alchohol!  He didn’t know what it was to be drunk or to be craving a drink.  The actor turned to the author, Charles Jackson, for advice on the inner mind of the alchoholic, how to act drunk, and Milland also decided to stay for 24 hours at Bellevue Hospital, in NYC, in the drunk ward.  He went incognito as a patient, and during the night, a new patient was ushered into the drunk ward.  The patient was  agitated and began howling and since he wouldn’t settle down, the staff had to come and try to restrain him. Milland decided he had had enough so he left the hospital during this commotion but forgot about grabbing his street clothes.  A cop saw him as he exited Bellevue, still wearing the robe patients were given at that time to wear, and the cop nabbed Milland and took him back inside the hospital!  It took Milland a good chunk of his time to finally convince the officer and the hospital that he was really there just to do research for an upcoming movie role!  Also, a few weeks prior to the film’s start date, Milland decided to go on a crash diet.  He figured that an alcoholic probably doesn’t concern him or herself with eating 3 nutritious meals a day, so he lived on hard-boiled eggs, dry toast, grapefruit juice, and black coffee.   Milland went from his normal weight of 168 lbs. down to 160 lbs.

Katherine Hepburn was shown the script to possibly sign her on as Helen St. James,  Don Birnum’s long-suffering girlfriend.  Hepburn was intrigued by the script but was already preparing  to shoot another movie and wasn’t going to be available to work on The Lost Weekend.  Jean Arthur was then offered the role but she turned it down.  That led to discussions, of hiring an ingenue, and Brackett contacted Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers, about letting them borrow Jane Wyman.  Warner agreed and Wyman got her chance to have her name above the title, and to also play in a more dramatic part then she had ever done before.

Publicity still of Milland and Wyman.

Publicity still of Milland and Wyman.

Rounding out the cast were the very capable Phillip Terry, as Wick Burnham, Don’s long-suffering brother, Howard Da Silva as Nat, the owner and bartender of Nat’s, Don’s favorite bar, Doris Dowling as Gloria, a flirt who hangs out at Nat’s and has a huge crush on Don, Frank Faylen as Bim, the male nurse who explains the reality of being an alcoholic to Don when he is at Bellevue.  Lilian Fontaine(mom of Olivia de Haviland and Joan Fontaine) has a small part as Helen’s mom and Lewis L. Russell plays her father.  William Newell also has a bit part as a liquor store owner whom Don robs for a quart of rye.  Gordon Jennings is good as the opera house’s coat room clerk who won’t let Don search for his coat when he is handed Helen’s by mistake, and Douglas Spencer-better known as reporter Scotty in The Thing From Another World, is quite good as an alchoholic with a horrible case of the dt’s,  sharing the drunk ward with Don.

Philip Terry as Wick, with Jane Wyman as Helen

Phillip Terry as Wick, with Jane Wyman as Helen

Howard Da Silva as Nat

Howard Da Silva as Nat

Doris Dowling as Gloria

Doris Dowling as Gloria

Frank Faylen, as Bim

Frank Faylen, as Bim

The Lost Weekend begins on a Thursday afternoon, with a wonderful opening shot of New York City, a long view of the tall buildings as they sweep by our eyes.  It must be spring or fall, as we see apartment buildings with opened windows, curtains billowing in the breeze.  We meet the characters that tell us the story of this weekend, which begins on a Thursday afternoon and ends on a Monday morning.  There is Wick Burnham. the sensible brother, but he’s getting so very tired of trying to help his brother Don dry out.  He lets Don share his apartment, but pays all of the rent, the utilities, pays for their food, because Don, who aspires to be a writer, has no job.   Don’s girlfriend is Helen St. James.  A sweet lady, who left behind a loving home in Toledo, Ohio to make her way in the exciting environs of NYC.  Helen works at Time magazine and often is given tickets to the theatre or opera.  We see in a flashback that the opera is where she met Don, over a mixing up of their coat check tickets.  Helen is sweet, honest, tough, and not willing to give up on Don or the possible future they could have together.

At Nat’s bar, we meet Nat.  He’s a good-natured guy, but not one to push around.  He sees the downward spiral Don is in and tries to counsel him to get help, especially since Don has that nice St. James lady who loves him.  Also at Nat’s is Gloria.  A very pretty gal, who is very attracted to Don and lets him know it.  She doesn’t seem to understand that he is an alchoholic, and is ready to loan him some cash when he visits her apartment, desperate for money.  It is here that Don has a horrible fall down a flight of stairs that lands him at Bellevue.

Then there is Don, the main character of this story.  Milland really gave a tour de force performance.  We can see glimpses of the jovial and charming man that Don Birnum could be.  We see the huge frustrations and desperation in his eyes when he can’t find anymore hidden bottles of liquor in the apartment, or when there isn’t anymore money to buy that quart of rye.  We see his fear at waking up in Bellevue’s drunk ward, not knowing where he is at first and then being caustically lectured by Bim, the head male nurse, as to what he sees all the time in dealing with alcoholics.  Echoing those horrors is Don’s own experience of the dt’s or delirious tremens, when he thinks he sees a mouse that has chewed a hole in the wall of the apartment, only to be attacked by a bat and blood running down the wall!  Milland looks hagard, ill, is unshaven and sweats profusely.  He staggers around NYC and in one scene, he practically cries out to some businessmen why are the pawn shops closed???  Don’t they realize he has to pawn his typewriter for money???  When he is told it’s because of Yom Kippur that the stores are closed, he looks devasted, like he’s lost his last friend and there won’t be anymore in his lifetime.

The delirious tremens

The delirious tremens

Threatening a liquor store owner

Threatening a liquor store owner

About to have a drink he begged Nat for

About to have a drink he begged Nat for

"Why aren't the pawn stores open??"

“Why aren’t the pawn stores open??”

Don calls the rings from his glasses of rye his "vicious circles"

Don calls the rings from his glasses of rye his “vicious circles”

At Nat's Bar

At Nat’s Bar

Miklos Rozsa needs to also be mentioned due to his musical contributions to the score.  When test audiences saw the film in California, they didn’t like it.  Rozsa noticed that a jazzy, George Gershwin type of tone was being used in different scenes and he told Wilder that he thought musically that that was the wrong approach.  Wilder told him to come up with another musical score and Rozsa did.  He used the instrument, the theremin, whenever Don was having one of his alcoholic crises.  That sound immediately gave the movie an other worldly feel, to symbolize that the alcoholic’s world isn’t normal.  You can hear that sound for yourself in this clip from Youtube, the movie’s trailer.  The theremin is apparent at the 23 second mark.

After The Lost Weekend was seen by the American movie going public, and the movie viewers abroad, it cleaned up nicely in the awards categories for 1945.  Billy Wilder and Ray Milland won Best Director and Best Actor, and the movie won Best Picture from the New York Film Critics Circle.  Milland won Best Actor from the National Board of Review.  At Cannes, Milland won Best Actor and Wilder won the Grand Prize.  The Lost Weekend won the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Film, Milland for Best Actor, and Wilder for Best Director.  For the Academy Awards, The Lost Weekend had garnered 7 nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing(screenplay), Cinematography, Music, and Editing.  It won 4 Oscars: Best Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Picture.  Since Wilder had also co-written the screenplay, he actually won two Oscars for The Lost Weekend.  As Milland took the stage to accept his award, emcee Bob Hope joked that Milland’s Oscar was hidden away in a ceiling light, as that was one place Don Birnum had hidden a liquor bottle in the film!

Producer and screenwriter Charles Brackett with co-screenwriter and director Billy Wilder, on the set of The Lost Weekend

Producer and screenwriter Charles Brackett with co-screenwriter and director Billy Wilder, on the set of The Lost Weekend

Milland with his Oscar

Milland with his Oscar

If you  have never seen The Lost Weekend, do find it and view it.  It really is a remarkable feat in the motion picture arts and was added in 2011 to the National Film Preservation Board.

Credited articles that helped in the writing of this blog topic: “Weekend in the Sun”, Bailey, Blake.  March, 2013, Vanity Fair.

“Why The Lost Weekend is Essential”, McGee, Scott.  Turner Classic Movies website.

 

My Classic Movie Pick: The Major and the Minor

Cover of "The Major and the Minor (Univer...

Cover via Amazon

1942’s hit movie, The Major and the Minor is one of my favorite romance/comedy films.  It was written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, based upon the play Connie Goes Home, by Edward Childs Carpenter.   Wilder also directed, and  this was  his first American movie to direct.  The film stars Ginger Rogers, as the Minor, and Ray Milland as the Major.   Supporting players in the cast are Robert Benchley, Rita Johnson, Diana Lynn, Norma Varden, Frankie Thomas and Lela Rogers, Ginger’s own mother, as Mrs. Applegate.

Ginger is Susan Applegate, an Iowa native, who has tried to live on her own in NYC.  She has given herself a term of 3 years to make it there, and if she can’t, she will take the train back to Iowa.  At her current job, as a scalp masseuse for the Revigorous System, her client for the evening(she has to make house calls) Mr.  Albert Osborne(Robert Benchley), makes a pass at her and that is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Susan gets away from Mr. Osborne, quits her job, packs up her belongings and heads for Union Station and a ticket out of town.  Unbeknownst to her, train fares have gone up, and she doesn’t have enough money for an adult fare.  She overhears a mother buying train tickets for her two children, and after studying what some girls in the station are wearing, Susan heads to the nearest ladies room and transforms her adult outfit into a child’s ensemble.  She redoes her hair into two braids, and scrounges up some of her change to buy a balloon from a nearby vendor.  With the change made, Susan goes to the ticket agent and buys a child’s fare for a trip to Iowa.

On board the train, Susan decides to venture out on the back platform of the train for a cigarette break.  A suspicious conductor follows her and sees her smoking.  Susan realizes she’s been caught but manages to evade the conductor  and jumps into the nearest compartment to hide in.  This compartment happens to belong to Major Philip Kirby(Ray Milland).  He is surprised and startled to have an unexpected visitor and Susan quickly thinks up a lie, that she is Susan, age 12, and everyone calls her Su-Su.  She explains she is very frightened  traveling by herself back to Iowa, and he agrees that she can stay in his compartment until he reaches his stop.  Major Kirby is an instructor at a military academy and he is engaged to Pamela Hill(Rita Johnson).  Pamela is beautiful and very ambitious about her future husband’s military career, but she doesn’t want him to be on active duty.  Major Kirby is frustrated at the academy, and wants nothing more than to be called into active duty.  This subplot will involve Su-Su to quite a degree.

As luck would have it, there is a terrible rain storm overnight,  the tracks flood, and the train has to stop.  Pamela and her father, the commanding officer at the academy, drive to meet the train where it is stopped to bring Major Kirby back to the academy.  Pamela is shocked to find Su-Su sleeping in the lower berth in the Major’s compartment.  She accuses him of being unfaithful to her and tells her father about this  outrage.  Major Kirby quickly explains that the girl in his compartment is 12 year old Su-Su, scared to travel alone, and that he simply let her share the compartment for the night.  Still worried about Su-Su with the train being unable to continue to its stops, Major Kirby insists on bringing her with them back to the academy and then they’ll call her parents to drive there to pick her up.  Pamela and her father, meeting Su-Su properly,  agree to let her stay at their house, sharing a bedroom with Pamela’s younger sister, Lucy(Diana Lynn).   Lucy is in high school, and she sees through Su-Su’s disguise.  She promises to keep Susan Applegate’s secret if Susan will help her ruin her older sister’s plan to keep Major Kirby out of active duty service.  Susan agrees, and pretending to be Pamela, calls a Washington D. C. connection of the Hill’s, and gets Major Kirby’s status changed.

There is another sub-plot, where 5 of the cadets are ordered by Major Kirby to spend an hour each with Su-Su, to give her a tour of the academy, and to help her enjoy her visit.  What Major Kirby doesn’t seem to realize is that these cadets, at seeing Su-Su, have one thing on their minds -to get her alone for some kissing!  It is quite funny seeing how each cadet tries to do this, and Su-Su, being in her twenties and not really 12, is quite wise to what they are up to.  There is also a ball planned for the weekend of Su-Su’s visit, which she has to go to, and a funny scene where all of the girls invited to the ball from a neighboring girl’s school are all imitating actress Veronica Lake’s iconic one-eye showing hairdo.   Cadets’  parents have also been invited to the ball and Su-Su is in for a surprise when Mr. Osborne attends, he being the older man who tried to make a pass at her when she was trying to massage his scalp!  Su-Su’s real identity is revealed to Pamela, who threatens to reveal Susan’s real identity to one and all and that that will hurt Major Kirby’s career.  At this point in the movie, we know Susan has fallen in love with Major Kirby, but she agrees to Pamela’s threat and quietly sneaks away from the ball, packs, and leaves the academy.  I won’t go on to reveal the ending, as I want the readers of this blog to seek out the film and see the ending for themselves!

Ginger Rogers shines in this movie, doing a pretty good job at acting like a 12 year old, yet having to hide her growing feelings of love for the Major.  Rogers had recently won the Best Actress Oscar for the drama Kitty Foyle, so appearing in this light-hearted comedy appealed to her, and in fact, when she was a struggling young dancer and singer, traveling with her mother and being low on train fare, Rogers had actually pretended to be 12 in order to get child-priced train fare.  Paramount Pictures originally wanted Cary Grant to play the Major, but director Billy Wilder, stopped in his car at a traffic light one day, saw actor Ray Milland in the next car over, and asked him if he’d like to be in the picture he was getting ready to direct.  Milland said,”Sure!” and that’s how he got the part over Grant.  Milland does a great job in his part too, acting mannerly and concerned about a 12 year old’s well-being, and he’s deft at handling the comedic timing necessary in a film such as this.  Wilder came to Hollywood in 1934, after directing his first film, the French film Mauvaise Graine.  He worked on 8 screenplays for  his first career efforts in Hollywood, but was really wanting to direct again.  Producer Arthur Hornblow Jr., agreed to give him that chance with The Major and The Minor.    The film proved to be a box office hit with audiences of 1942, and if you want to view a delightfully funny, touch of romance movie, then seek out The Major and The Minor.  It is available at Amazon, Turner Classic Movies airs it now and again, and some kind soul put up a video tribute to it on You Tube.

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