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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.