1940s, 3/4, Billy Wilder, Comedy, Review

The Major and the Minor

Image result for the major and the minor poster

#18 in my Ranking of Billy Wilder movies.

In terms of first films, Billy Wilder could have done much worse than The Major and the Minor, a light and occasionally delightful comedy. I mean, have you seen Fear and Desire? I have.

Susan Applegate is a small town girl living in New York City and at the end of her rope. After one more job in a long series of jobs ends with a middle aged man expecting more than just a hair treatment, Susan throws up her hands and decides to go back home to Iowa (after giving the man a head full of egg). She’s saved exactly twenty-seven dollars and fifty cents for a return journey, but she finds out that prices have gone up and she doesn’t have the extra five dollars to get home. She gets the idea of dressing up like a little girl and getting a half-price ticket and ends up losing all but fifty cents of her money to the man of low morals she ropes into the scheme to buy the ticket for her.

Alone on the train, she tries to keep up the façade, but she can’t quite do it. She ends up running from the conductors right into the sleeping cabin of the titular Major Kirby. Kirby, instantly buying into the idea that this woman is a twelve year old girl who talks like a six year old, he treats her kindly and offers her his extra bed. Through a farcical mistaken identity mix up, Kirby has to take Susu (as he calls her) to meet his fiancée and superiors at the military school he teaches at in Indiana. She ends up trapped and staying for three days surrounded by three hundred boys who find her completely enrapturing and a real twelve year old girl who sees right through Susu’s pretense.

This being a farce and somewhat of a screwball comedy, Susan stays and has a series of small adventures. She goes on a handful dates with pre-pubescent boys, each one with very intricate theories about the fall of France at the hands of Hitler. She also discovers that Kirby’s fiancée is actively trying to keep Kirby at the military school when Kirby is making desperate attempts to get put back into active service in preparation for the conflict with the Axis Powers that is surely in the near future. Susan uses her power over the boys to get control of the school’s switchboard, call one of the fiancée’s old friends who lives in D.C. and is married to a general, mimic the fiancée’s voice and convince the friend to work towards Kirby’s activation. She does all of this while completely bungling the rest of the calls within the school to delightfully screwy effect.

Of course, this movie isn’t trying to be tricky. It’s easy to see from the beginning where it’s going to go. Susan and Kirby end up together, though it takes Susan running back to Iowa, Kirby visiting while Susan pretends to be her own mother, and then meeting Kirby as herself at the small train station right as Kirby is about to leave.

What makes the movie work is the light touch of the comedy and Ginger Rogers as Susan. She’s winning overall, but her first transformation into Susu is strong comedy. Her face doesn’t look twelve, but she puts everything into the act, trying to look twelve but overdoing the youth to the point of acting half that. There is a certain weirdness to the romance once you think about it, though. Kirby obviously has a certain affection for this girl he thinks is twelve years old, even going so far as to say that he’s twenty years too late for her. And, upon the final reveal that the adult Susan is in fact Susu, Kirby’s reaction of calling out “Susu!” so emphatically it enters weirdness, but the movie very quickly ends and you’re not supposed to think about it. It’s certainly…odd.

Anyway, the movie’s light and fun with a very winning performance from Ginger Rogers. Wilder could have started out his legendary Hollywood career in much worse fashion.

Netflix Rating: 4/5

Quality Rating: 3/4

2 thoughts on “The Major and the Minor”

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