Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tonight's Movie: The Major and the Minor (1942)

Although I'd seen THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR a couple of times, including a screening in a revival theater when I was a teenager, I hadn't seen it in a number of years. I'm happy to say I found it just as entertaining, viewed from today's vantage point, as I did on my past viewings.

The story finds flat-broke Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) posing as a 12-year-old in order to get a half-price train ticket from New York back home to Iowa. Along the way she is aided by a kind -- and nearsighted -- major, Philip Kirby (Ray Milland), and when the train tracks are flooded Susan ends up having to continue the masquerade at the military academy where Philip is employed. Complications abound as Susan joins forces with Lucy (Diana Lynn) to plot against Lucy's nasty older sister (Rita Johnson), who is Philip's fiancee.

The potentially tricky plot, with the very nice Philip increasingly baffled by his feelings for "Su-Su," could be distasteful in the wrong hands, but it's handled with a light touch which is just right. Rogers in particular has some priceless moments, such as when she promises to be a well-behaved "light bulb." Milland and Rogers are pitch-perfect in their roles, and they were also each at the height of their screen appeal; to use Philip's phrase, they're both knockouts.

Milland and Rogers were reunited two years later in LADY IN THE DARK, which I saw a long time ago at the Los Angeles County Art Museum. I don't remember it well; I just have a vague memory that it was a bit strange and involved psychoanalysis, a topic which fascinated Hollywood in that time frame (i.e., 1945's SPELLBOUND). I'd love the opportunity to see it again.

Diana Lynn is excellent in THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR as the precocious young scientist, Lucy, who sees through Susan's ruse immediately but becomes her ally. This was Lynn's first major acting role, after previously appearing onscreen as a pianist, and she has a unique screen presence. She also had major roles in Preston Sturges' THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK (1944), OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY (1944), OUR HEARTS WERE GROWING UP (1946), and MY FRIEND IRMA (1949).

Rita Johnson would later act with Milland again in 1948's THE BIG CLOCK. The supporting cast also includes Ginger Rogers' mother Lela (she's perfect playing Susan's mother), Robert Benchley, Edward Fielding, Frankie Thomas, and Charles Smith. In the railroad station early in the film, look for familiar character actors including Will Wright, Mary Field, and Tom Dugan.

Among the movie's amusing moments is a joke about Veronica Lake. A few months ago, Jacqueline wrote a fun post at Another Old Movie Blog regarding references to Lake in various movies, which also include SHADOW OF A DOUBT (1943); in that Hitchcock film there's a charming scene in which little Edna May Wonacott includes Veronica Lake along with the President in her bedtime prayers.

This was the first American movie directed by Billy Wilder; the screenplay was by Wilder and Charles Brackett. The film runs 100 minutes and was shot in black and white.

THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR was released last year on DVD.

I watched a very nice VHS print which includes the trailer, available for viewing here.

2019 Update: This film is now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Academy. The disc includes plentiful extras. My review of the Blu-ray may be read here.


Blogger NoirGirl said...

I adore this film! You're so right about how weird it could have been. But, the whole topic is treated with such delicacy and innocence, that it works.

Diana Lynn is such a gem. She's quite a tragic figure, as I believe she died young. At least we can be happy with her films that keep her memory alive.

Lady in the Dark sounds fascinating. I've never seen it, but I want to, now! Maybe TCM will play it.

3:28 PM  

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