Saturday, 18 June 2011
Old Movie Madness: The Major and the Minor (1942)
This is one of those films that doesn't translate well to the modern mindset, it really is sweet and funny but I found my 21st century brain jarring with negative connotations at the storyline. More on that later.
Ginger Rogers, one of my favourite actresses, plays Susan Applegate; a young lady trying her luck in the Big Apple and failing. She finally snaps after a customer expects her to offer more than just a scalp massage and decides to head home Iowa. Through all her time in New York she has made sure to save her exact train fare but unfortunately the fares have gone up during this time and she can't afford to get home.
Susan is a determined girl though, Ginger specialises in the plucky young woman role, and racks her brain to think of a way to get out of the city. She decides the only way is to try and convince the ticket salesman that she is under age and so she hitches up her skirt, rips the trimmings off her hat and scrubs off her makeup. she finally manages to get a ticket and gets onto the train but the inspectors are suspicious and she hides from them in a train compartment.
The compartment is occupied by Major Philip Kirby who takes pity on Susan (now going by the name of Su-Su), who convinces him that she is just 12 years old and in need of help. He lets her stay in his compartment in the spare bed.
Unfortunately her plans for getting home are scuppered when the train tracks flood but, happy to be stuck with the charming Major she decides to reveal her true identity to him. Yet again though, poor Susan is a victim of circumstance, as the Major's fiancee Pamela walks into the cabin and sees her there and, assuming her feela has been cheating on her, storms out.
The Major is still convinced that Su-su is just a child and so, to prove to his future wife that nothing untoward happened he decides to take Su-su home with him to the army school where they live. Susan has to stay with Pamela's younger sister and is soon rumbled, but her roommate agrees to help her in her deception in exchange for some help in scuppering the Pamela's plans to tie the Major down.
Following much hilarity as the boys at the school all fall for the glamorous 12 year old Susan is finally unmasked and Pamela forces her to leave before she can tell Philip that she loves him.
There are a lot of reasons why this should not work, the delectable Ms Rogers is far to old to pass for a 12 year old for one thing and, to modern eyes, the Major's willingness to share his bedroom with an unknown child is hard to understand. Ginger manages to charm us through it all though, in her usual jolly way.
The rest of the cast are pretty good too. Diana Lynn, playing Pamela's intelligent and very grown up younger sister is a a star turn, with a natural flair for comedy. Rita Johnson as Pamela is just annoying enough for the audience to dislike without them wondering why the Major proposed to her in the first place and the cast of Cadets at the school are all charming in their own precocious way.
I really wasn't keen on Ray Milland's Major though, I just couldn't see why Susan would be so interested in him. Fine, he is fairly good looking in a bland way, and very kind to waifs and strays but he has no sexual presence whatsoever. Still, it is a '42 film and also I guess it would be distinctly odd if he was playing a sexual character given his intimacy with this strange child.
I have to say that the Major's attraction to this child did make me feel a little uncomfortable. There were moments where you could see that he felt drawn to her despite thinking her just 12 years old, and to my not so innocent 2011 eyes this did not sit well.
Still, if you can suspend you disbelief at Ginger looking 12 and bury your modern suspicions, then it really is a charming little movie. I think it is all available on YouTube but for now - here's the trailer: