Su, Su, You’re a Knockout!
***This Review Contains Spoilers***
The Major and the Minor is the film which made me fall in love with Ginger Rogers, turning me into the obsessive fan I am now. Miss Rogers is Susan “Susu” Applegate, who transforms her 30-year-old body into that of a 12-year-old and does so completely convincingly and in my view gives the finest performance of her career. You must have a heart of stone not to fall in love with the endearing alter ego oddball that is Susu; a natural anomaly of a tall child (‘Swedish stock’ as she refers to her family) and “a very peculiar child” as Major Kirby (Ray Milland) describes her. – Susu’s response to this, “you bet I am” sums things up perfectly. I question how many actresses would have the ability to do such a feat. Being a super fan I would say that she should have won an Oscar for this acting marvel but I doubt the Academy would pay much attention to a weird little irrational comedy like this.
Oh yes, weird, that is our key word here. If the premise of a 30-year-old disguised as a 12-year-old in order to get a half fare on a train ticket doesn’t have you raising an eyebrow then how about throwing her into a military academy with 300 male pre teen cadets. The whole family can enjoy The Major and the Minor, the kids can enjoy the smart-alecky humour and the adults can enjoy the sexual innuendo….centered around children. That’s one of the things that makes this movie great, it’s so wrong on many levels (yet feels so right, or something like that) but contains that kind of innocence and naivety that only classic Hollywood can pull off. The British Board of Film Classification gives the film a current rating of “U” with the description, “contains very mild sex references”, although I believe that’s a gross understatement. Imagine if Lolita was a screwball comedy, you would have a result somewhere along the lines of The Major and the Minor.
Ray Milland is an excellent leading man, well a leading man to a character whom he thinks is a child (yes this movie becomes more wrong the further I analyse it). I wonder how must have felt delivering such lines as “You like boys Susu?, 300 of them, all they’re all yours”. The ending of The Major and the Minor itself is disturbing on a number of levels. When Major Kirby discovers Susu is actually an adult and they presumably now fall in love as seen in the final scene, is he going to fantasize that he’s going out with the 12-year-old Susu? My other favourite cast member here is Diana Lynn as an intellectual child planning to become a scientist. This kid is so badass, I’m actually quite jealous of her. Normally kids in movies tend to get on my nerves, but not when they’re able to outwit the adults, as seen here.
The Major and the Minor was Billy Wilder’s American directorial debut and already he has made the first in a long line of masterpieces. Exploring his films (including those he has written) I feel has been a journey for me through the annals of classic Hollywood and for helping to shape my sense of humour. The Major and the Minor marks another milestone in that journey.