Film: The Major and the Minor

The Major and the Minor is a 1942 movie that was Billy Wilder's directorial debut in the United States. Ginger Rogers plays Susan "SuSu" Applegate, a twentysomething who is disappointed with job prospects in New York and wants to return home. Alas, the train fare has gone up in the interim, and she must disguise herself as a twelve-year-old girl in order to be allowed to buy a child's half-fare ticket.

Susan, running away from suspicious conductors, meets Major Kirby (Ray Milland), who is fooled, and offers her the spare berth for the night. In addition to all this tomfoolery, he can't let a young girl stay on a currently stranded train all alone, so makes her stay at the military academy where he works—conveniently near.

Who runs the military academy? None other than Colonel Hill (Edward Fielding), whose daughter Pamela (Rita Johnsen) is Kirby's fiancee. Pamela is actively thwarting Kirby's desire to return to active service, so that she can have a lovely wedding, long honeymoon, and stay stateside. Unfortunately, Kirby wants to be more active in the service, and doesn't know about this.

At the academy, Susan has an unexpected ally in Lucy, Pamela's younger sister, in whose room she is staying. Lucy is interested in science, and can tell that SuSu couldn't possibly be twelve (her calves have no baby fat and her smile lines are too deep).

How will Susan survive this academy full of horny boys, and with her own feelings for Major Kirby growing? Ah, let the screwball comedy answer it for you.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adults Dressed as Children: See that poster?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Oh, "SuSu".
  • Hollywood Kiss: Of course, the film finishes this way.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Major Kirby notices that Applegate's hair is like "a daisy in a field of uniforms."
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: "SuSu" gets dumped into a whole Military School full of younger-teenage boys who only get to see girls on special occasions. They spend a lot of time trying to get to first base with her, and even draw up a schedule of who gets to see her and when.
  • Kiddie Kid: In film, Susan Applegate's attempt as a twelve-year-old comes off more as a six-year-old.
  • Innocent Cohabitation: Susan shares a train compartment with Major Kirby overnight, but the fact that he thinks she's twelve means nothing happens.
  • Fiery Redhead: Susan says that she used to spit at people as a child.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: When the train is stopped, Pamela gets onboard looking for Kirby and finds Susan (looking her real age for the moment) in his compartment.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Rogers looks less and less like a twelve-year-old and more and more like Ginger Rogers over the course of the movie.
  • Romantic False Lead / Disposable Fiancée: It's not like there's any chance Kirby is going to wind up with Pamela instead of Susan.
  • Running Gag: All the cadets at the school seem to use the same pick-up line. Susan even uses it on Kirby in the last scene.
  • Shout-Out: When the train officials ask Susan to say something in Swedish, she says Greta Garbo's famous line from Grand Hotel.
    • Another one to Veronica Lake, as all the girls from the girls' school copy her famous peek-a-boo hairdo.
  • Smoking Is Cool: At least in the film, it's the cool adults who do it.
  • Snowball Lie: The whole story.
  • The Talk: Type 2. Major Kirby hilariously gives little "SuSu" an analogy of flies and a lightbulb. "SuSu" being the light of course. After the talk, she coyly answers:
    Susan Applegate: I'll try and be a better lightbulb, Uncle Phillip.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Loads and loads. Mostly Susan towards Major Kirby, but you know, if it weren't for the age thing...
  • Your Cheating Heart: Averted. Pamela thinks this is the case when she finds "SuSu" in Kirby's compartment, but it turns out he was just helping the "kid" out.
  • Zany Scheme: Susan dressing up as 12 year old just to get half fare.