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.

The conductors don't believe the disguise, and she hides out in a sleeper compartment. Major Kirby (Ray Milland) is fooled, and offers her the spare berth for the night. Hilarity ensues. Applegate is compelled to stay at at a military academy for a few days, where she is subjected to the constant unwanted advances of the entire cadet force. Heroes Want Redheads, and Major Kirby notices that Applegate's hair is like "a daisy in a field of uniforms."

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. Kirby has been in Washington DC for two weeks seeking medical clearance for his lazy eye, so that he can return to active service. The daughter of the Colonel has networking skills, and has turned these connections against him, so that his plans will be thwarted.

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). Lucy persuades Susan to place a long-distance call to one of Pamela's Washington friends in place of a purloined letter. Susan charms the cadet at the switchboard by means of a dance-off, places the call, and the return-to-service is granted.

Pamela discovers Susan's age deception, but does not reveal it to Major Kirby, and Susan returns home to her mother and the fellow who had wanted to marry her before she took off for New York the previous year. Kirby calls from the station—he's heading west to catch a boat on the Pacific Coast. He was fond of SuSu and would like to see her and say goodbye. Susan dresses up as "Mrs. Applegate," shoving her mother upstairs because the story is too complicated to explain in the limited time available. She wears glasses and powders streaks into her hair, and explains to Kirby that SuSu, who is still at school (it's the school play, rehearsals run late), will be heartbroken to have missed him, and how was his wedding? Oh! No wedding? But how? A discussion of how one of the other fellows on the train is disembarking for five minutes in Nevada for a hasty marriage occurs, and surely some women are content to be only a photograph in the wallet and a lock of hair, and that's enough for her to pack a bag, arrive at the train station dressed as herself, and wait for him to notice her and approach. Kirby never catches on until the last two minutes of the film, when she uses the cadets' favorite come-on line on him.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adults Dressed as Children: See that poster?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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: 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.
  • Snowball Lie: The whole story.