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Film / The Major and the Minor

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The Major and the Minor is a 1942 Screwball Comedy 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 to buy a child's half-fare ticket.

Susan, running away from suspicious conductors, meets Major Kirby (Ray Milland) who actually thinks she's twelve, and offers her the spare berth for the night. But the train becomes stranded due to a flooded bridge, and Kirby can't leave a young girl on a stranded train all alone, so he convinces her to 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 Johnson) 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 anything about this deception.


At the academy, Susan has an unexpected ally in Lucy (Diana Lynn), Pamela's younger sister, in whose room she's 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?
  • Catchphrase: Pamela's "how utterly beguiling!"
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Oh, "SuSu".
    • Lucy, too:
      Susan: Kirby may have a bum eye, but he's not stone blind.
      Lucy: My dear child, love is a very astigmatic condition.
  • Hollywood Kiss: The ever so famous fade-out kiss.
  • 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.
  • Horned Hairdo: Pamela wears victory rolls, reflecting her cold and mean-spirited personality.
  • 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.
  • Mistaken for Prostitute: Implied in the opening scene, when an elevator boy doesn't believe Susan when she says she's going up to a strange man's apartment to give him a scalp massage.
  • Nursery Rhyme: SuSu sings "A-tisket, A-tasket" on the train in a vain attempt to exude innocence.
  • 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.
  • The Remake: Remade in 1955 as You're Never Too Young, a vehicle for Martin and Lewis with Jerry Lewis in Rogers' role.
  • 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.
      Cadet Clifford Osborne: Well, the bus is here. The zombies have arrived.
      Susan: Who?
      Cadet Clifford Osborne: [disdainfully] The girls from Miss Shackleford's school.
      Cadet Lt. Miller: We use 'em for women. May as well warn you, there's an epidemic at Miss Shackleford's school.
      Susan: An epidemic?
      Cadet Lt. Miller: Yeah, they all think their Veronica Lake. Look. [cue to all the girls turning their heads, all with the exact same hairdo]
  • Smoking Is Cool: At least in the film, it's the cool adults who do it.
  • Snowball Lie: The whole story.
  • Take That!: Early in the film, a girl mentions that she wants to buy a movie magazine where the lead story is "Why I Hate Women, by Charles Boyer." Wilder had clashed with Boyer the previous year when the actor refused to do a scene Wilder had co-written for Hold Back the Dawn.
  • 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.
  • Telegraph Gag STOP: Pamela and the Colonel think that Kirby has slept with Susan (seeing her in a moment where she didn't look 12), so Kirby tells SuSu that he needs her to clear his name. The gag comes in when Kirby realizes he needs to tell SuSu's parents about taking her home with him.
    Major Kirby: Now, about your parents.
    Susan: Well, there's just my mother.
    Major Kirby: Well, I'll send her a telegram that will absolutely put her at ease.
    Susan: What kind?
    Major Kirby: Well, how 'bout, uh, Met your daughter on train and looked out for her last night..."
    Susan: STOP!
    Major Kirby: Stop. As we cannot proceed on account of high water, I'm taking her home with me.
    Susan: STOP!
    Major Kirby: Stop. Don't worry. Signed Kirby. Will that fix it?
    Susan: That will certainly fix mother!
  • That Came Out Wrong: Likely why Susan objects to the above telegraph gag.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Loads and loads. Mostly Susan towards Major Kirby, but you know, if it weren't for the age thing...
  • Zany Scheme: Susan dressing up as 12 year old just to get half fare.


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