Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The final night of Ginger Rogers

Tonight is the final night of TCM's salute to March Star of the Month Ginger Rogers. The movies continue into Thursday, concluding with Tight Spot, at 2:30 PM ET Thursday. Several hours before that, though, is a Rogers classic I apparently haven't blogged about before: The Major and the Minor, at 11:30 PM tonight.

Rogers plays Susan Applegate, a woman who tried to make it in New York City, but wasn't able to, so she's decided to go back home. She had saved the price of a return ticket home for just such a contingency, but what she didn't think about was the possibility that the cost of a ticket would go up in the meantime. So, she's out of luck -- until she sees a mother and her kid buying tickets, with the mother buying a half-fare ticket for the kid. All that twenty-something Susan needs to do is pass herself off as twelve-year-old SuSu. Needless to say, this is no easy feat, and the conductor doesn't trust Susan one bit, especially when he catches her smoking. (You mean it's not normal for 12-year-olds to smoke? I thought everyone smoked in movies back in those days.) Susan tries to escape and, in her attempt, runs straight into the compartment of Kirby, a major at a military school played by Ray Milland. Major Kirby takes pity on poor "little" SuSu, keeps her in his compartment, and takes her back home.

SuSu immediately proceeds to fool almost everybody about her identity, except for Lucy, the kid sister of Kirby's fiancée. (The fiancée is played by Rita Johnson; the sister by Diana Lynn.) Worse for poor Susan, all the cadets think she's much more sophisticated than all the other adolescent girls out there. (If they only knew.) How is Susan going to keep up the ruse until she can get home? There are other problems, too. Kirby wants to serve in the real Army, not at a military school, since there is a war on, but his fiancée, who happens to be the daughter of the head of the school, is using all of her influence to keep Kirby at the school. Also, Susan is falling in love with the major, but at least here she has some help. Lucy likes Susan more than she does her real sister, so Lucy is willing to help Susan out in sabotaging the sister's attempts to derail Major Kirby's military career.

The Major and the Minor was the first movie directed by Billy Wilder, and it's a glittering comedy at that. Sure, Ginger Rogers is about as believable a 12-year-old as Julie Harris. But we're not supposed to accept Rogers that way; that's part of the point of the humor. Rogers had long shown herself adept at comedy, but Milland does a pretty good job, too. And the cadets are a hoot. The Major and the Minor has been released to DVD, and is a delightful little comedy.

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