After releasing The Apartment in 2018, Arrow Academy has dug even deeper into director Billy Wilder’s filmography for The Major and The Minor. Released in 1942, this was Wilder’s first Hollywood film as a director. While it certainly can’t be considered among her s best, The Major and The Minor does show flashes of the style, wit and technical skill that would earn Wilder the reputation of being one of the finest directors of his era.
Ginger Rogers (Swing Time) plays Susan Applegate, who moved from her small Iowa hometown to New York City, only to find the big city’s hardscrabble ways too much too handle. When Susan discovers she can’t afford a train ticket home, she poses as a 12-year-old child named Su-Su allowing her to travel for half fare. In a bid to hide out from ticket Inspectors, she escapes into the sleeper car of the well-meaning Major Phillip Kirby (Ray Milland Love Story), who has a vision issue. Susan’s disguise and manner of speaking convince him she is a scared child, and he lets her stay with him until they reach his stop.
Admittedly, this is a tough sell, given that, even with the best makeup and costumes in the world, the then 31-year-old Rogers was never going to look anything like a 12-year-old child. Seemingly aware of this, the film derives humor from the obvious absurdity of the situation. In the close quarters of the train, there’s a few bits of physical comedy that generate some laughs.
Phillip’s fiancée Pamela Hill (Roberta Johnson), and her father, his commanding officer at the military academy where Phillip teaches, drive out to meet him. Pamela finds Susan sleeping in the bottom berth of his compartment and assumes the worst. She accuses him of cheating and tells her father. Concerned about Su-Su’s safety and wanting to allay Pamela’s suspicions, Phillip brings Su-Su to the military academy where her mother can pick her up. Su-Su is now determined to maintain the rouse, having witnessed Phillip’s fiancée and her angry reaction to the thought of him cheating.
Co-written with Charles Brackett, the banter between characters is witty, most notably between Susan and Major Kirby. Wilder used crazy antics–Susan leading a frantic chase through through several train cars–to liven things up. The train would be used again to even greater effect in Some Like It Hot. Witty dialogue and humor help the audience go along with a decidedly ridiculous premise.
Best known today for her films with Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers was also a fine actress. Two years removed from winning an Oscar for Kitty Foyle, Rogers is wonderful as Susan. She’s beautiful and her attempts to capture the mannerisms of a pre-teen are funny. Not only does she impersonate a child, at various points in the film she also mimics Pamela’s voice and pretends to be her own mother! If you only know Ginger Rogers from Fred Astaire movies, consider giving The Major and The Minor a look. Ray Milland was proves himself capable, but this is Ginger’s film all the way.
Arrow Video’s new 2K restoration is presented in the 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The image appears clean and bright throughout. Details are strong, whether it’s the decor in the Hills’ home, or the cadet’s uniforms. Pleasing, heavy grain textures are also present. Contrast is solid. Viewers should be very pleased with this transfer.
The DTS-HD Master mono soundtrack in the original English language offers clean, clear and concise dialogue throughout. The brisk score by Robert Emmett Dolan (The Three Faces of Eve) comes through with nice tone. The mix itself sounds even. There’s no real damage to report.
English SDH subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- Audio Commentary with Adrian Martin: The film scholar discusses how this was Wilder’s first directorial effort and why he sees it as brilliant. He praises both Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland and discusses some of the film’s themes.
- Half Fare Please! (HD, 30:44) Film critic Neil Sinyard discusses how Billy Wilder went into directing to protect his scripts, the structural similarities to Some Like it Hot and the ‘magical’ final scene.
- Ray Milland Interview (HD, 29:51) In this 1975 interview, Milland discusses his start in British films, his first lead and the Hollywood studio system.
- Radio Play (Audio, 59:38) A 1943 broadcast version of the film featuring Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland.
- Image Gallery (HD, 4:10) 24 stills in total.
- Original Trailer (HD, 2:13)
- Booklet: A 20-page booklet includes the essay, “Welcome to the Masquerade” by Ronald Bergan, 13 photos, a poster reproduction, a cast and crew listing, and details of the restoration.
- Reversible Sleeve: The artwork features the original artwork for The Major and The Minor on one side and newly commissioned artwork (a closeup of Rogers and Milland) on the other.
The Major and the Minor (1942)
Movie title: The Major and the Minor
Director(s): Billy Wilder
Actor(s): Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland , Rita Johnson, Diana Lynn , Robert Benchley , Norma Varden
Genre: Romance, Comedy