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Billy Wilder
Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson
Writing Credits:
Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett

A woman disguises herself as a child to save on a train fare and is taken in charge by an army man who doesn't notice the truth.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 100 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 9/24/2019

• Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Adrian Martin
• “Half Fare Please!” Featurette
• Interview with Actor Ray Milland
• Lux Radio Theatre Broadcast
• Trailer
• Image Gallery


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The Major and the Minor [Blu-Ray] (1942)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 9, 2019)

One of Billy Wilder’s earliest directorial efforts, 1942’s The Major and the Minor introduces us to Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers). An Iowa girl, she moves to New York City, but after a year, she tires of the Big Apple and its relentless assaults on her dignity.

As such, Susan wants to move back to the Midwest. Alas, her savings don’t cover the train fare.

Desperate to escape NYC, Susan pretends to be an 11-year-old girl to get a discount ticket. Before long, though, the train’s conductors learn of her ruse.

Susan takes refuge in a compartment occupied by military school instructor Major Philip Kirby (Ray Milland). The two develop a relationship complicated by Philip’s engagement to Pamela Hill (Rita Johnson) – and his continued belief that Susan is a pre-teen.

I believe art needs to be seen through the prism of its era. That said, as much as I try to view movies through “period eyes”, I find it difficult at times.

This issue comes to the fore with the wholly icky theme of Minor. Did 1940s audiences really think the idea of a romantic relationship between an adult man and a pre-teen girl was A-OK?

Maybe not – perhaps the “out” that Susan was actually an adult made the concept acceptable. Still, the film concentrates on a grown man who falls in love with an 11-year-old, and even 77 years ago, it seems tough to swallow that this was kosher.

To be fair, Minor doesn’t make Philip’s romantic interest in Susan overt. While we can read between the lines, the film dodges the issue well enough that one could ascribe him with benevolent, non-sexual motives.

Maybe. It takes an awful lot of suspension of disbelief to accept that Philip solely views Susan as a paternal figure until the inevitable reveal of her adulthood. At that point, Philip eagerly embraces romance with Susan – wouldn’t he need some time to adjust mentally if he didn’t already view her that way?

If you can get past the movie’s inherent ickiness, you’ll find a reasonably engaging comedy, one enlivened by Wilder’s trademark acerbic wit. While the story could go down a slew of mushy paths, Wilder’s inherent cynicism and biting humor manage to ward off the worst of those tendencies.

Wilder also winks at the audience enough to let us know we shouldn’t take the whole thing very seriously. Clearly he understands no one would ever accept 30-year-old Ginger Rogers as a pre-teen, so he just rolls with the material.

How well does the audience accept the absurdity? Better than one might expect, especially since the presentation of Susan as a youngster seems so ridiculous.

I don’t mean just because Rogers looked way too old for the part. Minor tries to get around her obviously aged visage via Philip’s “lazy eye”, but can’t his good eye tell she’s an adult? And what about all the others with 20/20 vision who accept Susan as a kid?

The weirdest scenes happen when Philip treats Susan like she’s 5, not 11. Granted, Rogers occasionally plays Susan as a Kindergartner, but that doesn’t explain why Philip feels the need to baby her.

All of this leads to arguably the movie’s creepiest scene, when Philip “comforts” Susan during a thunderstorm. He gives her a childish explanation of the meteorological phenomena and then holds her close to him against her protests.

Of course, then it makes no sense when Philip tries to get her a date at the military academy. One minute Philip treats Susan like a toddler and the next he thinks she should canoodle with teen boys?

Yeah – I know I need to ignore logic, and as I alluded, if you can toss sanity out the window, you’ll enjoy Minor much more. These bizarre choices occasionally annoy me, but they really don’t encompass enough of the movie to severely damage it.

As I mentioned, Wilder’s wit allows the film to go by pretty painlessly. Minor runs too long, especially because it’s more concept than story, but Wilder’s screenwriting talents ensure we won’t mind too much.

Rogers provides a solid lead performance. We never buy her as a pre-teen, of course, but she still handles all Susan’s changes well.

Ultimately, Minor doesn’t compare favorably with Wilder’s better films, but it’s a decent diversion. With just enough humor and charm to sustain us, it becomes a moderately engaging affair.

The Disc Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The Major and the Minor appears in an aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Despite a few inconsistencies, this became a fairly positive presentation.

In general, sharpness satisfied, as the movie usually appeared well-defined. Some softness popped up for the occasional shot, but the majority of the flick boasted nice delineation.

Shimmering and jaggies remained absent, and edge haloes also failed to appear. The movie’s grain structure felt natural, and print flaws remained minor. I saw a couple of specks and some occasional thin lines – especially during the introduction to Philip – but most of the film lacked defects.

Blacks appeared deep and dark, and contrast came across well. Shadows generally held up nicely, though a few nighttime exteriors displayed a bit of murkiness. Though the image didn’t excel, it still gave us a fairly positive presentation.

Similar thoughts greeted the sturdy LPCM monaural soundtrack of Minor, as it held up nicely over the decades. Speech could seem a bit thin at times, but lines were intelligible and concise enough.

Music and effects displayed the expected restricted dynamic range, but they showed acceptable clarity and didn’t suffer from distortion. The mix lacked pops, clicks, hum, or other defects. This was a more than competent track for a movie from the 1940s.

We find a mix of extras here, and these start with an audio commentary from film historian Adrian Martin. He presents a running, screen-specific look at cast/crew as well as some production areas and story/themes/interpretation.

That last area dominates the commentary, especially as Martin connects the movie to Billy Wilder’s other works. I’d like more about the actual shoot, but this still turns into a fairly informative chat.

Another audio feature, we find a 1943 radio adaptation of Major. With Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland back in their lead roles, it runs 59 minutes, 38 seconds.

As usual, the radio version offers an abbreviated take on the movie, though it doesn’t omit anything substantial. It’s a decent rendition of the story, though the recording sounds terrible.

A “video appreciation” called Half Fare Please! goes for 30 minutes, 44 seconds and features film critic Neil Sinyard. He looks at the movie’s themes, connections to other Wilder films, and his thoughts on Minor. Sinyard provides a reasonable take on the movie.

From 1975, an audio-only Interview with Actor Ray Milland spans 29 minutes, 51 seconds. He talks about aspects of his career, without reflection of Major. While it’s too bad we don’t get Milland’s thoughts on this film, he still brings an engaging chat.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get an Image Gallery. It presents 25 frames that mix publicity stills and ads. It becomes a decent collection.

Despite its icky concept, The Major and the Minor manages to become reasonably entertaining. It drags and feels padded but it comes with enough wit to remain watchable. The Blu-ray comes with generally positive picture and audio along with a nice array of bonus materials. Minor provides lesser Billy Wilder but it’s not bad.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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