In case I haven't made it clear here yet: I like movies. I especially like old movies. And while I'm sure the argument can be made that what is old is not always classic and what is classic doesn't always have to be so old, I tend to use old and classic interchangeably when it comes to certain movies. Please bear with me on that.
I think more people should watch classic movies. I like to introduce people to my old favorites. And so I've decided to start a series of posts on what I'm calling Overlooked Oldies. Here I'll highlight some lesser-known titles which, despite having been skipped on AFI's top movie lists, still deserve some attention.
(By the way, I don't claim that my classic movie knowledge is exhaustive. If you have an old favorite worthy of some more movie love, let me know; I'm always happy to see an old classic I've missed. Along those lines, I am making ClassicFlix my new best (movie) friend. It's a rental site devoted to classic (pre-1970) films and tv shows, including many hard to find titles. What a great idea!)
First Up: The Major and the Minor
This 1942 movie marks the Hollywood directorial debut of the great writer/director Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard).
The premise: Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) has decided, after one year and 25 jobs in New York, that she's ready to return to her sleepy Iowa hometown. Unable to afford the train ticket home, she poses as a 12-year-old so she only has to pay half-fare. On the train she meets Philip Kirby, (Ray Milland) a Major returning from a trip to Washington where he was attempting to get into more active service.
Because of bad weather and a misunderstanding, little "Su-Su" agrees to go with her "Uncle" Philip to the military academy where he is currently teaching. There she will have to continue her masquerade while dealing with 300 eager cadets and her growing attraction to the engaged Major Kirby.
There's some great moments in the movie, like Su-Su being invited to stay for the school dance. When Fred Astaire's most famous dancing partner is asked if she can dance, what is her modest reply? "A little."
Ray Milland is at his most charming here as Philip Kirby. Watch him squirm during his talk with Su-Su as he tries to protect his "niece" from the cadets who have been applying their lessons on military tactics to putting the moves on Susan. Philip's concern is touching and funny: "You don't want to be a light bulb, do you?" "It's never been a particular ambition of mine." Ray Milland manages to portray Philip's growing affection for Susan without it ever feeling creepy.
It also helps that the 31-year-old Ginger Rogers is not really believable as a 12-year-old. While she does a nice job softening her voice and expressions when she is being Su-Su as opposed to Susan, it's still pretty ridiculous that anyone would buy it. This is not a fault of the movie, instead it makes for some interesting twists on ideas of innocence. Who's the first to see through Susan's act at the academy? The 12-year-old sister of Kirby's fiancee. "You may bluff the grown-ups; you can't bluff me." The cadets ("junior wolves") are just as predatory as the crumbs Susan was always fighting off in the city. Those who should be innocent aren't, and those who should know better don't, or pretend not to. It all works in the framework of the story, making for some delightfully funny situations.
If you haven't seen it yet, check out this cute comedy, just one of many Billy Wilder gems.
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