|Ray Milland, "the Major," and Ginger Rogers, "the Minor"|
True, Ginger Rogers was thirty when she played the part, and her character was actually somewhere in her mid-twenties, but when Major Kirby (Ray Milland) falls head over heels for little Su-Su Applegate (Rogers), he thinks she's twelve, and that's plenty cause for concern right there. The way this story operates on our subconscious hasn't changed fundamentally. In our concern over Kirby's less than paternal feelings for Su-Su, we're not reading things into the film that are not germane to it. However, with our own heightened awareness of the dangers, moral, legal, and otherwise, of eating forbidden underage candy, the moral conflict Kirby faces gets an added punch that makes it particularly electrifying.
|Su-Su, a very young twelve year old girl|
Perhaps the exaggeration of the age difference actually serves to keep the Freudian monsters at bay. By focusing on Su-Su as a little girl, Kirby reassures himself and us that his feelings for her are honorable. Surely a man may love a child without it being something kinky. Yet as always, actions speak louder than words. He invites her to share his room on the train, and then climbs into her bed to hold her in his arms during the thunderstorm. He can't stop looking at her and smiling wherever she goes, and when one of the cadets at his school makes a pass at her, he is clearly jealous.
The film wastes no opportunity to emphasize Su-Su's sexuality. The train conductor wonders that she seems "too filled out" for twelve ("gland trouble," she assures him). The military school cadets behave precisely as one would expect a group of under-socialized teenage boys to behave when Ginger Rogers is thrown in their midst. In response to which Kirby takes Su-Su aside to explain "the facts of life," during which conversation he assures her how attractive he thinks she is, and that if he looks at her through one eye and squints a little, she almost looks grown up.
|Su-Su all grown up|
However, this delightfully patriotic jail-bait romance is anything but cumbersome.The comedy is fresh and inventive, as when the cadets tell Su-Su that the girls at Mrs. Shackleford's school have been hit with an epidemic--"They all think they're Veronica Lake"--and we see an unending line of girls with an identical swoop of hair over the right eye, including the aging Mrs. Shackleford herself. The story moves along at a brisk clip, and a laugh is never far away.
It's nice to know there are some things you can count on in life. If you're looking for witty and urbane social comedy, try Lubitsch. If you want a hearty dose of eight-cylinder optimism, Capra's your man. And in fine Wilder form, The Major and the Minor delivers a riotous good time, laugh out loud humor, and a heaping helping of taboo-nudging sexual innuendo.