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Thursday, February 26, 2009

THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942)


Billy Wilder’s remarkably assured directing debut was MAUVAISE GRAINE/’34, made in France after he fled Germany. But it took eight years and over a dozen writing credits before Hollywood gave him a gig behind the camera. With his writing partner, Charles Brackett, Wilder found a safe & solid commercial idea, and still had to get Ginger Rogers‘ okay. All this may have soured Wilder on the pic, he rarely spoke about it, or acknowledged Rogers’ leap of faith, but that needn’t keep us from enjoying this sharp & well directed farce. The story puts Rogers in pigtails & a short skirt, disguising herself as a little girl since she only has enough cash for a child’s fare on the train home. She ‘meets cute’ with Ray Milland, then finds herself stuck in the role when his jealous fiance surprises the two of them in his private compartment on their way to a Mid-West military academy. Complications ensue. Setting up one of these farcical plots is tricky enough, but keeping them going without turning stupid, ridiculous or obvious is a rare feat indeed and Wilder & Brackett come up with some wonderfully legitimate situations, turns, variations and suitors. The Academy boys are both endearing and hilarious. It adds up to what used to be called ‘a laff riot.’ And it still is. Wilder may have found it all rather mechanical; the main idea was simply to establish himself as a commercial Hollywood director. Yet, anyone who’s seen his classic SOME LIKE IT HOT/’59 may well be surprised at how much of that film got a trial run right here.

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