Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) is just one of the thousands of people who move out to New York City in hopes of a more glamorous life. After spending a year there, she’s gone through twenty-five jobs and eventually winds up working as a scalp massager. When she gets called to take care of Albert Osborne (Robert Benchley), the appointment goes awry when he makes a pass at her and she finally decides she’s had enough. She packs her things and tries to catch the next train back to Stevenson, Iowa. Only problem is that she doesn’t have quite enough money for a ticket. But if she were a child, she could ride for half fare. She heads to the ladies room and does what she can to make herself look about twelve years old and manages to get a half fare ticket.
Even though she manages to fool the man at the ticket counter, some conductors on the train are pretty suspicious. They keep giving her the third degree, but she blows her own cover when she goes to have a cigarette and gets caught. As they conductors chase her through the train, she ducks into what she thinks is an empty drawing room, but instead finds Major Phillip Kerby (Ray Milland), a teacher at a military academy. Phillip buys her disguise and when she tells him a story about not feeling well, he buys it hook, line, and sinker and invites her to spend the night in his room so she could lay down. That night, there are some major thunderstorms and the train ends up being delayed because the tracks are washed out. Meanwhile, Pamela, Phillip’s fiancée, and her father, who also happens to be his commanding officer, are waiting to meet him at the station. When they find out the train has been delayed, they drive out to find the stopped train.
Pamela hurries on board and isn’t too pleased to find Susan in his room. Phillip quickly comes up with a story about how Susan is his niece and he’s bringing her to the military academy until her parents can come get her. Pamela goes along with it and arranges it so that Susan can stay with her sister Lucy. But Lucy’s a smart girl and can see that Susan is clearly not a kid. She could easily blow the lid off this whole scheme, but she keeps her mouth shut because she wants Susan to help her with something. Even though Phillip really wants to be put on active duty, Pamela has been arranging it so that he will stay at the academy with her. Lucy can’t stand to see this so she recruits Susan to help get Phillip where he ought to be. Meanwhile, Phillip has arranged it so that Susan will always have an escort from one of the boys on campus and she becomes quite popular with them. During her time at the academy, she falls for Phillip and when Phillip looks at her with his bad eye, he thinks she looks like a pretty good-looking adult. All goes well until the night of a big dance that is attended by some of the students’ parents. Unfortunately, it turns out that Albert Osborne from New York is the father of one of the cadets and recognizes Susan immediately. She flees from the academy and finally gets back to Iowa, but can’t get Phillip off her mind. Phillip can’t forget her, either.
The Major and the Minor wasn’t Billy Wilder’s directorial debut, but it was the first American film he directed. I wouldn’t call it his best comedy, but it is a wonderfully upbeat movie and very strong considering it’s only the second movie he ever directed. The writing is pure Billy Wilder, Ginger was a riot in it, and Ray Milland wasn’t too bad, either. I love the story about how Billy Wilder got Ray Milland to be in this movie. The story is that Billy was driving along one night when he ended up stopped at a red light next to Ray Milland and on a whim, yelled to him, “I’m doing a picture. Would you like to be in it?” Ray said yes, so Billy sent him the script and the rest is history. If you’re looking for a nice, lighthearted comedy, The Major and the Minor is right up your alley. It’s one of those movies that’s so much fun to watch, I just don’t get tired of it.