For Reel

The Major and the Minor (1942)
June 25, 2011, 10:52 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Billy Wilder

The Major and the Minor, the often overlooked debut comedy from Billy Wilder, is successful in large part due to Ginger Rogers, who, in the early 40s, was at her height as a leading actress. Though the conceit of the film is absurd – that Rogers, then 30-years-old, could be mistaken for a 12-year-old – that very implausibility is the root of much of the comedy and, more significantly, Rogers successfully plays childlike without ever losing the upper hand in her romantic quarrels. She may be feigning naivete, but she’s never submissive. Before Rogers dons her disguise, she has a brief scene with Robert Benchley in which she fends off his sexual harassment – a scene which turns out to be no different than her objectification at the hands of the young male cadets later in the picture. Though Wilder has been criticized for his incomplete women’s roles, in this film, his perspective on men is bluntly demonstrated by a shot in which a cadet attempts to seduce Rogers while framed in front of a large, phallic cannon. Only Ray Milland seems to have the capacity to abstain from full-on sexual assault. Rogers’ frequent battles with these men demonstrates her to be, unlike many of the inferior women’s roles of the time, an active, independent woman, successfully evading the fate of obedient housewife.

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