Major Progress

The important pieces of Major and the Minor happen in the opening act. It’s a little too easy to discredit the floofy romance that follows, one that assumes no one can tell Ginger Rogers is in her 30s as she poses as pre-teen girl. The idea slips toward creepiness too, if part of a greater satire.

Rogers opens Major and the Minor flustered as she tries to give a scalp massage to an older New Yorker. Instead of wanting treatment, he just wants her. Afterward, using an egg as a deterrent (!), Rogers readies herself to ditch – even flee – the groping, callous city. In the train station, a little boy paws at a magazine, telling mom, “I want murder!” His sister wants an issue of Movie Parade. The headline? “I Hate Women.”

Major and the Minor was Billy Wilder’s first as director. This was 1942, and Wilder showed social observance decades ahead of his contemporaries. If the scalp massage didn’t make things clear, the train station does. From a young age, kids are groomed into gender roles – boys drawn toward violence, women told they matter less than men. Rogers, dawning an unconvincing get-up to snag a half-price train fare, ends up attracting every man. Young or old, doesn’t matter.

Wilder confronts sexism at its heart, and further, the sexualization and bias of Hollywood

A litany of hormonal teen boys and the uncomfortable glances of Ray Milland greet Rogers at an all-male military school. She’s supposed to be 12; Milland was 33 at the time. Wilder’s writing saves Major and the Minor from a pedophilia vibe; still uncomfortable, if with purpose. A key scene comes later. Milland tries to explain why boys will be attracted to Rogers. Without knowing so, he blames her, saying she’s a light bulb and boys comparatively moths. Then, “Make yourself less attractive,” Milland says. Wilder confronts sexism at its heart, and further, the sexualization and bias of Hollywood.

Even on its surface, again with the sheer farcical absurdity of the idea tossed aside, Major and the Minor is feisty. It’s playing with tropes and satirizing movie romance with wit and intelligence. It makes men out to be fools, teens out to be… teens, and women as intellectual superiors. The script itself captured the final pre-war moments where kids were still kids and Milland’s high-ranking official worries about the possibility of war, not the certainty. Major and the Minor comes from such a place, where an issue like equality needed focus, not defeating Germany. Bad timing for Wilder, although his work continues to resonate.

Video

A moderate transfer is given to Major and the Minor. Arrow drops the film to their Arrow Academy sub-label, a little worn and soft if capturing the old Hollywood aesthetic. That’s helped by gray scale, rich and wide in terms of range. Excellent black pairs with crisp whites, with pinpoint shades of gray in-between. No banding anywhere either, even those iconic hazy close-ups of Rogers.

That’s key, as grain sticks out. This doesn’t look like a high-res remaster, but enough to instill a sense of sharpness behind a chunkier film stock. Minor detail jumps out, the preserved grain keeping fidelity natural. Borderline, if without texture to notice an improvement from previous releases.

Some stray hairs along the frame’s bottom and occasional scratches (the first act dealing with vertical marks, especially when Milland first meets Rogers) sums up any damage. It’s a stable, precise source, well restored/preserved.

Audio

Capable DTS-HD mono funnels in dialog with appropriate age. A little dusty or hazy, as expected, if holding together with no signs of losing audibility. Likewise, the score may lack range yet doesn’t succumb to any messy treble or muddy lows.

Popping and static stay away.

Extras

Join Adrian Martin for a commentary track, followed with a 30-minute video appreciation from Neil Sinyard – but turn the volume down before hitting play on the latter! It’s cranked at least 10-15 notches higher than anything else on the disc. From 1975, Arrow digs up an interview with Milland as he covers his career. This runs a half hour too. The original radio play, image gallery, and trailer follow.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Major and the Minor
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Billy Wilder’s first directorial effort, 1942’s The Major and the Minor, takes bias and sexism to task, a message likely lost as America entered WWII.

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