The Major and the Minor (Billy Wilder / U.S., 1942):

Timing is all in comedy, says Billy Wilder: "It seems I'm always off schedule 20 or 30 years," goes the plantive refrain. Exhausted from all the New York pawing and pinching, the abused scalp masseuse (Ginger Rogers) admits defeat and smashes an egg on the lecher's skull; penniless, she rushes to the station for a ticket back to Iowa only to realize that prices have been raised. So she steps into the ladies' room, towels off her makeup and flattens her curves, and comes out a pigtailed nymphet for the half-price fare. Train porters aren't convinced by the masquerade ("Looks kinda filled out for 12." "We have some kind of gland trouble in the family"), but the military man (Ray Milland) is fascinated by the "child" who seeks refuge in his cabin. The line is from big-city wolves to the hormonal galaxy of cadet school, with the disguised heroine both observer and cataclysm to a ton of "grown-up foolishness" -- the erect cannon onto which she leans, the ballroom stocked with mini-Veronica Lakes, a screenwriter-turned-director's matchstick-flash revenge for Hold Back the Dawn (magazine stands carry Why I Hate Women, "by Charles Boyer"), all delivered for full delectation. Lubitsch is the model for the equable technique, the tip-off is Robert Benchley's gradual recognition of the bobby-socker on the dance floor (cf. Horton and the gondola-ashtray in Trouble in Paradise). To fall in love here is to fall between planes of identity, a sustained charade where a woman tests the dodgy male gaze as both hounded loli and graying matriarch before the self can be finally revealed -- one would guess that Nabokov remembered much of this, the shot of Rogers and moths listening to "Dream Lover" on the porch removes all doubt. Screenplay by Wilder and Charles Brackett. With Rita Johnson, and Diana Lynn. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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