“You know, SuSu, you’re a very peculiar child.”
A young woman (Ginger Rogers) poses as a 12-year-old in order to buy a half-price train ticket, and falls for a kindly Army major (Ray Milland) who takes her under his wing. When visiting the military academy where Milland works, she enchants all the boys on campus, and poses a threat to Milland’s jealous fiancee (Rita Johnson).
Billy Wilder’s directorial debut remains — as DVD Savant describes it — a “consistently hilarious, effortlessly diverting show”, one which “would lighten the spirits of someone on death row”. The premise is so silly and unbelievable that one happily suspends disbelief from start to finish, instead simply enjoying the ruse and rooting for the enormously appealing protagonists (Rogers and Milland). In his discussion of Rogers’ performance in Alternate Oscars (where he offers Rogers a split Best Actress Award, along with Carole Lombard for her work in To Be or Not to Be), Peary points out that “her attempts to be a kid aren’t particularly convincing”, given that “she can’t resist saying things with double meanings or under her breath”; despite her attempts to “keep her eyes wide and goofy”, to “walk awkwardly and graceless”, and to “display a vivid imagination”, her inner wisecracking dame shows through time and again. Yet this is precisely what makes her performance so amusing — and why we’re charmed by Milland’s apparent inability to see through her ruse.
In a much less showy — but equally pivotal — role, Milland is perfectly cast as the kind-hearted yet hopelessly naive military man who takes SuSu under his wing. Given that the film eventually becomes a study in thinly veiled pedophilia (!), believing in his good graces (which we do) is essential. The film’s first half-hour — in which we witness “scalp massager” Rogers reaching her breaking point while being propositioned by a lecherous client (Robert Benchley) in New York, and “meeting cute” with Milland on the train — is probably its best; but the remainder of the storyline (taking place primarily at Milland’s military academy, where SuSu copes with dozens of would-be adolescent suitors) offers enough chuckles to keep us consistently amused. As DVD Savant points out, “The irony is that Susan ditched the Big Apple to be free of unwanted advances, only to be mauled and chased by a bunch of girl crazy” military cadets; she’s simply irresistible! The subplot involving Milland’s conveniently unsympathetic fiancee (Rita Johnson), who “keeps foiling his attempts at a transfer” to active duty, is slight but forgivable as a narrative device; more disappointing is the overly simplistic ending. However, this is easy to overlook in the face of what remains an otherwise most enjoyable romantic farce.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Ginger Rogers as “SuSu”
- Ray Milland as Major Kirby
- Plenty of delightful exchanges and scenes
Yes, as an all-around good show. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.