October 13th, 2017

Those were the days—or were they?

Here’s a movie clip—an old one.

I first saw this movie, “The Major and the Minor,” about a year ago. It’s meant to be light family entertainment, made in 1942 and starring Ginger Rogers (but no dancing, alas).

However, this opening scene was a bit more repellent than I’d expected, and the Weinstein scandal made me think of it again. Unfortunately, this particular clip is a slightly speeded-up version of the original for some reason, so their voices sound Mickey-Mousey. And the full frame of the movie isn’t shown; we can’t see the very tops of their heads in many of the shots.

In other words, this is a bad version of the movie, but it’s the only one I could find online. I’ve cued it up to show one particular scene. I think it conveys the idea that this sort of behavior was acknowledged even back then (or maybe especially back then) to be commonplace, though smarmy. Of course, the guy in the movie (actually, there are two) is a whole lot more easily dissuaded than Weinstein, and the scene is played for laughs. But note at 4:23 how he threatens her with getting her in trouble at her job, and how she has to brandish the raw egg to get out of there (you’ll understand what I’m talking about when you watch it). It’s also pretty clear that this sort of behavior from men, which seems everywhere around her, is what’s making her want to leave New York.

Here, Rogers’ character is arriving at a hotel to give a big muck-a-muck a scalp massage. She’s been newly-hired by a company that offers that service, and he is apparently a regular customer of said company:

The movie continues on a rather odd and ever-so-slightly icky trajectory. I’m not going to even try to explain the fairly convoluted plot, but it turns on the Rogers character’s disguising herself as a 12-year-old child.

21 Responses to “Those were the days—or were they?”

  1. Wry Mouth Says:

    I thought that was Robert Benchley! : D made my day, even if the rest of the movie has a questionable plot tone.

    Thanks!

  2. Yankee Says:

    This reminds me of the AMC show “Mad Men”, produced from 2007-2015, but set in 1960s NYC before the women’s lib movement and all that. Harvey Weinstein, CBE is only 65, having been born in 1952, and is currently going with the “we all make mistakes” excuse, and is asking for a second chance. Who are we to doubt the word of an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire? Not to mention that of a chevalier in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres?

    At any rate, many videos on YouTube crop the frames and tweak the audio in order to get around the ‘bots that would otherwise delete the videos if they detected any copyrighted material.

  3. DNW Says:

    Here is what your link critics had to say about it:

    Bosley Crowther of The New York Times said the Wilder-Brackett script “effervesces with neat situations and bright lines” and added, “The gentlemen have written – and Mr. Wilder has directed – a bountiful comedy-romance. And Miss Rogers and Mr. Milland have played it with spirit and taste. Never once does either permit the suggestion of a leer to creep in . . .

    Miss Rogers gives a beautiful imitation of a Quiz Kid imitating Baby Snooks. And in those moments when romance brightly kindles, she is a soft and altogether winning miss. Put this down as one of the best characterizations of her career. Credit Mr. Milland, too, with making a warm and nimble fellow of the major, and all the rest of the cast for doing very well with lively roles.”

    Variety called the film a “sparkling and effervescing piece of farce-comedy” with a story that is “light, fluffy, and frolicsome . …”

    Yeah, well, if it was an old movie on TV when I was a kid and didn’t feature gangsters or cowboys, I wouldn’t have seen it anyway

  4. blert Says:

    It’s a period piece, Billy Wilder’s directorial debut.

    He was expected to craft something heavy — but crafted a screwball comedy largely based upon the difficulties of wartime America.

    The number one headache for Americans was that transportation became quite difficult — and expensive — as the system was taxed to the max shuttling soldiers around.

    IIRC, the minor, Rogers, manages to get a Pullman — which is a joke and a half right there. Getting space in a Pullman during WWII was a nightmare… they’re booked solid… and as cheap as First Class fare on today’s jets — and then some.

    The sole reason she’s travelling as a minor is to dodge the tariff… which is made extremely apparent in the plot.

    Once on board, Rogers discovers that she wants everything both ways.

    Rogers, herself, is famously responsible for the cigarette gag. Wilder thought it was a riot.

    By the end, Rogers also portrays// fakes being her own mother — to set up a date for herself.

    Rogers ends up manipulating the system, and the Major, from beginning to end.

    Today, Hollywood would deem her character ’empowered.’

    Wilder followed up Major and a Minor with Double Indemnity.

    Yet again, the gal has a totally unconventional role — as a flaming femme fatale — portrayed by an actress established as Miss Goody Two Shoes. Every actor played against type. E G Robinson plays the brain with integrity, McMurry, a corrupted soul and criminal.

  5. Towering Barbarian Says:

    This wouldn’t be the first time I’ve encountered something that reminds me that not only is the past a foreign country but a foreign country that we might not want to stay in for very long.

    Every time I was ready to declare feminists completely insane I would encounter something like this in my readings from the past to remind me that beneath all the wilful stupidity and obnoxious self-righteousness about being completely self-centered and completely in the wrong they did occasionally have a legitimate point. Which, in my mind, only makes the Left’s occasional eagerness to erase all records of how the past was only that much less comprehensible. @_@

  6. TommyJay Says:

    I’ve never seen this one, and will try to watch a good copy of the whole. It was in small part, a true story with a young Ginger Rodgers acting a child when touring with her parents Vaudeville act, to get those cheap rail tickets. When the actress hired to play her mother dropped out, Ginger’s real mother played the role.

    This was written and directed by Billy Wilder, a long time writer but his first directorial effort. With a name like Billy Wilder, I didn’t know he was Austrian and started screen writing in Berlin, until I saw a taped interview with him. So English is a second language and I think that the eccentricities of our language tickled him and changes the flavor his scripts.

    One of the old Hollywood greats with 21 Oscar nominations and 7 wins.

  7. Matthew Says:

    I’ve always been skeptical about the “good ole days” as I have about whatever kind of future utopia the liberals promise. Human nature hasn’t changed much in all the centuries we’ve been around. It’s just as sinful as ever.

  8. zat Says:

    Rogers liked this film a lot and was a bit disappointed when Wilders didn’t mention it in an interview as one of his best. The plot is really silly — it’s obvious a grownup woman can’t pretend to be a twelve year old girl, but like magic it works, everyone is a believer (except another girl). They had to have an actress who could find the right balance, not too silly, not too serious, to make this magic believable enough for the audience — and Ginger really pulled it off.

    The opening scene had to be repellent to make it understandable why Ginger would want to leave New York and why she would go as far as dressing up as a minor. Wilders did the same in “Some Like It Hot”. He was asked why he would want to start a comedy with the rather cruel Valentine’s Day massacre scene. It was necessary, he said, otherwise the audience wouldn’t believe that the two musicians would go so far as to dress up as women.

    And as mentioned above: yes, the TV series “Mad Men” was focusing on these themes a lot, “the discomfort that hides in the dark corners of nostalgia”, as AFI said.

  9. Matthew Says:

    The last Billy Wilder I saw was Stalag 17 with William Holden. Interesting film. Holden plays a POW during WWII who is falsely accused of being a German spy. It had serious thriller moments, but also screw-ball comedy. I prefer the thriller elements since at least for me screw-ball comedy seems too frivolous. Definitely, a unique film, though.

  10. Cornflour Says:

    For anyone who wants to watch the movie on YouTube, the sound can be slowed down to normal speed.

    On the lower right corner of the screen, click on the “settings” icon, then change the speed to .75.

    Too bad nothing can be done about the cropped screen, but at least it’s free. Wish I could get the same deal on beer. Or I could offer you a dry martini for that wet coat.

  11. zat Says:

    Wilder wasn’t a saint, he could make pretty deprecating jokes about women, how they always have only one thing in mind (money, jewels) and so on.
    But he made The Apartment, maybe his best film, where he shows the behavior of men pretty bleak. And it’s still a funny and entertaining movie. “Never bore people,” he famously said, “And if you have something important to say, wrap it in chocolate.”

  12. Ann Says:

    According to George Hamilton, Mary Pickford told him that “in 1930s Hollywood, with the casting couch system running full tilt, for a woman to become a star she would probably have had to sleep with an entire studio. Example: the casting director to get the role; the producers and directors to keep the role; the camera, makeup, and lighting men to make sure you looked good; the film editor, so he didn’t leave your best work on the cutting room floor, and so on and so on”.

    So much for the good old days.

  13. Ann Says:

    Oops. Sorry that wasn’t Mary Pickford who said that, it was Hamilton’s mother. Still a good anecdote.

  14. neo-neocon Says:

    Ann:

    Well, if Pickford HAD said it, maybe that’s why she was called “America’s Sweetheart.” 🙂

  15. Stephen Ippolito Says:

    Cornflour, that’s a great tip, thanks.

    I have been applying the opposite approach for some time and speeding up the Youtube items I watch.

    The beauty is that if you limit the increase in speed to just 1.25 – and no faster – you lose nothing at all from enjoyment of the video and are not even conscious of the increased speed. Yet you save 25% in viewing time.

    Probably not worth it, though, unless you watch a lot of Youtube, as I do.

    One caveat: don’t speed up any youtube videos if they contain music. What is an indiscernible change when applied to speech/dialogue, will completely throw off and spoil music.

  16. Stephen Ippolito Says:

    Great quote, Ann.

    There’s quite a decent film around called “My One and Only” (2009) that is based on George Hamilton’s very unusual early life with his very unusual mother.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1185431/?ref_=nv_sr_1

    His mother, played by Rene Zellweger in the film, comes across as just the kind of feisty, eccentric lady that would make such an observation.

    Interestingly, from what I have read of Pickford she was noone’s patsy and though only petite and always a lady, was nevertheless capable of being one of the boys and lived life as much on her own terms as a woman could in those days.

    One suspects that had Harvey W tried his stuff on her he would have worn a black eye.

  17. TommyJay Says:

    About a year prior to “The Major and Minor” Wilder wrote a Hawkes directed film “Ball of Fire.” Highly recommended. It’s a Rom-Com and culture clash story where a cabaret singer (Barbara Stanwyck) runs into an academic researcher (Gary Cooper).

    The guy is researching American slang and so Stanwyck’s character is a perfect subject. It’s a perfect excuse for Wilder to go crazy twisting the English language. And the sexual tables are turned, compared to “The Major and the Minor”, because Stanwyck’s character is the aggressor, and Cooper’s is sheltered and naïve.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    The reason the sound is sped up and the frame distorted is possibly to avoid copyright hunting artificial intelligence (i.e. bots). If you look around you will see other forms of distortion on other copyrighted works.

    Funny (off topic) story about stuff like this. A friend from Peru sent me a pirated copy of a Peruvian movie. When I had occasion to visit Peru I went to the video store and bought a DVD of the movie… only to find out that the was also a (very authentic looking) pirated copy (and yes I know how to over-ride the regional setting). It wasn’t until years later that the copyright holder offered a chance to rent the original movie via streaming in the US (with no English subtitles so none of my non-Spanish speaking friends want to watch it with me).

    As a counter example I’ve seen distorted versions of the series “Yes, Minister” online, but that whole series can be paid for to stream through Amazon. So that I own.

    Difficulty in obtaining certain content, content we would gladly pay for, causes some people who wouldn’t ordinarily be pirates to put it online. Avoiding those bots makes it necessary to distort the video slightly.

    Another factor that causes people to upload contrary to copyright laws is a fear that original video will be edited in an Orwellian fashion a la George Lucas or the controversy over the original Bill Nye The Science guy gender edit on Netflix.

    Now that Columbo is off of streaming services I can imagine them digitally removing his cigars in the not too distant future.

    I enjoy your site and your “cold” take on issues. Thank you for taking the time to write your posts and engage your readers.

  19. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Anonymous Says:
    October 13th, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    Don’t forget about Homeland security telling foreign countries to get rid of pirates, as a favor to the MPAA and other Leftist Soros elites.

    Somebody’s monopoly is being threatened here and the reaction is typical of Vatican Inquisitors or the mafia.

  20. Harry Dogsbotham Says:

    Young whippersnappers out there may not recognize that the “big muck-a-muck” getting the scalp massage is played by Robert Benchley, the great humorist of the 20s and 30s and a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table.

  21. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    Another reminiscence of the old movies: seems to me that almost EVERY on-screen character smoked cigarettes back then. I also recall that many, many movies offered the bit wherein the plucky young heroine slaps the face of some hapless man (usually over a misunderstanding), fully trusting that he will NOT punch her back. There were also common bits in which the sweet-young-thing was advised by a more-worldly confidante “*That* is why you always wear a hat-pin!”

    I sort of miss the “finishing touch” of women’s hats … I’m not really sure when they went out of style.

    Sigh. Old-fogie-hood, that’s my current stage of life.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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