Among the Rogers classics on TCM’s schedule are two of the actress’ most important vehicles: Sam Wood’s romantic melodrama Kitty Foyle (1940, right), which earned Rogers a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a working-class young woman who falls for a high-society type (Dennis Morgan), and Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor (1942), considered by some to be Rogers’ best film.
In The Major and the Minor, Rogers plays a woman who disguises herself as a little girl so as to travel half-fare on her way back home from New York. On the train, she’s befriended by army major Ray Milland, who develops fatherly feelings toward her. Later on, those fatherly feelings become increasingly less chaste, which made audiences in 1942 laugh but would make politically correct audiences in 2010 squirm.
Let’em squirm: The Major and the Minor is a delightful comedy, with both Rogers and Ray Milland in top form. In a bitchy supporting role, Rita Johnson steals (or at least gets close to stealing) all of her scenes.
I’d also recommend Leo McCarey’s Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942), which at the time was poorly received by critics who found that a comedy about Nazism was in bad taste. (Similar accusations greeted Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be that same year.) It’s been a while since I last saw this one, but at the time I found it very funny. Rogers is excellent as a gold digger who unwittingly marries a conniving Nazi. Cary Grant is the befuddled good guy, while Walter Slezak is outstanding as the Nazi.
The First Traveling Saleslady (1956), one of the last productions made at the moribund RKO, is considered by some to be one of the worst movies of Ginger Rogers’ career. As so often happens, I disagree.
I find Arthur Lubin’s The First Traveling Saleslady a thoroughly enjoyable comedy, with Rogers and Barry Nelson displaying great chemistry as she tries to convince early 20th-century Texans that a woman can be as good a salesperson as a guy. All in all, The First Traveling Saleslady is a 1956 production with a surprisingly modern feel.
As a plus, even granite-faced Clint Eastwood comes across as a real human being in this one. Had he remained human, he’d probably never have become a star — though I, personally, might have become a fan. (Lubin has been credited for giving Eastwood his first several breaks. In addition to Eastwood, the gay director peppered The First Traveling Saleslady with good-looking guys in supporting roles and bit parts.)
Another curiosity: Carol Channing is nearly unrecognizable as Eastwood’s paramour. Check it out.
Photo: RKO Pictures