The fact that not one, but two classic Hollywood films exist about grown women impersonating 12 year olds is weird? Amazing? Decide for yourself.
The Major and the Minor (1942) starred Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland. Susan Applegate pretends to be a 12 year old so she can buy a discount train ticket. In the midst of her shenanigans, she meets Major Kirby, who takes an instant liking to her and is oblivious to her romantic feelings. She’s only 12 after all.
In Too Young to Kiss (1951), June Allyson plays Cynthia Potter, a pianist who’s been trying desperately to audition for concert impresario Eric Wainwright (Van Johnson). She’s out of luck and doesn’t get her chance, which she has been waiting for, for ages. But when she learns that Eric is auditioning a children’s concert tour, the wheels in her head begin to turn. She’ll just pass herself off as a child prodigy. She impresses Eric so much that he takes a very special interest in her.
Now the first thing you have to ignore in this film is June Allyson convincingly portraying a 12 year old. She had a baby face for sure, but this kind of role would’ve been believable in 1944. Here, not so much. I wonder if maybe that’s the whole point. You’re supposed to see this grown woman pretend to be a child. Maybe the audience doesn’t have to be fooled if everyone else is.
Here’s Cynthia. She’s 22. (June was 34). Cynthia is a passionate piano player and also fiercely determined. She’s been angling to play for Eric Wainwright for weeks and refuses to give up. So when she does get the idea into her head to impersonate a child, it just makes sense from the little we know about her. She’s also so frustrated by Eric’s unailvablity that she comes off as somewhat brittle. Basically, the bubbly sun spot that was June’s trademark is noticeably absent in this film.
Here’s her attempt at pre-pubescent Molly Potter, Cynthia’s little sister:
Cynthia’s disguise works. When she first shows up to audition for the children’s choir, she’s almost turned away because her name isn’t on the list. But there’s no way she’s admitting defeat.
She lets out an ear splitting wail so they have no choice but to let her audition. Everyone is impressed by her skill, Eric Wainwright most of all.
Now Cynthia wasn’t planning on masquerading as a child forever. She only wanted to get Eric’s attention so she could play for him as Cynthia. But he isn’t interested. Molly’s talent is remarkable for her age, whereas Cynthia’s is just to be expected. So, with a bit of vengeance on her mind, she decides to continue the charade.
Eric becomes so concerned about his latest prodigy that he takes it upon himself to care for Molly. Her older sister Cynthia is not a good influence at all, neither is Cynthia’s fiancee, John (Gig Young). John is also unhappy with her scheme but goes along with it so she can finally realize her dream of becoming a celebrated concert pianist.
Here we have the recipe for a wacky, absurd story where just about everything can go wrong.
A few notable things about this film:
- Cynthia’s baby voice. I love that June was able to modulate that raspy voice of hers to resemble a child’s, but she’s twelve, not two.
- The film’s portrayal of adults who look down on children. They hardly ever treat them as people with real thoughts and opinions.
- This absolutely wonderful moment with Eric proudly presenting Molly with a doll.
Molly is rightfully unimpressed, as any 12 year old or someone pretending to be a 12 year old, would be.
Molly goes to live with Eric, where she can focus on the piano full time and be free of distraction. But she makes life as tough for him as she can imagine. She pours his alcohol into the swimming pool. Eric forbids her from smoking cigarettes (a bad habit she picked up), and she forces him to give up smoking too. But she sneaks cigarettes because of course she does.
Eric’s patience begins to wear thin although he tries not to show it. His prodigy is a very difficult girl. When he catches her smoking again, he spanks her. Of course!
This was June and Van’s fourth film together. The two would costar for the final time in Remains to Be Seen (1953), a very hard to find film that remains to be seen by me. The two were such good friends off camera, and their chemistry was genuine in front of it. June as a petulant child doing all she can to make Van’s life miserable works really well. Here their eventual love story takes time, as it did in The Bride Goes Wild (1948). They started off hating each other in that film too.
And maybe it’s because they were such a dynamic, charming duo that this story is only ever fun and not creepy. To me at least. Eric doesn’t fall for Molly, but Cynthia wants to give up her disguise because she’s in love with him.
June Allyson won the 1951 Golden Globe for Best Actress, her only acting award. She wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. It’s one of my favorite performances, showing just how silly and iron willed she could be.
I recommend it for fans of June and Van, and anyone who likes this specific genre of grown women pretending to be 12 years old!
This is my first entry for my June Allyson blogathon, celebrating her 100th birthday. Click on the banner for more posts!