Bear with me through a brief synopsis:
In the 1942 comedy classic The Major and the Minor, Major Kirby (Ray Milland), travels by train to Iowa where his fiancé’s father (his commanding officer) runs a military academy. Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers), a fed-up NYC masseuse, is on the same train. She is posing as a 12-year-old (no easy feat for Ginger Rogers) because she doesn’t have enough money for a full-price ticket. She blows her cover in front of a skeptical conductor, runs from him, and dodges into Major Kirby’s cabin. Kirby buys the 12-year-old act, and takes Susan under his protective wing. Kirby’s fiancé boards the train, catches a glimpse of Susan in Kirby’s cabin, and storms out. The major smoothes things over with her by bringing Susan to the academy. When his fiancé and her father see he merely (apparently) was helping out a kid rather than dallying with a floozy, all is forgiven. This is a rom-com, so more silliness ensues including Susan fending off underage boys on campus.
This pleasant movie is an unintended commentary – a sad one as it happens – on modern expectations of adults vs. those of nearly 7 decades ago. Today, it is unlikely that any fellow could get out of trouble with his fiancé by saying the girl in his cabin is 12 years old.
If the plot sounds familiar but the characters do not, it is likely because in the 1950s there was a gender-reversed remake of movie starring Jerry Lewis titled You're Never Too Young.
Were the assumptions of 1942 far too naïve? Probably. Are the assumptions of 2010 far too cynical? Yes, with a caveat. There always were and still are more Major Kirbys than Humbert Humberts. We tend to forget that these days, but there is no denying Humberts (and far worse) do exist. So let’s try to have enough old-fashioned generosity to assume the best of the people we meet, while we keep one eye open just in case.