Operation Petticoat is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films.

When modern audiences think of Blake Edwards, Cary Grant, and Tony Curtis, Operation Petticoat is probably not the first film that comes to mind — if it comes to mind at all. Right now you’re probably thinking of the Pink Panther series, maybe a Hitchcock movie or Some Like it Hot. But it’s a shame you may not know about this film, which earned a 1959 Academy Award nomination for Best Writing and made Edwards’ name as a big-time box office draw, as it’s delightful.

Set in World War II just days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, this comedy follows the trials and tribulations of the USS Sea Tiger and its efforts to get out of dock and into the war. Sunk in an air raid while docked in the Philippines, captain Matt Sherman (Grant) and his skeleton crew are determined to get the Sea Tiger unsunk and running again, at least long enough to make it to the nearest repair yard 2000 miles away across an ocean teeming with enemy ships.

In need of replacement officers, Sherman is assigned Lt. Nick Holden (Curtis), a dandy admiral’s aide stranded without the admiral (or the admiral’s wife, with whom he’s won the rumba championship the last two years) by the outbreak of the war. Holden is a con man and hustler who joined the Navy strictly for the uniform and the access it gave him to high society, in which he has managed to land himself an engagement to a railroad heiress.

Forced into active service and determined to make the best of it, Holden is named supply officer and proceeds to use his talents to “scavenge” the needed parts to get the sub moving. A series of raids forces the Sea Tiger to move from port to port in an attempt to not get sunk and jury rig enough fixes to make it to the next stop. Along the way, the crew encounters everything from witch doctors to crooked casinos to an escaped Marine prisoner open to a “better offer” of serving on a Navy boat as Holden’s partner in crime. Things really pick up when Holden returns from a “scavenging” mission with five Army nurses stranded on one of the islands, and the crew are forced to deal with women in a space not designed to be co-educational.

Operation Petticoat has a lot going for it. You’ll recognize some familiar faces in the supporting cast, including Dick Sargent (Bewitched) as randy Ensign Stovall, Gavin MacLeod (Love Boat) as Yeoman Hunkle (sporting the “sexiest chest in the Navy”), and Marion Ross (Happy Days) as Lieutenant Colfax. The writing is wryly clever, a mix of dry, subtle humor and broader physical comedy. There are occasionally some minor but visible flaws in the picture, but the colors are lovely and rich. Grant is alternately enthusiastic in his quest to get the Sea Tiger in the fight and whip Curtis’ character into shape, and driven in his attempts to save himself from the eternally klutzy (and busty) Lt. Crandall (Joan O’Brien, The Alamo). Curtis obviously relishes his role as a petty criminal who’s struck it rich but isn’t shy about romancing a nurse (Dina Merrill, Butterfield 8) on the side. Whether you’re an Edwards, Grant, or Curtis fan who somehow hasn’t made this film part of your repertoire, or you’re just in the mood for a fun comedy, add Operation Petticoat to your viewing list.


Rated: NR Runtime: 122 minutes Year Filmed: 1959 Screen: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; COLOR

Languages: English

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