Monday, May 30, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Operation Petticoat (1959)

Earlier this year I mentioned that one of my goals this year is to watch and write about more of my old favorites, the movies which helped to make me the classic film fan I am today.

One of those movies, my all-time favorite Cary Grant film, is OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959). Memorial Day seemed like a fine time to revisit it; it may be a lighthearted take on the war, but it also makes clear the hard work and sacrifices of those who served.

For those who might not be familiar with it, OPERATION PETTICOAT is the tale of the USS SEA TIGER, a newly commissioned sub in the Pacific which is damaged in a December 1941 air attack. Lt. Commander Matt Sherman (Grant) and his newly assigned supply officer, Lt. Nick Holden (Tony Curtis), manage to scavenge enough parts to get the sub underway, headed for further repairs at an island dockyard.

Nothing proves easy, as the sub takes on five stranded nurses at its first stop. At the next island, unable to find enough paint for a primer coat, the SEA TIGER ends up painted pink! And somehow it also ends up with a couple of expectant mothers, a group of children, and a goat on board.

The war is, of course, a very serious thing, and Grant's Lt. Commander is dedicated to getting his ship into fighting shape and joining the war effort. At the same time, Grant's reactions to the ongoing unexpected and amusing incidents aboard his ship are a thing of beauty. He's the master of the calm, slow burn and the baffled double-take.

I've probably seen the movie 10 times over the years, and Grant's reaction to discovering an (unseen) pig hidden aboard his sub never fails to make me laugh till I cry. Then I laugh even harder as he explains to a suspicious MP that "Seaman Hornsby" is indisposed.

He's matched step for step by Curtis as the enterprising "scavenger" who has a lot to learn about life at sea but who has a genius for "going shopping" and obtaining needed parts (not to mention an illicit pig for a New Year's Day roast). Curtis is simply marvelous -- and darn cute -- and he and Grant make a wonderful comedy duo.

Nick also gradually matures under Matt's guidance, as a pleasing postscript makes clear.

The excellent cast includes Arthur O'Connell, Gene Evans, Virginia Gregg, Joan O'Brien, Marion Ross, Gavin MacLeod, Dick Sargent, Robert F. Simon, Madlyn Rhue, Clarence Lung, Robert Gist, and Robert (Bobby) Hoy.

One odd thing is that Dina Merrill, who plays Curtis's love interest, is over a decade older than stated in the script, and she's lovely but looks every year of her true age. She's only slightly older than Curtis so one wonders why the script couldn't have been rewritten to be more believable in this regard.

Today Merrill is 92. She's one of a few cast members who are still with us, including O'Brien, Ross, and MacLeod. (May 2017 Update: Dina Merrill has passed away at 93.)

OPERATION PETTICOAT was directed by Blake Edwards and filmed by Russell Harlan. The film's several writers were nominated for the Oscar for original story and screenplay.

OPERATION PETTICOAT is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films. The widescreen DVD looks great. (October 2017 Update: Olive will be reissuing OPERATION PETTICOAT in an Olive Signature edition with many extras included on the disc. My review of that edition is here.)

It also had a 1999 release on VHS.

This is a delightful film which is fun for the whole family; I loved it as a kid and in turn shared it with my own children.

The movie can also be a great way to begin to hook young people's interest in World War II history; they may jump, as some of my own children did, from this movie to more serious war films or some of the great books on the topic by authors such as Walter Lord.

Closing in on six decades after its original release, OPERATION PETTICOAT is still laugh-out-loud funny. Highly recommended.

Past Memorial Day weekend movie reviews include CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS (1942), STAND BY FOR ACTION (1942), GUADALCANAL DIARY (1943), THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), THE FROGMEN (1951), DESTINATION GOBI (1953), RUN SILENT RUN DEEP (1958), THE GALLANT HOURS (1960), and THE LONGEST DAY (1962).


Blogger DKoren said...

My sister and I grew up on this film and we both love it to this day. Tony Curtis was always one of her favorite actors, in great part, I'm sure, because of this movie. It has so many great moments and I always loved when the submarine was painted pink. I can never decide if this movie or To Catch a Thief is my favorite Cary Grant movie. :-D

6:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Deb! I love knowing that this one is special to you as well.

TO CATCH A THIEF was also one of the first classic movies I ever saw -- my first Hitchcock! My mom was a big fan of Grant and Fred Astaire so I saw a lot of their movies on local TV from a young age. :)

Best wishes,

9:57 AM  

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