Friday Film Review: Operation Petticoat
Operation Petticoat (1959)
Genre: War comedy
Since today is Veteran’s Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in many other countries, I decided to pick a film to pay tribute to those who’ve served. But I didn’t want preachy so that ruled out such things as “The Americanization of Emily.” And it had to have some romance so that ruled out a lot of others. With time running out to get this review done, I remembered a film I’d been thinking of reviewing for a while and here it is.
Lt Commander Matt Sherman’s (Cary Grant) submarine, Sea Tiger, got strafed and shot up pretty badly during a Japanese attack but, unwilling to give up on her before she’s seen any action (It would be like a beautiful woman dying an old maid), he talks the port commander into letting his now skeleton crew attempt to patch her up enough for them to get to a naval shipyard for major repairs. Since several of his officers and crew were transferred to other ships, he’s got to take what replacements he can get and what Sea Tiger gets is a new Supply Officer Lt. Nick Holden (Tony Curtis) who takes scavenging to new heights – or depths depending on if it’s your stuff that just got
But it’s enough for the sub to get under way until a leak forces them to an island where Holden discovers 5 stranded Army nurses. With the Japanese expected there anytime, there’s no way – Holden argues – that Sherman can leave them there. Disgruntled but unable to argue with the facts, Sherman reluctantly takes the women on board then prays he can keep his men from trying to exchange information about the facts of life with their pretty new shipmates while they duck and dodge their way across the Pacific.
First some things to mention. This is a fluffy movie played for laughs and fun. There are a few moments which are supposed to be tense but with the tone of the film already set by then, it’s pretty obvious that nothing bad is going to happen and no one is going to die. Well, unless you’re Seaman Hornsby. By this point, people were ready to see comedies about WWII, which is mainly what the first half is about, and Hollywood “sex comedies” (tame by today’s standards) filled with busty leading ladies were being cranked out full blast, which is mainly what the second half is. This is also not a PC movie by today’s standards, though it’s held up better than a lot of other 50+ year old films, yet at the same time it’s also fairly tame with no nudity, sex scenes or profanities. There are lots of sexual innuendoes and the cramped quarters are used to good effect but it’s done in pretty light hearted fun and IMHO, you’d have to work at it to be offended.
Grant and Curtis’s characters both find their lady loves among the nurses but the film is actually more a bromance than a romance since they’re the ones with the major interactions. The way these two play off each other is wonderful though the humor never feels forced. Unlike Grant’s OTT performance in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” here he’s subtle. Watch Grant’s face as much as you listen to his dialogue because he’s a master at conveying a lot with only a wry look and a well timed pause. Con man Curtis is given some great lines to deliver but he doesn’t overdo it either and allows the laughs to flow from the actions and dialogue on screen rather than hamming anything up.
Directed by Blake Edwards, the rest of the cast is filled with a host of famous, soon to be famous and well known faces including Dina Merrill, Gene Evans, Dick Sargent, Arthur O’Connell, Madelyn Rhue, Virginia Gregg, Gavin MacLeod and Marion Ross. I will be honest and say that towards the end of the film, there’s a sort of pile on of events which ends in several island women, their children and a goat coming on board and that the, now pink, Sea Tiger limps into port after evading being sunk solely on the strength of a woman’s brassiere but watching Holden’s early scrounging missions and the way by-the-book Grant reacts to those expeditions is priceless.
Grant is suaveness personified, Curtis is cheeky fun, the rest of the cast backs them up well and the whole is a froth of mindless fun. If you’re willing to sit back and allow yourself to be entertained, there’s a lot here that can do it.