A late career vehicle for Cary Grant, the light service comedy Operation Petticoat isn’t one of the versatile actor’s best pictures, but it did give him a chance to work with Tony Curtis, who had offered up his own very funny, parodistic “Cary Grant” turn in Billy Wilder’s Some Like it Hot earlier that same year, and stated many times that Grant was his idol. By 1959, Americans had begun to look back on the Second World War with nostalgia. In the opening scene, Cary Grant, now an Admiral is making an early morning visit to his old sub, the U.S.S. Sea Tiger, on the day it is being sent to the scrap yard. From there, most of the film is told in flashback as he reads from his old log book, recalling the war.
In December 1941, then Lt. Comdr Sherman’s sub The Sea Tiger is sunk during a Japanese attack on the Philippine Islands. Determined to return the sub to battle, Sherman pushes his ragtag crew to keep working. Polished admiral’s aide, Lt. Nicholas Holden (Tony Curtis) arrives. Though he’s never really been at sea, he has a knack for getting necessary supplies. In one scene, Holden and his handpicked crew break into a military supply warehouse. After some repairs, and many shenanigans, but before they can make the sub truly seaworthy, an enemy air attack forces them to take to the ocean. It’s not long before they are joined by five stranded Army nurses. This leads to further hi-jinks amongst the crew as they cope with the novelty of having such beauties among them. By todays standard’s its hard not to see Operation Petticoat as endorsing a rather chauvinistic standard, but it was made in 1959, and it’s all in good fun.
Future television stars Dick Sargent (Darrin #2 on Bewitched), Gavin MacLeod (The Love Boat) and Marion Ross (Happy Days) have small roles but it is the ageless Cary Grant who shines the brightest. Tony Curtis may have been the up-and-comer of the moment, considering his performance in Some Like it Hot, and Grant certainly gives him some funny moments, but ever the star, Grant plays the straight man, and comes across as the dashing, debonair fellow fans wanted. In perhaps his funniest moment, Grant sporting his well known deadpan look prepares to order a torpedo strike against a Japanese ship. As he is about to give the order one of the women enters the room, disrupting their aim. The torpedo goes up on shore, to which the baffled Grant says in his peerless way, “We sunk a truck.”
The third biggest box office earner of 1959, Operation Petticoat was a huge success upon its release, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing (Story and Screenplay written directly for the screen). Directed by Blake Edwards, Operation Petticoat is one of those films that likely played better in 1959 than it does more than fifty years later. These days, how many times can you frame a joke around a buxom beauty fitting in the small spaces of a submarine before it starts to feel stale? Beyond that modern audiences are likely to greet many of the gags—the Sea Tiger’s engines sound like toilets flushing—with ho-hum indifference.
With that said, while Operation Petticoat is dated. Cary Grant and Tony Curtis both do a great job with the material, showing off the comedic chops that made them stars. Not to be overlooked, Blake Edwards directs with the breeziness and keen sense of pacing that would mark some of his best work of the 1960’s, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Days of Wine and Roses.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, Olive Films 1080p transfer is a solid one. While the image does have some notable specks and a few scratches throughout, the depth is impressive for a title of this age. The colors, particularly the prominent blues, brown, and grays, are quite vibrant. Skin tones look normal. I did notice some occasional black crush in a couple of scenes, but it’s nothing that should interfere with the overall enjoyment of this title.
Olive has supplied a DTS-HD Master Mono audio track. While I have no way of knowing whether it’s authentic to the filmmaker’s intentions, it does offer up some depth, especially during the two bombing sequences. There is also a nice fullness to David Rose’s (and an uncredited Henry Mancini) score. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout.
No subtitles are included.
As is often the case with Olive discs, no extras are available.