Operation Petticoat (1959)
The year 1958 may have offered up a pair of war time dramas of the submarine variety for audiences with Gable and Lancaster in Run Silent, Run Deep followed by Glenn Ford and Ernest Borgnine in Torpedo Run but it’s the military comedy that ruled the day. Films like Don’t Go Near The Water, Imitation General, Don’t Give Up The Ship, The Wackiest Ship In The Army , Operation Mad Ball and this Blake Edwards champ that cast Cary Grant and Tony Curtis aboard a pink submarine with a bevy of sexy nurses.
It’s told in a nostalgic look back from the retiring Cary Grant. He’s paying an early morning visit to the sub he commanded during WW2 that is to be decommissioned. It’s while going over the ship’s log that the flashback begins taking us back to December 7th when the sub is under attack sinking to the bottom where it’s been moored. While this might be a comedy, this and a couple other battle sequences during the course of the film are quite harrowing utilizing real planes to fly in towards the sub as the bombs are dropped and Gene Evans mans the machine guns attempting to bring down the Japanese fighter planes.
Once the dust settles, Grant makes a plea to have the sub brought to the surface so that he may get into the war. He retains most of his crew and is assigned a new officer under his command. None other than Tony Curtis as an Admiral’s aide who likes the finer things in life. Work and war not being either of them. Fortunately for Grant, Curtis is something of a con man who can either steal or bargain for things Grant needs to get his sub back in working order.
Tony also has a penchant for inviting people aboard Cary’s sub. Most notably five stranded nurses looking to get back to the U.S. It isn’t long before smooth talking Tony will be making a play for Dina Merrill and Joan O’Brien will be angling for Grant herself. Crusty ship’s mechanic, Arthur O’Connell, will also find a bit of romance with the mechanically inclined Virginia Gregg. As for Grant’s entire crew? They all seem to be feeling under the weather looking for a little private “nursing” of their own.
Grant quickly puts a stop to the ailments plaguing his crew.
As can be expected in such tight, close quarters, there’s plenty of sexual innuendos captured and hinted at in the script from Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin that have Tony and Cary playing to their on screen strengths. When the sub is mistakenly given a coat of pink paint, their troubles are just beginning. Neither the Japanese or the American Navy know what to make of it and the sub will find itself targeted by both Navy’s as an enemy.
All I can say is that Cary and the crew are sure happy in more ways than just the obvious to have the ladies on board when trying to convincing the U.S. Destroyer above them to stop dropping depth charges in their direction. You’ll have to see it to figure that comment out for yourselves.
Joining in for the fun on this Blake Edwards shoot are a trio of names who would find everlasting fame on the small screen. One of our nurses is Marion Ross who was destined for Happy Days, Dick Sargent who would take over Dick York’s role on Bewitched and Gavin MacLeod who I’d like to think learned quite a bit watching Cary in command. He’d even sail with McQueen as a member of The Sand Pebbles. On TV Gavin would also train under Ernest Borgnine’s tutelage in McHale’s Navy before securing a command of his own. That of Captain Merrill Stubing on the weekly edition of The Love Boat beginning in 1977.
While watching this memorable comedy I was reminded of one of the TCM tributes that I enjoy where the late Tony Curtis reminisces about his hero Cary Grant and there eventual teaming here for Universal International. Tony in a voice over of Grant clips says that when Universal approached him he told the studio, “I want to make a service comedy with Cary Grant. To see him in a movie when I’m a kid and then somehow through the inexplicable way of living life I end up standing alongside of him, what a dream. He was a true gentleman. It goes back to the movies I watched when I was a kid. Cary Grant was everything I believed he would be.”
For the trivia buffs here is a nice twist of fate. When this was picked up for a TV series in 1977 it’s none other than Jamie Lee Curtis who was a series regular. Sorry? Who’s she and what’s the twist of fate? Really?
Sorry but I can’t help you other than to say this 1959 romp offers plenty of laughs and it’s easy to find on home video.