“Star Of The Month (May 2021)” Featuring Cary Grant in… Operation Petticoat (1959)

We’re back for another Cary Grant movie as we continue the celebration of him as the Star Of The Month! This time, it’s his 1959 comedy Operation Petticoat, also starring Tony Curtis.

Coming Up Shorts! with… The Counterfeit Cat (1949)

(Available on Blu-ray and DVD as part of Tex Avery Screwball Classics Volume 2 from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 6 seconds)

A cat tries to pretend to be a dog to get the bird that Spike the dog is guarding. A bit of a fun cartoon, although the whole “cat trying to get a bird that is guarded by a dog” concept is certainly nothing new, especially with all the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons from Warner Brothers. Still, there is some fun to be had (especially with all the bones that the cat keeps offering Spike), and I certainly didn’t expect the ending. All in all, not one of Tex Avery’s best, but certainly enough fun to recommend it just the same!

And Now For The Main Feature…

On December 10, 1941, the submarine USS Sea Tiger, commanded by Lieutenant Commander Matt Sherman (Cary Grant), is sunk by a Japanese air raid while docked in the Philippines. Captain J. B. Henderson (Robert F. Simon) wants to have the sub destroyed since he fears the Japanese will overrun the port, but Matt manages to convince him that his crew can get the ship repaired in two weeks. He’s stuck working with a smaller crew, since Henderson had transferred some of his men to other boats, but he is promised some replacements. One of them turns out to be the social-climbing Lieutenant Junior Grade Nick Holden (Tony Curtis). At first, Nick doesn’t seem to be worth anything, but then he sees how much trouble that Matt and his crew are having in trying to get supplies and parts from the Navy. With Nick promising to help get what they need, Matt makes him the supply officer. Soon, everybody has almost everything they need as a result of Nick’s “scavenging.” They are forced to try leaving before they are finished when their position is discovered by some Japanese planes. They find that they can submerge, but they soon discover a leak that forces them to stop at the island of Marinduque. While Matt’s crew works on repairs, Nick is sent to the island, where he discovers a group of five nurses that had been stranded there, and he offers them transportation off the island. Matt is less than thrilled, but he finds himself with little choice. Trouble arises from this situation, with the clumsy Second Lieutenant Dolores Crandall (Joan O’Brien) causing trouble for Matt, the engaged Nick trying to flirt with Second Lieutenant Barbara Duran (Dina Merrill), and Major Edna Heywood (Virginia Gregg) causing trouble in the engine room for Chief Motor Machinist’s Mate Sam Tostin (Arthur O’Connell). Will Matt be able to finish repairing his sub and get back in the war, or will everything fall apart?

While Operation Petticoat was an original story, it borrowed from several actual events from World War II, including the issues with the crew getting toilet paper (which, in light of the pandemic, seems a little too familiar an idea to modern audiences), another submarine (the USS Sea Dragon) with a red coat of paint that made it a prime target for the Japanese, and a few other things. The movie was an early directorial effort from Blake Edwards (before he really hit it big with the likes of Breakfast At Tiffany’s and the Pink Panther films), originally intended as a modest black-and-white film. However, when Cary Grant and his production company got involved, the budget rose, and the movie was filmed in color. In some respects, it was co-star Tony Curtis’ idea to have the two of them work together in a submarine film, as he remembered being influenced by Cary Grant’s performance in Destination Tokyo. For his part in producing the movie, Cary Grant was rewarded a high percentage of the profits, nearly $3 million (more than he had made on any movie before).

Operation Petticoat is a movie that I’ve seen a few times at this point, and it’s one that is among my favorite Cary Grant movies! The story is more or less told from the viewpoint of his character (especially considering it’s being told via flashback, as he reads from a journal he kept from his days as the commander of the sub). Cary Grant manages to be funny by himself, but a good fraction of the humor in the film is derived from his reactions to a lot of the stuff going on around him (particularly both the actions of Tony Curtis’ Nick and the presence of the women onboard)! Of course, one of the moments involving Cary Grant’s character that stuck with me the most in this movie is when they spotted a Japanese tanker and tried to sink it with a torpedo. At the last moment, the clumsy nurse Crandall accidentally fires the torpedo, and, instead of hitting the tanker in the water, it goes on land to hit a truck! HIs reaction right there makes this one of the most hilarious moments in the movie for me!

Of course, the rest of the movie is filled with good fun, too! As Nick Holden, Tony Curtis adds to the fun. At first, we would think he is only a society-climber, incapable of being useful (an assumption shared by some of the other characters). But, when he gets to scavenging, all hilarity breaks loose, as we see not only his methods of scavenging, but also how he is able to avoid being caught! Of course, one of the more memorable moments of scavenging is when he works with yeoman Ernest Hunkle (as played by Gavin McLeod) to steal a pig (particularly with his “oinking” lesson). Quite frankly, the whole situation with the pig (given the name Seaman Hornsby to get by a couple of military police) is also quite memorable. Plain and simple, this is a wonderful comedy (and probably my favorite submarine movie), and I would certainly give it some of my highest recommendations!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Olive Films.

Film Length: 2 hours, 1 minute

My Rating: 10/10

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

An Affair To Remember (1957)Cary GrantCharade (1963)

Kings Go Forth (1958) – Tony Curtis – Paris When It Sizzles (1964)

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