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Sunday, November 26, 2017

OPERATION PETTICOAT -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

There's a fine line between war movie and lightweight comedy, and director Blake Edwards (THE PINK PANTHER) treads it like a tightrope walker in OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959, Olive Signature) with the help of a frothy script and a terrific cast.

Cary Grant (TO CATCH A THIEF, THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION) plays Captain Sherman of the Sea Tiger, a small submarine that gets sunk at dockside during an air attack before having even a chance to see action.  As this happens mere days after December 7, 1941, both Sherman and crew are itching to get into battle, but it's only after some fast talking to his superiors and the help of new crewmember Lt. JG Nicholas Holden (Tony Curtis), a top-notch scrounger and con man, that they're given permission to attempt a dangerous voyage to the nearest repair dock.

From the initial aerial bombardment sequence we can tell that OPERATION PETTICOAT will be sufficiently suspenseful and action-oriented without actually showing anyone getting killed, allowing the story an underlying "feelgood" quality without trivializing the war theme.

As a dandy who'd rather be in a rumba contest with the admiral's wife than anywhere near combat, Curtis fully utilizes his skills at very wry, very dry comedy and is just the kind of cool, calculating con man the Captain needs in order to bypass endless unfilled requisitions and acquire what they need to get the Sea Tiger under way. 

Grant, of course, plays his stern, authoritative character's comedic moments with an exquisitely measured deadpan, as only he could.  In other words, he excells at being Cary Grant.

As if their slow crawl across the Pacific Ocean weren't arduous enough, they pick up five stranded passengers--Maj. Edna Heywood (the great Virginia Gregg of "Dragnet" fame among many other things) and four nurses played by Dina Merrill (I'LL TAKE SWEDEN), Joan O'Brien, Madelyn Rhue, and Marion Ross (later to become Mrs. Cunningham on "Happy Days").

The nurses, naturally, will have a pronounced effect on Sherman's all-male crew during their time together in extremely close quarters, leading to some predictable but nonetheless pleasantly comedic mishaps and romantic entanglements.  Additional inadvertent passengers will include some very pregnant women and a couple of farm animals.

Salty old mechanic Tostin (Arthur O'Connell, THE RELUCTANT ASTRONAUT) does what he can to keep the engines running, chafing whenever head nurse Edna, who has experience as a mechanic, insists on helping out.  They will--in charming fashion, of course--eventually warm up to each other in one of the film's eventual romantic pairings.

Curtis' forays in advanced scrounging provide most of the laughs as does the tendency of generously-endowed Nurse Crandall (O'Brien) to wreak havoc with everything she touches.  It doesn't take long for us to form an affection for the struggling sub that somehow gets painted pink along the way (something about having to mix red and white paint in order to have enough to cover it) as it trudges slowly across the waves, barely able to submerge without springing a leak. 

Director Blake Edwards' talent for suspense comes into play during the aerial attacks as well as the obligatory sequence in which the fragile submarine must dive ever lower as depth charges rain down around it.  Such scenes transcend the film's situation comedy premise and lend it the gravitas of a genuine war movie.

The delightful cast also includes Gavin McLeod (soon to play a similar role in the TV series "McHale's Navy" before becoming captain of "The Love Boat"), a pre-"Bewitched" Dick Sargent, Gene Evans, and Frankie Darro.  Highly prolific composer David Rose of "Bonanza" fame fills the musical duties for Edwards as fellow Universal-International employee Henry Mancini would later on. 

OPERATION PETTICOAT is a perfect blend of war movie and light comedy, never veering far enough into farce to leave realism behind.  It takes us through enough emotionally resonant situations to ultimately earn an ending that's disarmingly sentimental without losing its breezy attitude.

Order the Blu-ray from Olive Films

Tech Specs:
New High-Definition digital restoration
Rated: NR (not rated)
Subtitles: English (optional)
Video: 1.85:1 aspect ratio; Eastman color
Runtime: 120 min
Release date: November 28, 2017

Bonus Features:
Audio commentary by critic Adrian Martin
“That’s What Everybody Says About Me” – with Jennifer Edwards and actress Lesley Ann Warren
“The Brave Crew of the Petticoat” – with actors Gavin MacLeod and Marion Ross
“The Captain and His Double: Cary Grant’s Struggle of the Self” – with Marc Eliot, author of Cary Grant: A Biography
Universal Newsreel footage of Cary Grant and the opening of Operation Petticoat at the Radio City Music Hall
Archival footage of the submarine USS Balao, which doubled as the USS Sea Tiger in Operation Petticoat
Booklet insert with essay by critic Chris Fujiwara


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