Please Note: Review Contains Plot Lines and Spoilers.
Operation Petticoat: Stars Legendary Cary Grant (Commander Matt Sherman) with general cast including: Tony Curtis (Lieutenant Nick Holden), Joan O’Brien (Dolores Crandall), Dick Sargent (Ensign Stovall), Arthur O’Connell (Sam Tostin), Gene Evans (Molumphry), Gavin MacLeod (Ernest Huncle)…
Released in 1959 by Universal International and presented in colour.
The Sea Tiger is due to be sunk at 9am. The man to press the button is (the now) Admiral Matt Sherman (played by Cary Grant), boss of Submarine Specific. Early that morning an older, grey haired Sherman comes on board with his service log-book for one last time before the demolition. A Commander at the time, Matt Sherman was the first skipper of the Sea Tiger. Looking at the ‘USS Sea Tigers Captain’s Log’, he begins to read back on his first command. We are now taken back in time…
It is now 1941 – World War 2; the Japanese pilots are bombing the sea port at which the Sea Tiger is stationed. Once the raid is over, the submarine is heavily damaged and half sunk. Captain Henderson (played by Robert F Simon) believes the submarine should now be used for scrap metal. Believing it just needs some repairs, Sherman does his best to convince the Captain otherwise. All he will need are parts and the extra crew members that were previously reassigned, sent back to help (those he doesn’t get). So after convincing the Captain, with very little time and on a skeleton crew, the massive repair job begins.
Chief Molumphry (played by Gene Evans) is having a good laugh while peering through the subs periscope. He has spotted a polished and pressed Lieutenant Nick Holden – an Admirals aid (played by Tony Curtis) standing on the dock. Molumphry and some of the other crew (including the Commander), find Holden’s attire very amusing under the circumstances. A clean pressed white uniform stands out very brightly on a dirty, bomb wrecked Naval port; especially when everyman around him is covered in dirt and grease from working on the sub. Lieutenant Nick Holden is from the high class social set, out to meet any beautiful and rich woman he can (married or not), in return for the good life. He is one of the replacements sent for the Sea Tiger; but what they don’t know yet is that Holden is also a chief scrounger and conman.
Although Cary Grant is billed as the lead in this film, it was in fact Tony Curtis. Tony Curtis had always liked and admired Cary Grant from a young age, and enjoyed his movie ‘Destination Tokyo’ so much, that when he joined the service himself, it was in the Navy. At the time this film was made (in the late 1950’s), Tony Curtis was at the height of his stardom and bargaining power with the studio heads. He wanted Cary Grant in the film. Out of respect for his movie hero, Curtis took second place billing.
Meeting with Lieutenant Holden, Commander Sherman learns that his earlier service in the Navy (before being an Admirals aid) was as an ‘ideas man’. Sherman soon realizes the only duty Nick has really done in uniform, is to use it to get girls and special treatment where and when he can.
Keeping up with the submarine repairs, the Commander speaks with Hunkle (played by Gavin MacLeod) regarding the whereabouts of the supplies on order. Hunkle is having no luck acquiring any of the parts needed, not even toilet paper is being sent through. This is where Nick Holden comes into play; as a scrounger he can find the supplies needed. So with a promise to Sherman that he can supply anything they need, he is given the job as the new supply officer. Of course Holden has his own interests in mind when volunteering. So with a few select men he goes out shopping later that night.
Gavin MacLeod went on to be best known as the Doctor in the TV show ‘The Love Boat’ and also appeared in ‘McHale’s Navy’.
After dark, dressed in black clothes and with face paint on; Nick Holden and two sailors including Hunkle head to acquire the much needed supplies. It is here we learn that Hunkle has a special tattoo on his chest. A tattoo of a woman (named Girtie). Too scared to show his fiance back home, he had to re-enlist to avoid the trouble it would cause when she found out. While outside waiting for the others to collect all the supplies, Holden is caught by a patrolling MP. But with his gift of the gab, the MP’s soon drive off, and they get away clean. Their covert shopping spree has gone unnoticed.
Along with the parts taken (stolen), Holden finds a friend. An escaped Prisoner named Ramon. Ramon is a Marine Sergeant (played by Clarence Lung). Together they are the perfect scroungers (supply officers). Not happy about this, Commander Sherman tries to avoid taking Ramon along. But after Nick reminds Matt that Ramon happens to also be an informer, the Commander has no option. Ramon joins the crew. It should be said to everyone’s relief; the toilet paper was also obtained. But we find out that most of these supplies actually came from the Naval yard, which has now been stripped clean without any care in hiding the fact. Captain Henderson is trying to find out from Sherman, where all the supplies went; including his office wall. But before any excuses can be made the Japanese begin bombing again. Meanwhile during the air-raid, Holden is out again procuring more supplies, his way.
Knowing the Japanese now have their position, the Sea Tiger is a sitting duck. Sherman wants to head for the island of Savu (about 400 miles away) for further repairs. The problem is the submarine isn’t fully repaired yet; it may not even be able to submerge. But after some agonizing moments the crew and the sub get under way…with the help of a witch doctor Ramon and Nick hired for the good luck cast off. Out to sea and underwater the Sea Tiger is tested for stability by diving very deep. Apart from a few harrowing moments, the crew are relieved she is seaworthy.
Now under way, Lieutenant Holden treats the submarine like it is his own 5 star hotel, expecting breakfast in bed and wearing specially tailored clothing. But he is soon put into place by the Commander. While having their chat, they notice water at their feet. The sub is now leaking. They immediately take the submarine to the nearest island they find.
During the stop over, Holden is sent out to scavenge for more supplies for the half finished submarine. But instead he comes back in an inflatable raft full of women (Army Nurses), he found stranded on the island. Ensign Stovall (played by Dick Sargent), thinks this is amusing. He goes on to point out to the Commander, that women also have their uses. Sherman agrees, but is not overly amused.
Dick Sargent doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time in this movie. Never the less, if you are a fan of Dick Sargent (from his Bewitched fame), I am sure you will enjoy his performance in this movie.
Major Haywood (played by Virginia Gregg) is the first to come aboard, followed by four more women (causing all the men on deck to crowd around for a closer look). Lastly to come out of the raft and on deck is Lieutenant Crandall (played by Joan O’Brien).
Having attractive woman on-board in a cramped submarine with men at sea, lends itself to some comedy and romance. But it is a 1959 movie so it is only hinted at of course. Holden tries his best to get better acquainted with Barbara (played by Dina Merrell); while the clumsy Lieutenant Crandall falls for Sherman. Machinist mate Tostin (played by Arthur O’Connell) is overrun by Major Haywood, who continually gets in his way. Later to his surprise, he finds out she is very good with machine repairs herself, and they become very close.
Before long the submarine comes across a Japanese ship and they decide to take a shot. But just before firing the torpedo, Crandall interrupts Sherman to give him his daily vitamin pill (she desperately feels he is lacking in vitamins). The torpedo is set astray, and now hits a parked truck on an island instead. This alerts the Japanese ship who are now on their tail.
Escaping the ship and arriving at Savu they find most of the Military are pulling out and expecting the Japanese to arrive soon. So instead of dropping off the woman on Savu as planned, they must all now remain on the Sea Tiger. While there, Holden is sent out for more supplies. But this time he works it so the supplies come to him. Setting up a rigged casino, he has the soldiers from around the island bring in parts for the submarine in return for chips to use on the tables, rigged casino tables. Paint is the next supply they ‘purchase’. But without enough to cover the entire submarine, they must mix all the colours together to make it stretch. This mixing forms a very unattractive colour. The Sea Tiger is now pink!
On the way home from their night of scrounging, both Hunkle and Lieutenant Holden come across a farm full of pigs. It is New Year’s Eve so they decide to catch one, but it is more difficult than they bargained for. This sets the scene for a great moment in the movie. The pig is wrapped in a towel, sitting in the front seat, in the middle of the two men. Stopped by an MP at a road block, he is told that the ‘oinking’ pig is actually a sick sailor. The MP thinks its the ugliest sailor he has ever seen. Making their way past one road block they hit another. The pig’s owner has tracked them down to the Sea Tiger. This pig procurement ends up costing Holden more than he had wished for.
During the submarines painting, New Years is celebrated on deck. The relationships between the men and nurses become closer and Sherman gets a burned backside for his romantic troubles with Crandall. They once again come under fire from Japanese planes and in the confusion some locals get on board including a pregnant woman. She later gives birth to a boy on board the sub.
The US Navy now assumes the Pink Sub is actually a Japanese submarine in disguise (a decoy). So on site they begin firing and use depth charges. Using the old oil and clothing (including woman’s clothing) in the torpedo shoots; the submarine crew fool the ships above into thinking they were sunk. The Sea Tiger can now make its way back home.
We see at the end Lieutenant Holden is now Captain Holden, and Commander Sherman is now Admiral Sherman. Both now married with kids to a couple of the nurses they had rescued. Admiral Sherman hands the log book over to Captain Holden.
Operation Petticoat is a classic old service comedy of the 1950’s. With the likes of Cary Grant and Tony Curtis, it couldn’t be anything else but a classic. I have seen it countless times over the years and I enjoy it over and over. It is not a movie you need to consider watching, if you get a chance to see this movie you will really like it I’m sure.
Who Else Could Have Played That Part?
Robert Taylor, Bob Hope and Jeff Chandler were all considered for the part of Commander Matt Sherman. Robert Taylor and Bob Hope declined, Jeff Chandler was ill at the time. All three classic actors could have played the part well I am sure. But one actor I have no doubt could have played the part was Rock Hudson. I think with his humour and comedic talent, he would have also been a perfect fit.
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