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  Operation Petticoat The Battle BrassieresBuy this film here.
Year: 1959
Director: Blake Edwards
Stars: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Arthur O'Connell, Joan O'Brien, Dina Merrill, Gene Evans, Dick Sargent, Virginia Gregg, Robert F. Simon, Robert Gist, Gavin MacLeod, George Dunn, Dick Crockett, Madlyn Rhue, Marion Ross, Clarence Lung, Frankie Darro, Kirk Douglas
Genre: Comedy, War
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Lieutenant Commander M.T. Sherman (Cary Grant) arrives early in the morning at the harbour to inspect a submarine, which is due to be scrapped later that day. Why is he so keen to inspect it when it's about to be taken to pieces? It is because he used to be the Commander of this craft back in the days of the Second World War, and wishes to reminisce, so finds his old log and starts to leaf through its pages. What he most recalls about the U.S.S. Sea Tiger is that it was bombed early in its career in 1941, but that he managed to persuade the top brass that he could get it shipshape in record time. It never did sail right after that, but this was not its most memorable escapade...

The general interest magazine Reader's Digest used to have a column entitled Humour in Uniform, where said readers would write in with their amusing tales from service life and get them printed, with a monetary reward for each. In the main, these were "you had to be there" sorts of stories, but as for decades quite a few readers had indeed been there serving their countries, it was a popular feature and generated much indulgent laughter of recognition. This tone was also reflected in a number of films down the years, appealing to the ex-Army, Navy and Air Force audiences: Britain, for instance, had anything from Private's Progress to Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall to see.

Hollywood was not shy of jumping on this bandwagon either and conjured up a plethora of military-based comedies, notably on television with the likes of Sergeant Bilko, McHale's Navy and even Hogan's Heroes falling under that umbrella, among many, many others. The movies were not to be outdone, and one example that summed up the whole genre of nostalgic military comedy was 1959's Operation Petticoat, which teamed Cary Grant and Tony Curtis the same year the latter was spoofing the former in a far better received effort, Some Like It Hot. Fair enough, Grant's big hit that year was Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest, which influences cinema to this day.

Operation Petticoat, however? Not quite as much, as a sober take on war is more the order of the day in the twenty-first century, it's all very psychological and gritty as befitting stories of men and women willing to die on the front lines of international conflicts. Not so in Blake Edwards' comedy, where war was something movie stars could romp through without so much as a hair out of place, and for that reason something like this looks to be from a different age, which technically it was, a different century in fact. But the entertainment value may have been relegated to those who prefer to think warmly of those far off days of conflicts past, where people set aside their differences and joined together to fight a common cause: it is as much a hankering for unity as it is chuckling at the anecdotes.

The gimmick in this episodic item was the Sea Tiger takes women aboard, a no-no in Navy tradition but the source of comedy in a time when such things were not common. The women are stranded nurses and the male crew predictably rub their hands together with glee thinking of all the opportunities they have to try and seduce them, but refreshingly the women gave as good as they got, and though cast in such attractive guises as Joan O'Brien (whose ample poitrine is a source of jokes), Dina Merrill (pretty much the richest actress who ever lived) or Marion Ross (future Mrs Cunningham from sitcom Happy Days), they did have more to do that be decorative, their den mother Virginia Gregg impressing with her handy knowledge of engineering, for instance. What Operation Petticoat was not, however, was hilarious, it was just too pleased with itself and Curtis's loveable rogue of a supply officer was fairly resistible. Yet it did lead up to a decent punchline, and if you are trying to recall the movie with the pink submarine, this is the one. Music by David Rose.

[Eureka's Blu-ray has a trailer as an extra, and has a fair, bright print considering the film's age.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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