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OPERATION PETTICOAT (1959) The Review
During World War 2 in the South Pacific, a sub load of problems confront Commander Matt Sherman when he is assigned to command a real fixer upper of a damaged submarine, and is challenged with not only trying to fix his ailing submarine but also faces supply problems, a devious supply officer, who is one step ahead of the military police, and winds up with unexpected guests of the female persuasion.
The cast includes: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Joan O'Brien, Dina Merrill, Gene Evans, Dick Sargent, Virginia Gregs, Robert Simon, Robert Gist, Gavin Macleod, George Dunn, Arthur O'Connell, Dick Crockett, and Madlyn Rhue.
Directed by Blake Edwards.
Famous Quote: "We just sank a truck!"
During World War 2 in the South Pacific, a sub load of problems confront submarine Commander Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) when his once brand new sub, The Sea Tiger is severely damaged in a bombing raid while staying in a Filipino port while taking on supplies. With a lot of illegal scavenging headed up by the newly transferred supplies officer, Lieutenant Nicholas Holden (Tony Curtis), the crew manages to turn their sunk submarine into a real fixer upper, that can now move a little, and perhaps even submerge with a little luck, if they don't do it too often.
It is still damaged, but to avoid being sunk again, Commander Sherman makes the decision to limp into another port, hopefully to get the parts needed to continue to transform their ailing fixer -upper back into a operational battle sub, at a time when materials are in very short supply everywhere in the Philippines. It becomes crystal clear that they have a long way to go! Most obvious is the need for an engine overhaul, which periodically makes an awful noise and emits black smoke, at a time when materials are in very short supply everywhere in the Philippines.
On the way to the next big port, they discover that minor repairs are needed right away when the sub springs some leaks after trying to submerge. They briefly stop by on an island to make the necessary repairs, but can't stay long, due to threat of attack. However, thanks to Holden, a group of Army nurses, who were stranded there, soon join the crew causing unforeseen consequences, with hilarious results. On their way to the next big port, Commander Sherman finds that having women on a sub built for men causes some interesting problems and revealing situations, as they all get to know each other in surprising ways in such a cramped living / working space. After catching opportunist Holden being way too charming and romantic with one of the nurses, Barbara Duran (Dina Merrill), Sherman temporarily restricts Holden to his quarters.
Commander Sherman has his own problems with an accident-prone nurse, Dolores Crandall (Joan O'Brian), who keeps causing Commander Matt Sherman some undignified moments, barely letting the good Commander out of the movie alive, which adds to the comic atmosphere. Dolores Crandall innocently manages to give Sherman a shower in his clothes, a cigarette in his coffee and causes their torpedo to hit a truck instead of the original target, among other incidents.
Finally, they reach another main port, which is about to evacuate. Commander Matt Sherman has to depend on his con-man, slippery-fingered supply officer Lieutenant Nicholas Holden (Tony Curtis) who Commander Sherman describes in his journal: "Lt. Holden has reached new heights in the art of scavenging. Like a spider in a web, he sits there and his victims come to him like flies bearing gifts. He's the only man I know who will probably be presented the Navy Cross at his court martial."
True to form, Lieutenant Nicholas Holden comes up with a unique way to get most of the supplies they need. Despite Lt. Holden's ingenious scavenging and other shenanigans, they can only get enough paint for the primer coat for the sub by using a combination of red and white paint, making this sub a pink one, instead of traditional battleship gray. When the port is attacked, during their moral-building luau on New Year's Day, they are forced to go out to sea in a pink-colored sub no working radio, with the stranded army nurses on board, some Filipino women and children, a goat and with an engine barely running. Their adventures begin anew, as not only is the enemy is aware of their very pink presence, but their own Navy is suspicious of them, with orders to shoot them out of the water, not to mention the fact that it is a bit uncomfortable with all their new and old guests on board as well. All these factors cause amusing situations that normally don't happen on a regular Navy submarine on patrol.
How both the sailors and the nurses work together to find a creative ways to solve their many problems facing them, and how they handle dangerous situations with unique American know-how, including how not to get blown up by their own Navy makes this story a very funny, war adventure comedy.
A very hilarious moment happens when they are still at port, trying to repair their damaged sub. Planning a luau on board the sub to help keep morale up, Lieutenant Nicholas Holden (Tony Curtis) gets to work on getting the main course for their New Year's festivities. With the help of his cohort in crime, Sgt. Gillardo (Clarence Lung), they steal a farmer's prized pig, throwing the pig in the front seat of the truck. They proceed to dress the pig up as a sailor, and then tell the guards they run into on the road back to the sub, that the pig is Hornsby, a drunken sailor who needed to get back to the sub. The pig was making funny noises, and the whole scene was quite entertaining.
Predictably, the MP's and the farmer show up looking for the stolen pig. Lieutenant Nicholas Holden blames the stolen pig on the drunken sailor Hornsby, who is supposedly indisposed in the sub's bathroom. Commander Sherman figures out immediately what the situation is, when he looks in the bathroom and sees Hornsby oinking away. When the MP's want to take sailor Hornsby in, Sherman doesn't skip a beat, and quickly spins a sad yarn about Hornsby. Instead, of arresting Hornsby, Sherman offers a solution to make up for Hornsby's folly. Sherman allows the farmer access to some of Holden's personal items to make up for the value of the pig, much to Holden's dismay.
The marvelous, clever screenplay was by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, based on the story by Paul King and Joseph Stone. The script has many funny lines and situations, which are brought to their full humorous potential, without going over the top by a skilled comedic director, Blake Edwards and a dynamite cast.
Cary Grant's ability to "deadpan while giving double takes" blends well with the comedic timing of the humorous incidents going on around him and some that involve him as well. In his portrayal of Commander Matt Sherman, Grant is at his "dry, exasperated best," playing a great straight man, to Holden and others, as he faces the variety of problems that fall into his lap.
Curtis brilliantly portrays the shady supply officer, Lieutenant Nicholas Holden, who when he isn't doing illegal scavenging and finagling for much needed supplies, falls in love with a gorgeous blonde WAC Lieutenant Barbara Duran (Dina Merrill), and does his best to woo her, knowing full well that he is supposed to marry a socialite with money when he gets out of the navy.
Joan O'Brian does a great job in portraying Dolores Crandall, a lady who is all thumbs around the good Commander, causing havoc whenever she finds herself around him.
Virginia Gregg, a well-loved character actor, did a great job as Major Edna Haywood, a mechanic's daughter, who has her own ideas on how the engine problems could be fixed , much to the dismay of the sailor in charge of them.
The musical score was by David Rose and Henri Mancini. Mancini was nominated for 18 Oscars and won four; in addition, he won 20 Grammys and 2 Emmys, made over 50 albums and had 500 works published.
This film is highly recommended for family viewing. It's pacing, and humor hold up really well, and it is as funny as it was when it came out.