Dr. H and JP Look at “Operation Petticoat” what we dub as Humor In Uniform:
Operation Petticoat is an early (1959) a post WWII comedy directed by Blake Edwards (the Pink Panther Series, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Great Race, “10”, Victor/Victoria and others) filled with a cast that were either big names like Cary Grant or rising stars like Tony Curtis (Some Like it Hot), Marrion Ross (Happy Days) and Gavin MacLeod (the Love Boat) and others. The movie could even be seen as an early attempt at bringing feminism to the big screen and the precursor to the rash of 1960’s sex comedies that soon followed.
The film story goes something like this, following the attack on Pearl Harbor the Japanese prepared to invade the American-occupied Philippine Islands. During an air raid on the American naval base there almost sink the new submarine the “Sea Tiger.” The boat’s insistent and professional commander, Matt Sherman – played by Cary Grant – wants to get the Sea Tiger operational at any cost. After persuading the powers the be who give Sherman permission to make the Sea Tiger sea worthy, he and the remnants of the ships original crew (which has been decimated by transfers because the boat is considered sunken condition) succeeds in raising the sub from the harbor bottom and commence getting her seaworthy enough to escape to Australia before the pending Japanese assault. Unfortunately the repair efforts are hampered by the bureaucratically-based shortage of necessary parts and supplies. Enter Tony Curtis as Lt. Nick Holden; an accomplished back-alley smoke filled room deal cutter who joined the Navy to get into a nice uniform which he believes will land him a very wealthy wife. Alas, having secured a cushy job as an admiral’s aid the sudden outbreak of the war results in all Mr. Holden’s carefully laid schemes sent completely awry. Thus being at the end of his rope, Holden finds himself assigned as a replacement officer to the Sea Tiger. Faced with the alternative of being stuck on Bataan to endure the certain Japanese onslaught, he sees it is in his best interest to make up for the seagoing experience he has managed to avoid by becoming the Sea Tiger’s Supply Officer and secures everything the captain needs to get “the . . . submarine” out of there and to someplace where he can get a better deal.
Holden implements his supply procurement program which at best is unorthodox and at worst just plain felonious. Holden out does him self when he manages to “scavenge” five stranded Army nurses and convinces Cary Grant that he must take them aboard. From then on the film becomes Cary Grant’s battle to get this backfiring-limping submarine to Australia while avoiding the “exchange of information” about the proverbial “birds and the bees” between the crew and their female guests. Grant’s struggle becomes more and more complicated as the film moves on to the point where a maternity ward has to be opened on the Sea Tiger to accommodate its passengers.
For those who enjoy MASH (the movie), Stripes or the Russians are Coming this movie is a must see. A perfect example of how a good comedy can be made without resorting to “blue humor” or three stooges like slap stick. Fifty years later, the jokes a still witty and story remains fresh. This film was also one of the first movies to inspire a TV spin-off. In 1977 Operation Petticoat the TV. series aired starring none other than Jamie Lee Curtis who’s father, Tony Curtis, starred as one of the lead male roles in the 1959 movie.
Per Dr. H—This one is a rose for your bouquet.