Originally released in December 1959, it was not until the following year that the launch of the perennially unfortunate submarine USS Sea Tiger would have an impact, Operation Petticoat becoming the third largest hit at the US box office of 1960, behind only Psycho and Ben Hur, confirming Blake Edwards as a significant director of light comedy, his later career featuring such classics as Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther and Victor/Victoria.
Earning an Academy Award nomination for the screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin based on the story by Paul King and Joseph Stone, Operation Petticoat is told in flashback as US Navy Rear Admiral Matt Sherman (Arsenic and Old Lace’s Cary Grant), Commander, Submarine Force, US Pacific Fleet, visits his former command prior to it being decommissioned and scuttled.
Recalling the events which began on 10th December 1941, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Sea Tiger was stationed at the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines when it was heavily damaged by a Japanese air raid; refusing to let his command go in the crucial early days of the US involvement in the war, Sherman used any means necessary to keep the ship afloat, accepting as his unorthodox “supply officer” a former admiral’s aide with little practical sea experience, Lieutenant Nick Holden (The Vikings’ Tony Curtis).
Released the same year as Some Like it Hot and North by Northwest, both Curtis and Grant were serious box office stars, and they supported by an ensemble cast of whom many would become famous over the following decades, among them Bewitched‘s Dick Sargent as Ensign Stovall, Star Trek‘s Madlyn Rhue as Lieutenant Reid, Happy Days‘ Marion Ross as Lieutenant Colfax and The Love Boat‘s Gavin MacLeod as Yeoman Ernest Hunkle.
Remastered for a new Blu-ray released as part of Eureka’s Classics range, Operation Petticoat is a product of its time, a distorted reflection on the events of the war concluded just a decade before with any edges softened, the focus on the shenanigans resulting from the presence onboard of five nurses rescued from the island of Marinduque rather than the outside conflict, the most dramatic scene the tension of the trial submergence after repairs.
Pleasant and undemanding Sunday afternoon viewing, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or Das Boot it is not, Operation Petticoat’s most memorable image the unexpected result of the short supply of suitable paint which forces the crew to blend the red primer with a white substitute when grey is unavailable; another surprising absence, atypical for a Eureka release, there are no special features other than the trailer.