Operation Petticoat

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Our rating: three lava lamps.

Information about this film in the Internet Movie Database.

Holden sweet talks one of the nurses.
Operation Petticoat does not have what you'd call a tightly-strung plot. Certainly, the pace is a lot slower than what most movies dare these days, even the laid-back comedies. The dialogue, too, takes its time in getting where it wants to go, providing lots of room for zingers and the occasional thoughtful reflection. It's a movie from a different time, with different ideas about the ways a film should work.

U.S. Navy Admiral Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) is about to oversee the decommissioning of a submarine named Sea Tiger. Through the exposition of a few handy sailors, we learn that Sherman was Sea Tiger's first commander, and through the magic of flashbacks, we see Sea Tiger's maiden voyage during the Second World War.

(insert wavy lines to indicate flashback sequence here)

During the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sea Tiger is badly damaged while still moored. Sherman's crew resurrects her, however, and Sherman convinces the base commander to let them make interim repairs and get underway to a base that can help them fix the submarine properly. Before they can do that, however, they need supplies, and their efforts to acquire those supplies get them nowhere.

Salvation arrives in the form of Lt. Nick Holden (Tony Curtis), an Admiral's aide who is stranded in Honolulu after the attack. Holden has something of a reputation as a playboy, courting the favor of high-ranking officials in order to stay out of combat. "He and the admiral's wife won the rhumba championship two years in a row," quips one of Sherman's crew. Holden is far from the stupid society darling he appears to be, however, as we learn when he takes on the job of ship's supply officer. Employing a number of techniques not recommended by the regulations manual, the crafty lieutenant procures the items needed by the Sea Tiger... and then some. Soon, the crew is on its way to other ports in the South Pacific, barely seaworthy, but proud and stubborn.

Cary Grant's specialty:
Suffering with silent dignity.
Unfortunately for Sherman, however, there's a bit of trouble in store for Sea Tiger, and it takes the form of a small group of Army nurses who are stranded on one of the islands where the sub stops. When Holden does some scouting for supplies and returns with the women, the crew can barely contain themselves. "Now that's what I call scavenging!" proclaims a crewman (played by Darren Stephens #2, Dick Sargent). Of course, the Sea Tiger can't leave these four ladies on the island, and so the submarine goes co-ed. You can probably figure out what happens from there.

Let's face it: this is Cary Grant's show. Much of the film's comedy is dependent upon his patented style of suffering with quiet dignity and then occasionally exploding in outrage. (If Grant hadn't done it first, we might even call this the Regis Philbin school of acting.) Without Sherman and his attempts to keep the nurses and crew from "exchanging any information" about the facts of life (insert joke about Cary Grant, women, and seamen here), none of the film's events would be particularly funny.

"We may be pink and coming in
by the grace of a woman's brassiere,
but we're coming in."
To be fair, though, credit is also due to Tony Curtis and the huge cast of character actors who support the two stars. The aforementioned Dick Sargent puts in his two cents, and Gavin MacLeod demonstrates his affinity for the sailor's life years before Love Boat was even a twinkle in Aaron Spelling's eye. Our favorite performance, however, was put in by Tony Pastor, Jr., as Fox. His mere handful of lines of dialogue were some of the most riotous in the movie.

At its heart, this movie is really a romance, with various of the hard, stuck-in their-ways sailors falling for the superior charm of the nurses. The control-freak commander falls for the disaster-prone woman, the engineer who doesn't think women and machines mix falls for the girl who hangs her pantyhose in the engine room, and the social-climbing Holden falls for the sweet small town girl. So don't expect any huge surprises -- everything works out the way Hollywood and sentiment intended.

Rent or Buy from Reel.

Review date: 1/30/98

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