• Operation Petticoat

    Released by: Olive Films
    Release date: November 28, 2017
    Directed by: Blake Edwards
    Cast: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, Joan O’Brien, Dina Merrill, Gene Evans, Dick Sargent, Arthur O’Connell, Virginia Gregg, Robert F. Simon, Gavin MacLeod, Marion Ross
    Year: 1959
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    The Movie:

    Sunk during a Japanese air raid while docked in the Philippines, the U.S.S. Sea Tiger is undergoing repairs when Lieutenant Commander Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) is ordered to give up a number of his crew to other, more capable boats and submarines. A junior-grade lieutenant, Nick Holden (Tony Curtis), is then assigned to assist Sherman, despite having little practical experience in the field—or at repairing submarines. The two men immediately hit it off, and what they are unable to procure through legal means to repair their vessel, they obtain through daring midnight raids from various military and non-military outfits. Helping them is Marine Sergeant Ramon Gallardo (Clarence Lung), who also acts as the ship’s cook.

    Restored to a semblance of activity, the Sea Tiger returns to active duty; the crew’s first assignment is to rescue five stranded Army nurses—all of them women—from the Philippine island of Murinduque. Sherman finds himself accident prone around the sexy Second Lieutenant, Dolores Crandall (Joan O’Brien), while Holden falls for Second Lieutenant Barbara Duran (Dina Merrill). After a mistake leads to a violent confrontation, the Sea Tiger flees, and Sherman orders the nurses put ashore, hoping to free his ship of their unintentional effect on morale. After various other mishaps and issues, an American destroyer mistakes the Sea Tiger for a Japanese vessel and fires on it, leading to a hilarious denouement.

    Though the property of Paramount today, Operation Petticoat was originally produced by Cary Grant’s production company Granart and distributed by Universal International. In some respects, it was a return to form for Grant, whose two most popular genres of film in his heyday had been romantic comedies and propagandistic war melodramas. Operation Petticoat combined those two genres into a successful whole. It also offered Blake Edwards his first major motion picture as director. Edwards had begun his career as an actor in the early 1940s before jumping to screenwriting by the end of the decade. He first tried his hand at directing with American television in 1954, and by 1959 had made a couple of minor theatrical offerings. Operation Petticoat gave him a chance to flex his comedic muscles with a big budget and a major cast and crew at his disposal. It worked; released in December of ’59, the film proved a massive box office success the following year, leading Edwards to a long career behind the camera. The film was also something of a watershed, upping the ante for onscreen toilet humor and returning to the big screen a sultry sexuality that had been missing since the days of Mae West, thanks to a stringent Production Code and increased censorship from the Catholic Legion of Decency during the war years and after.

    Despite a two-hour running time, Operation Petticoat flies by, thanks to genuinely funny lines and incidents and warm and likeable performances from its leads, Grant and Curtis in particular.


    Operation Petticoat receives its second Blu-ray release courtesy of Olive Films. This time out, however, it arrives in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 (the 2014 release was 1.78:1), with an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080p high definition. Unfortunately, at least in terms of visuals, it isn’t a major improvement over the previous release. Apparently utilizing the same transfer, it does feature some judicious touch-up work here and there, though it still suffers from a surprising amount of speckling, dirt, and debris. Transitions fare particularly poorly. That said, noise levels aren’t nearly as problematic as one would expect from an older transfer, though the grain is not as natural-appearing as it should be. This is a brightly lit film, so crush isn’t a serious problem. Its worst crime may be that the detail level is far too low, only moderately better than the average DVD. On the positive side, colors are generally stable and sometimes strong. There are lots of blues—blue naval uniforms, blue skies, blue ocean waters, etc.—and they mostly betray the typical look one associates with late ‘50s Hollywood cinema shot in Eastmancolor. While some of the problems with the image lie with the transfer, others appear to lie with the original source material. Either way, the film desperately needs a new 4K transfer from superior elements.

    The soundtrack is considerably better. Olive has opted for an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track, and it’s surprisingly clean. Unlike the image, there are no pops or cracks, and the sound is free of hiss. This is a dialogue-driven film, but thankfully instances of aural effects do not interfere with that dialogue. For anyone with hearing impairments or who are deaf (or simply prefer to read their movies as they watch them), optional English subtitles are included. An all-new audio commentary featuring film historian and critic Adrian Martin is included. Martin covers every aspect of the film’s history, detailing its production from early stages to its final release, as well as its place among the great war comedies. He covers the careers of both Blake Edwards and Cary Grant, as well as touches on those of other participants in front of and behind the camera.

    The real selling point of this release is in the extras. They begin with a new featurette, “That’s What Everybody Says About Me,” an interview with Blake Edwards’ daughter Jennifer Edwards and actress Lesley Ann Warren. The program is in high definition and lasts 12 minutes, during which Jennifer discusses her father’s career, his relationship with his casts and crews, and his marriage to her mother, Patricia. Warren, on the other hand, talks about how she met Edwards and what it was like working with him on Victor/Victoria.

    Next up is a 21-minute featurette, “The Brave Crew of the Petticoat,” which is also presented in high definition. Interviewed are stars Gavin MacLeod and Marion Ross. Despite the passage of six decades, the two share some fascinating insights into how Edwards worked and what their relationship with him was like. Both also discuss their careers apart from Edwards. Ross also discusses what it was like working with Tony Curtis. The interviews were recorded separately and cut together.

    “The Captain and His Double: Cary Grant’s Struggle of the Self” lasts approximately half an hour and is an interview with Grant’s biographer, Marc Eliot, who condenses Grant’s career quite nicely. He traces Grant from his childhood in England, where he was rejected by his father after his mother’s death, to his move to the United States as part of an acting troupe. After being invited to a party for Mae West, he was called Hollywood to star in a couple of West’s films. Shortly after, he got his big break and forever defined his on- and off-screen personas. Eliot also discusses how Grant came by his American citizenship, bartering a career in propaganda pictures in exchange for U.S. permanency. He doesn’t shy away from Grant’s relationship with “his boyfriend,” Randolph Scott, whom he took to Great Britain in lieu of his new bride, staying in the honeymoon suite with Scott on the boat trip over. Eliot discusses a great deal more, but woe be it for Rock! Shock! Pop! to spoil all the fun. The featurette definitely serves as an appetizer for Eliot’s book, Cary Grant: A Biography, though it should be noted that he does make one minor mistake, stating that Operation Petticoat is the third highest grossing film of 1959 behind Ben Hur and Psycho—the latter of which wasn’t released until the following year. In fact, these were the top three moneymakers of 1960.

    Next up is a Universal newsreel, dated December 13, 1959, showing Operation Petticoat’s premiere at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The newsreel lasts a mere 5 minutes but is thankfully in 1080p (and also features a snippet with President Dwight D. Eisenhauer).

    Finally, the extras conclude with archival footage of the submarine U.S.S. Balao, one of the former WWII submarines used as the U.S.S. Sea Tiger in Edwards’ film. The footage itself was taken in Guam in April of 1945 and is soundless; it lasts for 18 minutes, is presented in 1080p, and is pretty fascinating stuff.

    The Final Word:

    An entertaining look at another period in time, Operation Petticoat comes to Blu-ray for a second time in North America, and while it retains the fairly dull look of the original release, it does feature a slew of new and engaging extras, the best of which is an audio commentary, followed by a terrific interview with Cary Grant’s biographer. Those interested in the minutiae of the film will definitely want to upgrade for the various extras, but everyone else can stick with the original.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2018.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!