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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Operation Petticoat (1959)


Starring: Cary Grant, Tony Curtis and Dina Merrill
Distributor: Eureka Entertainment
RRP: £15.99


Certificate: U
Release Date: 02 December 2019

To really appreciate who Cary Grant and Tony Curtis are in the historic tense of cinema, it will be worth your while to see who they were and where they came from, what drove them and how they manufactured themselves into being stars and survived as long as they did. Both came from the dregs of poverty. Both created personas they loved more than the people they actually were.

See a Cary Grant bio – or three. Each one gives a different perspective on this icon:

See a Tony Curtis bio – or two.

What it’s like hardcore to be a pretty boy in hard wired Brooklyn:

And what it’s like to be enrolled in a school for stars (Universal Studios) while romancing Yvonne DeCarlo and Marilyn Monroe:

This is the kind of zany wartime comedy that would soon be satirized into extinction by Kubrick (and Southern’s) Dr. Strangelove, Hiller (and Chayefsky’s) The Americanization of Emily then onward to the apotheosis of Altman (and Altman’s) M.A.S.H. The objective wackiness of Operation Petticoat is only half of its lunatic anachronism. The dark side of the moon is our irrevocable gyroscopic tilt of perception, surfing the tsunami of cynicism in a societal sea change from Vietnam forward, sweeping away forever a madcap comedic aptitude for the 1950s ‘war comedy’ whose very label is laughable but not in a ha-ha way. It is a dinosaur genre and only viewable in a retro museum context where Bob Hope will emcee and Francis the Talking Mule joins the Army at the bottom of a double bill.

That spat out, Operation Petticoat is still an apex biographically for Tony Curtis, who had worshipped Cary Grant since he first saw him in the balls to the wall submarine classic Destination Tokyo (1943) when Curtis himself was a hungry poverty plagued seventeen year old kid in the Bronx and decided being a movie star was the only thing that would satisfy him. That picture also prompted him to forge his parents’ names on his enlistment papers and join the Navy. It is his continuing homage to Grant when he mimics Grant’s trademark voice in Some Like It Hot, shooting in 1958 and releasing in March of ‘59. Grant wasn’t offended at all but quite flattered and Petticoat was filmed and released in late 1959, grossing a handsome $24 million. Blake Edwards broke into movie directing at the top.

But 1959 was the beginning of Grant’s last hurrah in film with the release of North By Northwest (1959) before the final success of Charade (1963) – where critics carped he was old enough to be Audrey Hepburn’s father even though his real life wife, Dyan Cannon was indeed young enough to be his daughter. Grant eased into retirement from the screen after a few more so-so pictures (Father Goose [1964] another war comedy and Walk, Don’t Run [1966]), joined multiple corporate boards like Fabergé and gave of himself tirelessly for charity work. He was, in effect, Hollywood’s ambassador of good will. This was also the period when he began his notorious self searching with the aid of LSD.

So a lot is swimming under the surface of Operation Petticoat. Fans will be able to shrug off the feeling of appreciating butterflies suspended in amber and simply enjoy the movie for its timing and elegant repartee. For Grant and Curtis completists I can think of no better reason to own this pristine Eureka Dual Format HD/Blu-ray. Eureka’s scrupulous attention to remastering and transferring especially shows itself in the famous skin tone of Grant as well as the striking richness of Curtis’s archetypal hair. Their eyes, their soul windows, glint with a charisma we can only envy. They are charming house guests who entertain and never wear out their welcome. And in Operation Petticoat they play two very watchable fellows, themselves.

But Operation Petticoat is important for another reason. It is the most muscular assertion of Blake Edwards as a movie director. Up till then. Edwards was a member of 1950s television elite having written and created some of the most popular series of the day, most notably Peter Gunn (1958-61).

Bridging the caste chasm from TV to films was rarely successful but Edwards became the exception to the rule with this picture. Operation Petticoat is an essential for Blake Edwards fans, to be placed proudly alongside their copies of The Pink Panther (1963), S.O.B. (1982) historic for getting his wife Julie Andrews to appear topless and Victor Victoria (1982) also historic for getting Andrews to portray a woman playing a man playing a woman.

"It’s hijinks on the high seas," says Eureka’s PR wizard, Steve Hills and he’s right. Revered Lt. Cmdr. Matt Sherman (Grant) and rule bending Lt. Nick Holden (Curtis) team up to rescue the nearly junked submarine the USS Sea Tiger.

With some ethically challenged dog robbing (courtesy of Curtis), parts are scavenged for the old war dolphin and things are looking up until a surprise attack drives them out to sea. Complications arise and so does Eros when they rescue five stranded Army nurses and host them in the sub’s cramped quarters. It’s yin and yang in the midst of war with the ‘gals’ redecorating the sub into what the ‘guys’ fear is housebreaking their Sea Tiger into a tabby cat.

The nurses are led by Dina Merrill and Joan O’Brien (almost forgotten today and wrongly so), both skilled in timing and repartee as a perfect ballast for Grant and Curtis. The Tiger gets painted pink, a prescience of Edwards’ continued coda of gender bending themes which bloomed for the rest of his career. In fact if anyone gets the blue ribbon for launching this theme for modern times, it’s Blake Edwards. The theme is always in Edwards’ TV work (the great Hope Emerson as ‘Mother’ in Peter Gunn) but more Sub Rosa until later years. Petticoat is worthy for this alone.

All in all, Operation Petticoat will not sink your expectations. The consummate acting and comedic perfection are guaranteed to always keep you floating above boredom.


John Huff

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