Cast & Crew
Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman fondly surveys the Sea Tiger , a submarine he commanded during World War II that now must be junked because of its extreme age. Below decks, he reads through his captain's journal, begun on December 10, 1941: The new Sea Tiger is ready for battle in the Philippines when a surprise enemy attack nearly destroys it. Although Matt's boss, Capt. J. P. Henderson, orders the ship grounded, Matt requests permission to make enough crude repairs to transport her to the nearest port. Despite his trepidation that the ship will not survive the two thousand miles of Japanese-patrolled waters, Henderson assigns Matt a skeleton crew. The next day, the crewmen are amused to witness the arrival of Lt. Nick Holden, a socialite Naval officer in a spotless uniform who has clearly never sailed. When questioned about his experience, Nick admits that he is more of an "idea man" than a sailor. Matt is dismissive of him, but moments later, when seaman Ernest Hunkle informs him that they have no supplies, including toilet paper, Nick explains that his childhood in a rough neighborhood has equipped him with excellent scavaging instincts. At Matt's further questioning, Nick admits that, just as much as Matt wants the ship to be in fighting trim, he also wants the ship to sail, so that he can finish his duty and return to an undemanding job on land. Named the new supply officer, Nick chooses Hunkle and a morose sailor called "The Prophet" to help him ransack the local supply warehouse. When the MP's nearly catch them, Nick cleverly diverts them, then steals an Army truck to transport the spoils back to the ship. There, Matt is so pleased to see the engine parts, tools and toilet paper that he overlooks Nick's shady techniques and new partner in crime, Ramon, a thief and chef whom Nick has rescued. Over the next few days, Nick continues to pilfer from the entire base, including Henderson's office. One day, Japanese planes attack and discover the position of the Sea Tiger . Afterward, Matt decides to set sail, even though Henderson considers the endeavor treacherous. With the help of a native medicine man Nick has hired, the ship finally sets off and executes a shuddering dive. Once at sea, Matt censures Nick's handcrafted uniforms and breakfasts in bed, especially after Nick explains that he wanted a uniform only to attract his wealthy fiancée. Soon after, a leak in the hull forces Matt to dock at a nearby island. Nick is sent to scout the island and returns with Maj. Edna Hayward, Lt. Barbara Duran, Lt. Claire Reid, Lt. Ruth Colfax and Lt. Dolores Crandall, nurses who have been stranded en route to Manila. Although Matt fears that the submarine's close quarters are "not designed to be co-educational," he has little choice but to offer the women transport. He instructs his thrilled crew to ignore the women, a task that quickly proves impossible, especially in the case of busty, accident-prone Dolores. Nick, a womanizer, gathers clothing for the women and offers Barbara champagne in his room. Matt catches them, however, and pours out the prohibited alcohol. In the morning, the presence of the women causes myriad problems throughout the ship: Dolores' generous proportions cause Matt to insist that she be given "clear passage" in the narrow corridors; engineer Sam Tostin complains when Edna hangs wet negligee in the engine room; and the men develop mysterious "illnesses" designed to afford them access to the nurses. Matt attempts to redirect the men's attentions to work, but is sidetracked by Dolores, whose clumsiness unnerves the otherwise imperturbable captain. He is further nonplussed by the news that Edna has repaired the machinery with her girdle, and that Claire has slapped Hunkle after catching sight of the naked girl tattooed on his chest. Meanwhile, Nick wins a kiss from Barbara that is interrupted by the arrival of Matt, who chastises both officers and confines Nick to his quarters. Just then, an enemy tanker is spotted docked nearby. Knowing they have only one working torpedo, Matt bravely issues an order to attack, but Dolores blunders into the firing lever and releases it prematurely. As a result, the torpedo veers into the shore, hitting only a truck and revealing the Sea Tiger 's position. After barely escaping the Japanese, they dock at a nearby island in order to make final repairs. Matt soon discovers, however, that because the area is in the midst of an evacuation, no one will take the nurses or give him any supplies. With no other choice, Matt turns to Nick, who contrives a casino at which he soon wins all the available supplies. To top off his winnings, Nick coerces Hunkle into helping him steal a pig from a local farmer, who complains to the MPs. They visit the ship, where Matt, upon learning of the pig's presence, corroborates Nick's story that the animal is actually a sick seaman, but offers the farmer many of Nick's illicit treasures as recompense. Next, the men prepare the sub to be painted gray by first applying primer, even though the only available primer consists of a half ration of red mixed with a half ration of white. While the resulting pink paint dries, the men and women relax with a luau cookout. As Edna impresses Tostin with her clever engineering insights, Matt invites Dolores, who is below decks trying to stay out of his way, to join the party. She eagerly accepts and sets her hot curling iron on the bed, where Matt sits on it. Meanwhile, Nick is romancing Barbara on the shore, but after he reveals that he is engaged, she deflates their lifeboat and swims back to the ship. When an air raid then sounds, the ship fills with the native women and children to whom Nick has promised shelter without Matt's authorization, and Matt, unwilling to risk their lives, is forced to allow them entrance. The ship escapes to the open sea, where several of the native women go into labor and give birth below decks. The submarine's pink hue soon attracts the notice of the Japanese and the Allies, who, unable to identify it as American, order it to be sunk on sight. Soon after, an American ship opens fire on the Sea Tiger , and although Matt dives down, the underwater missiles shake the fragile ship precariously. Matt sends all of the boat's dry goods to the water's surface, hoping to convince the Americans that they have sunk, but the Allied captain does not accept the ruse. The situation seems hopeless until Nick, inspired by Hunkle's plan to refine his pinup tattoo by adding a bra and panties, determines that they should send up the women's undergarments. The Allied crewmen soon retrieve Dolores' bra, prompting the captain to declare that, since "the Japanese have nothing like this," they must cease fire. Battered but intact, the Sea Tiger is escorted to land. In the present, Nick leaves Barbara, now his wife, on the dock to join Matt aboard the Sea Tiger . After instructing Nick to junk the ship, Matt awards him command of a new atomic submarine, to be christened the Sea Tiger , and gives him the old captain's log for safekeeping. Outside, Matt watches as Dolores, who is now his wife, hits his car, smashing it onto the bumper of a moving bus. By now accustomed to her clumsiness, Matt turns his attention to the Sea Tiger as it makes its last voyage out to sea.
Robert F. Simon
Tony Pastor Jr.
John W. Morley
James F. Lanphier
Francis De Sales
Fred Harlfinger Ii
Harry Harvey Jr.
Francis L. Ward
William R. Callihan
Robert C. Youmans
Leslie I. Carey
Vernon W. Cramer
Russell A. Gausman
Ted J. Kent
Robert E. Smith
Best Writing, Screenplay
Operation Petticoat - Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in OPERATION PETTICOAT on DVD
Director Blake Edwards gets no writing credit but Operation Petticoat falls neatly into line with his other Tony Curtis movies about con artists and social pretenders -- Mister Cory, The Perfect Furlough. It also dovetails nicely with writer-producer Stanley Shapiro's later Doris Day & Rock Hudson comedies, with their gentle examination of sexism. The predicament of five females bunking in Cary Grant's submarine is handled with taste and sensitivity -- until an opportunity arises for a joke. Grant's captain jettisons the nurses' underwear out a torpedo tube to convince a U.S. destroyer that the Sea Tiger is on the same side. An officer on the destroyer holds up an extra-large brassiere, calling off his attack because, "the Japanese haven't got anything like that!"
Synopsis: The submarine Sea Tiger is severely damaged in the first days of WW2, before its captain Lt. Commander Matt Sherman (Cary Grant) has even left port. Sherman receives permission to attempt a repair, and re-floats the sub with the help of his hard-working crew. Aided by the illicit scavenging talents of his new officer Lt. Holden (Tony Curtis), Sherman sets sail for the safety of Australia. Along the way they pick up five stranded nurses, causing a minor commotion among the crew and officers. The devious Holden sets his sights on seducing Lt. Barbara Duran (Dina Merrill) while the other nurses both help and hinder the functioning of the ship. Major Edna Heywood (Virginia Gregg) turns out to be the perfect machinist's mate for engineer Sam Tostin (Arthur O'Connell). But Lt. Dolores Crandall (Joan O'Brien) accidentally causes Sherman to misfire a torpedo, spoiling the Sea Tiger's one chance at combat glory.
Operation Petticoat isn't exactly a farce and it's certainly not an anything-goes service comedy like Operation Mad Ball, with doofus officers snookered by miscreant Sgt. Bilkos. All the ingredients are there but the script and direction keep the show within the limits of credibility. Like much of Uncle Sam's forces in the South Pacific, the Sea Tiger must find a way to get back in action despite a breakdown in the spare-parts procurement system. Tony Curtis' unprincipled Lt. Holden may seem like a worthless ceremonial officer useful only for dancing with the admiral's wife, but he turns out to be the perfect scrounger for needed equipment and supplies. Curtis adjusts his nervy go-getter persona to harmonize with the acting style of Grant, the past master. Given an unpromising scene where Holden turns his talent to pig stealing, we expect a series of slapstick pratfalls. Curtis instead gives each porker a dainty two-finger squeeze for quality, as if he were shopping for produce.
Cary Grant's main acting chore is to endure to Holden's mischief and the various provocations of the nurses. In contrast to his mugging in Arsenic and Old Lace, Grant's typical reaction is a perplexed turn of the head and a coy half-smile, delivered with impeccable timing. Captain Sherman holds his temper even when nurse Crandall fires that errant torpedo. In keeping with the odd idea that accident-prone women are funny and therefore attractive (the Lucy syndrome?), Sherman and Crandall eventually get together.
The nurses demonstrate their skills as future navy wives by delivering two babies on board this 'kind and gentle' submarine. The Sea Tiger loses its chance to fight yet does its bit by rescuing some Philippine islanders, including the pregnant women. This 'feminization' trend becomes overt when a supply shortage forces the crew to paint the sub bright pink. The crew is humiliated by jeers from other ships but Commander Sherman is just happy to reach his port. Even with these 'cute' touches, Operation Petticoat never undercuts its basic tone of credibility.
Prolific producer Robert Arthur (The Big Heat, Man of a Thousand Faces, Father Goose) assembles a fine cast presumably eager to work opposite Cary Grant. Joan O'Brien and Dina Merrill are the nurses that warm up to the male leads, maintaining their dignity while bumping klaxon buttons with their bottoms. One agreeably sexist running gag shows the crew having difficulty squeezing by each other in the sub's narrow corridors -- where the nurses seem compelled to breathe deep and stick their chests out. Madlyn Rhue and Marion Ross (Happy Days) also get their share of comedy bits, reacting in shock to the (unseen) pornographic tattoo on the chest of seaman Hunkle (Gavin McLeod, later of The Mary Tyler Moore Show). Dick Sargent has a plum role as a younger officer enthusiastic about the nurses and Arthur O'Connell is more restrained than usual as the cranky ship's engineer. And it goes without saying that Gene Evans Hell and High Water, Park Row) is on board -- every submarine movie needs the gruff Evans, it's a Hollywood law.
The film is framed by Sherman's present-day (1959) farewell to the sub before she's finally junked. All of the romantic entanglements have been settled in the most conventional way, and Sherman's favorite nurse is still a klutzy menace. The uncomplicated Operation Petticoat is about as relaxing as a war movie can get, and remains a satisfying light comedy.
Lionsgate's release of Operation Petticoat will be a disappointment to DVD fans -- it's indifferently transferred in an unacceptable flat-letterboxed format. Audio is okay, but this favorite Cary Grant show isn't going to look very good on a widescreen monitor. The disc carries no Lionsgate logo, indicating that it's an unrevised reissue of a 2001 Republic pressing. There are no extras and no subtitles.
This title is currently unavailable on DVD. Explore more Cary Grant titles here.
by Glenn Erickson
Operation Petticoat - Cary Grant and Tony Curtis in OPERATION PETTICOAT on DVD
Grant plays Admiral Matt Sherman, Commander of the submarine U.S.S. Seat Tiger, which is stationed in the Philippines at the beginning of World War II. Joining him is Nick Holden (Tony Curtis), as his conniving junior officer. The story is narrated by Grant, reading selected logs to us from the U.S.S. Sea Tiger captain's journal, a gimmick that was later used in the TV series, Star Trek.
But the serious tone quickly gives way to mirth as the commander gets caught up in a bureaucratic investigation of toilet paper requisitions while his crew torpedo a bus on dry land and stop to pick up a small group of sexy nurses being evacuated from a local island.
Not only was Operation Petticoat a hit with critics and audiences alike but the film made Grant a rich man. He owned "a piece of the action" and according to the Guiness Book of World Records, the film made him the highest paid actor in the business at the time of the film's release. Operation Petticoat was to take in $8 million at the box office and to bring Grant almost $3 million as his percentage of the profits, more than he had ever made from a film before.
During the film shoot a highly publicized article on Grant's LSD usage came to light. Grant attended weekly counseling sessions with a psychiatrist, which included doses of the drug. Grant opened himself up to journalist Joe Hyams as he had never before with any journalist and described his experience with LSD. The article appeared in the New York Herald Tribune and the subsequent publicity convinced Grant to never be as candid with a reporter ever again.
Director: Blake Edwards
Producer: Robert Arthur
Screenplay: Stanley Shapiro, Maurice Richlin; from a story suggested by Paul King and Joseph Stone
Cinematography: Russell Harlan, Clifford Stine
Editor: Ted Kent, Frank Gross
Cast: Cary Grant (Commander Matt Sherman), Tony Curtis (Lieutenant Nick Holden), Joan O'Brien (Nurse Dolores Crandell), Dina Merrill (Nurse Barbara Duran), Arthur O'Connell (Tostin), Gavin MacLeod (Hunkle).
C-121m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Celia Reilly
I don't want to bore you with the problems of command Mr. Holdan, because I doubt you'll ever have one. It's inconsistent with that philosophy of yours - every man for himself.- Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman
Dog eat dog.- Lt. Nicholas Holden
Exactly. The unfortunate thing about command though, Mr. Holdan, is that the responsibilities outweigh the privileges. Now if it was just myself I was concerned with I'd tell you what to do with that list. But my responsibility is this boat, and to get her out of here I'd even make a pact with the devil.- Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman
That's where I come in.- Lt. Nicholas Holden
That's right.- Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman
Subject, Toilet paper. One, on 6 June 1941 this vessel submitted a requisition for 150 rolls of toilet paper. On 16 December 1941 the requisition was returned with stamped notation, 'Cannot identify material required.' Two, the commanding officer of the USS SeaTiger cannot help but wonder what is being used at the Caviti Supply Depot as a substitute for this unidentifiable material once so well known to this command.- Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman
Am I uh, going down right?- Lt. Barbara Duran, RN
Is she going down right?- Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman
She sure is.- Lt. Watson
When a girl is under 21 she's protected by law. When she's over 65 she's protected by nature. Anywhere in between, she's fair game. Look out.- Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman
A woman just shouldn't mess around with a man's machinery.- Chief Mechanic's Mate Sam Tostin
Nurse Barbara (Dina Merrill), the love interest for 'Curtis, Tony' ' character, was played in the 1977 remake by Curtis' daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis.
There actually was a pink submarine in the south-west pacific early in the war, for the reason described in the movie.
The bizarre case of the rejected requisition for toilet paper actually happened to the submarine, USS Skipjack and a sarcastic letter, in reply, was sent to the Naval Supply Officer at Mare Island, CA.
In July 1957, a Los Angeles Times news item stated that Universal had bought the original story for Operation Petticoat from Paul King and Joseph Stone, and had assigned Gordon Kay to produce and Blake Edwards to direct "his own screenplay." The Hollywood Reporter review notes that producer Robert Arthur hired screenwriters Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin to incorporate into the screenplay real-life oddities from U.S. Naval history, including the submarine operating in the Pacific called the Sea Dragon whose exposed red primer paint made it a clear target; the two native women from Tiop who gave birth aboard the U.S.S. Geta; and the torpedoing of a land bus by the U.S.S. Bowfin. The film was a co-production between Universal and the Granart Company, the independent production company owned by Arthur and star Cary Grant. According to late October 1958 Hollywood Reporter news items, Universal originally cast Jeff Chandler as "Matt T. Sherman," but then lent him to Paramount for The Jayhawkers, after which Robert Taylor was considered for the role. A December 16, 1958 Hollywood Reporter item notes that Dolores Michaels tested for a "lead" role.
A March 29, 1959 New York Times article reported the following information about the production: The ship seen in the film as the Sea Tiger was in reality the U.S.S. Balac, a World War II submarine stationed at the Key West Naval Base in Florida, where much of the picture was shot on location. Many of the sub's crew members were cast in the film, and "in compliance with an agreement of Navy cooperation at no cost to the government," the crewmen were paid by Universal to spray-paint onto the ship a temporary coat of pink vinyl. Director Blake Edwards explained in a April 12, 1959 Los Angeles Examiner article that he took some artistic license in portraying the inside of the ship, whose passageways were made four inches narrower and the steps three inches farther apart than regulation, in order to heighten the tension between the male and female characters.
According to modern sources, during the shooting of Operation Petticoat, Grant conducted an interview with entertainment reporter Joe Hyams in which he revealed that he had gained various insights from the use of L.S.D. during therapy sessions. When Hyams published his story in The New York Herald Tribune, Grant sued him, and gossip columnist Louella Parsons claimed in print that Hyams' tale was falsified. Hyams then countersued and produced a taped version of the interview, after which Grant dropped his lawsuit.
King, Stone, Shapiro and Richlin received an Academy Award nomination for Best Story and Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. Shapiro and Richlin won the award for their other 1959 production, Universal's Pillow Talk (see below). In 1966, Bernard Newman sued the studio for $2,100,000 for plagiarism, claiming that Operation Petticoat was based on his unproduced play, A Boat for Baby. The final disposition of the lawsuit is not known. According to a July 9, 1980 New York Times article contained in the film's file at the AMPAS library, the rights to the film reverted to Grant after "six or eight years," after which he sold them to distributors N.T.A. In 1977, NBC produced a television movie version of the film that served as the pilot for a series that ran from September 4, 1977 to August 1979. The movie was written by King, Stone and Leonard Stern, and both it and the series starred John Astin as Sherman.
Released in United States Fall September 1959
Released in United States on Video September 1987
Formerly distributed in USA on video by Republic Picutures Home Video.
Released in United States Fall September 1959
Released in United States on Video September 1987