Cast & Crew
James Robertson Justice
After Soviet jet pilot Capt. Vinka Kovelenko is forced to land and taken prisoner by the Americans when she violates American territory in Germany, the Russian heroine reports to U.S. colonel Newt Tarbell that she fled Russia because of resentment over a comrade's promotion. When Tarbell suggests that her reaction is in part due to her disillusionment with Communist rule, Vinka adamantly testifies that she remains a staunch Communist. Seeking to gain support for American ideals by publicizing the conversion of the infamous Russian to democracy, Tarbell cancels Capt. Chuck Lockwood's two-week leave and orders him to "sell her America." That night in her room, Vinka, surmising Tarbell's plan, complains to Chuck that he is not handsome enough to seduce her, but agrees to dine and dance with him. After several hours of drinking with him, Vinka tries to convince Chuck to join the Communists. The captain, desperate to finalize his plans to marry heiress Connie in London, suggests studying Communist literature together in London, out from under the U.S. military's watchful eye. The next day, after Tarbell agrees to the trip, he gives Vinka $100,000 as a bonus for leaving Russia, expecting her to spend the money and succumb to western ideals. Meanwhile, at the Russian Trade Mission in London, Col. Sklarnoff and officer Dubratz order Vinka's ex-lover, Ivan Kropotkin, an awkward, shy engineer, to break up the fledgling romance between Vinka and Chuck. After the couple checks into adjoining rooms at a hotel, Chuck sneaks away to meet Connie and sign their marriage license, telling her that his assignment will prevent him from seeing her. Soon after, Ivan finds Vinka in the hotel lobby and begs her to forgive him for cheating on her, but Vinka despises him for his disloyalty. Later, in her room, when Vinka tries to instill Communist values in Chuck by citing exaggerated anti-American propaganda, Chuck compliments Vinka's sincerity. Charmed, Vinka kisses him, sends him to his room for the night but then finds excuses for visiting his rooms repeatedly. Later, when Connie and her cousin, Tony Mallard, unexpectedly drop by to question him about the Russian, Chuck describes her as a "human ice cube" just as Vinka enters Chuck's room unannounced, dressed only in his pajama top decorated with her medals, prompting Connie to leave in a jealous fit. The next day, when Vinka, spying a lingerie shop window, asks Chuck if he finds the accoutrement necessary for sex, he eagerly agrees. When Vinka questions him about his love for Connie, Chuck concedes that the heiress does not have enough "fire." Meanwhile, Tarbell, Maj. Lewis and Senator Howley invite Chuck and Vinka to the Russian Bear restaurant in hopes of witnessing Vinka's conversion firsthand. Before the evening begins, Vinka buys lingerie and an exceptionally feminine gown, which stuns the guests, including Connie and Tony, who have surprised Chuck by showing up unannounced. Later, Vinka, tipsy from champagne, dances with Chuck and shows him her red garters to entice him to return with her to Moscow. Soon after, Ivan tries to cut in on the dance floor as part of the Communists' plot to kidnap Vinka, but she has little interest in dancing with him. Later at the dinner table, when the senator explains that there is no class distinction in the United States by using Chuck's humble background as an example, Connie is shocked to learn her fiancé is a pauper. As the evening comes to a close, Russian female spy Tityana distracts Chuck while another spy, acting as a bartender, drops a sedative in his drink. When Tarbell orders Chuck to return to his duties and drinks the potion himself, Tarbell becomes comatose. As Chuck escorts Tarbell to taxi, Soviet martial arts specialist Sutsiyawa tries to attack him, but Chuck, assuming the man is drunk, easily knocks him out. When Chuck returns to the dance floor with Vinka, Connie decides she is finished with the "bankrupt bore." As Connie leaves, spy Maria mistakes her for Vinka and kidnaps Connie in the cloak room. After the Russian bartender spikes Chuck's drink with a sedative, a woozy Chuck returns to the hotel with Vinka, who, while helping him undress, discovers the marriage license and assumes that Chuck has deceived her. A resolute Vinka then goes to the Russian Trade Mission to seek return passage to Moscow, but is instead accused of treason for receiving the $100,000 check and subsequently sentenced to death. When Chuck learns of Vinka's fate, he goes to Ivan's room and tries to convince him that Vinka had successfully converted him to Communism. After Tarbell and other officers, who have been eavesdropping outside the door, burst in to arrest Chuck for treason, he flees down the fire escape, steals a car and drives to the Soviet Trade Mission. Upon entering the front door, Chuck is tackled by Maria and then escorted to Sklarnoff. Having been alerted by Tarbell that Chuck has been arrested for treason, Sklarnoff locks him in a cell until the Americans can come to claim him. Chuck soon convinces his guards that they should desert the Russian military and "officially" inducts them into United States military service on the condition that they obey their superiors without question. He then orders them to take him to the Russian base, where a plane is waiting to return Vinka to Moscow. After Vinka, Sklarnoff and Dubratz board the plane, Chuck, dressed in a pilot's uniform, jumps into the cockpit and taxis the plane down the runway. Once in the air, Sklarnoff discovers Chuck at the controls and holds him at gunpoint until they land in Moscow, where Sklarnoff proudly marches his two prisoners off the plane where a large military delegation is waiting. Instead of arresting Chuck and Vinka, however, the soldiers arrest Sklarnoff and Dubratz and announce that the mission has been abandoned by the Soviets, who are seeking to repair their relationship with the United States. After Chuck announces that he and Vinka plan to be married, the story of the love between the American and the Communist makes world news. When Ivan presents the couple with the $100,000 check as a wedding present, Vinka insists she has all she wants as she grabs Chuck's arm, but the cautious captain takes the check as a "souvenir."
James Robertson Justice
Betty E. Box
R. Denis Holt
Gordon K. Mccallum
John W. Mitchell
W. T. Partleton
H. A. R. Thomson
James H. Ware
The Iron Petticoat
These outlets offer the first opportunity in five decades for U.S. audiences to see The Iron Petticoat, which casts Hepburn as Captain Vinka Kovelenko of the Russian Air Force and Hope as Major Charles "Chuck" Lockwood, an American flyer. Angered at being passed over for a promotion, Vinka lands her plane on an American base in Germany. Under Chuck's tutelage, with the aid of champagne and frilly garments, she succumbs to capitalism and falls in love -- only to have the Russian Embassy plot to kidnap her and return her to Moscow with threats of treason charges.
It all began with a screenplay by the legendary Ben Hecht (The Front Page, Twentieth Century, His Girl Friday), developed from a story idea by producer Harry Saltzman, that borrowed heavily from MGM's Ninotchka (1939). In that Billy Wilder/Charles Brackett/Walter Reisch script, directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, a humorless Soviet agent (Greta Garbo) is seduced by Western values and a Parisian playboy (Melvyn Douglas). That movie, a rare comedy vehicle for its star, carried the famous tag line, "Garbo laughs!"
Other films covering the same territory included MGM's Comrade X (1940), co-written by Hecht and starring Hedy Lamarr as a Soviet streetcar conductor who becomes entangled with an American reporter (Clark Gable); and the Howard Hughes production Jet Pilot (1957), in which a gorgeous 20-year-old Janet Leigh plays a Soviet pilot who falls for an American Air Force officer, just as a 48-year-old Hepburn does in The Iron Petticoat. Jet Pilot, which costarred John Wayne, was not released until 1957 but had begun filming in 1949. To add to the confusion, MGM would release Silk Stockings, Cole Porter's musical adaptation of Ninotchka starring Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire, also in 1957.
Hecht had written his script with Hepburn in mind, and her friend Robert Helpmann, the Australian actor/choreographer who was set to play the supporting role of Vinka's Russian ex-lover, helped talk her into signing on. Ralph Thomas was chosen to direct, and Cary Grant originally was sought to play the leading man in the film, which had the working title of Not for Money. Thomas later said that, when Grant proved unavailable and Hope was cast instead, Hepburn initially had welcomed "the challenge of working with a professional comic."
The movie was filmed at Pinewood Studios in England, with location shooting around London. It was a co-production among Hope Records, Inc., Benhar Productions, Inc., and Romulus Films UK, with Hope's company owning the Western Hemisphere rights (including North America) and Romulus owning those for the Eastern Hemisphere (including Great Britain). In September 1955, MGM was granted theatrical distribution rights in the Western Hemisphere for a period of 10 years.
Hope reportedly insisted on top billing and Hepburn conceded without argument. In addition to Helpmann, the supporting cast included Noelle Middleton as Hope's upper-crust British fiancée, James Robertson Justice as a Russian espionage agent and Alexander Gauge as an American senator.
Both Hepburn and Hope were coming off well-received performances -- she in her Oscar®-nominated portrayal of the lonely spinster of Summertime (1955), and he in an unusually realistic turn opposite another Oscar®-winning actress, Eva Marie Saint, in the romantic comedy That Certain Feeling (1956). Hope had also played it "straight" more than usual in The Seven Little Foys (1955). According to biographer Scott Berg, Hepburn said she "had been told that this was not going to be a typical Bob Hope movie, that he wanted to appear in a contemporary comedy." She felt Hecht's script was "witty enough," and she was intrigued by an opportunity to develop a variation on Garbo's character in Ninotchka.
The Iron Petticoat was Hope's first picture to be filmed outside the U.S. (and in the land of his birth; he had left his native England as a child). According to biographer Lawrence J. Quirk, Hope -- who enjoyed the image of a happily married family man -- was glad to get out of Hollywood because of some highly negative publicity surrounding an alleged affair with scandal-prone actress Barbara Payton. Charlie Earle, a publicity agent at Hope's home studio, Paramount, told Quirk at the time, "Working with Hepburn may give him some class, some respectability. God, I hope so!"
Hope, who arrived in England with his gag writers in tow, quickly called Hecht and informed him that he had "minor suggestions" for improving the Petticoat screenplay. Hecht brought Hepburn along to a hurried conference at Hope's hotel. It soon became clear that the "suggestions" amounted to a complete rewrite with a generous number of typical Hope jokes supplied by his writers. In the filmed script, there's even a reference to Hope's frequent Paramount costar when a Russian character starts a fight by calling Hope "Dog Nose" and he responds, "Oh, got a little Crosby blood in ya, huh?"
Hecht's reaction was to walk away from the film, leaving Hepburn to fend for herself as best she could with the aid of director Thomas. She had arrived in London in the discreet company of Spencer Tracy, her married lover, and Quirk speculates that she may have been distracted by the attention he required. She was also dealing with the after-effects of an eye infection suffered after a dunking in Venice's Grand Canal during the filming of Summertime. At any rate, she soldiered on and, from all reports, maintained a polite if distinctly cool attitude toward her costar.
Thomas would later comment, "I wish I had made the picture when I was a little more experienced, because of the problem of handling these very diverse personalities. Really, they were playing in two different pictures: She was a mistress of light, sophisticated, romantic comedy, and he was much broader." Despite the obvious difficulties, he found Hepburn "marvelous to work with... She understood all the problems, she gave everything she had, she is the most cooperative person that ever breathed, and even when it was obvious the picture wasn't working out, that we were headed for disaster, she never lost her spirit."
According to Berg, Hepburn privately considered Hope "the biggest egomaniac with whom I have ever worked in my entire life" and complained that he transformed The Iron Petticoat into "his cheap vaudeville act with me as his stooge." Asked by Quirk about the film in 1957, she had responded, "The less said about it the better. Just thinking about it gives me a headache. It was a mess!" Although she claimed never to have seen the final product, she considered it the low point of her professional resume.
Hope had been kinder in his official evaluation of Hepburn: "This dame is terrific -- an expert in her craft and so electrifying on set that if you don't watch out, you're likely to wind up as part of the scenery."
The Iron Petticoat opened in New York in December 1956 and was given a general release by MGM in January 1957, but quickly faded away. Prior to the U.S. release, Hecht received approval through the Screen Writing Credits Committee to have his name taken off the MGM version. In a 1958 interview with Mike Wallace, Hecht claimed that "The movie was written for a lady, Miss Katharine Hepburn, and ended up instead as a role for the hero, Mr. Bob Hope... It had nothing to do with the movie I wrote."
At a reported cost of $275, Hecht took out a full-page advertisement in The Hollywood Reporter to address a public letter to "My dear partner Bob Hope: This is to notify you that I have removed my name as author from our mutilated venture, The Iron Petticoat. Unfortunately your other partner, Katharine Hepburn, can't shy out of the fractured picture with me. Although her magnificent comic performance has been blowtorched out of the film, there is enough left of the Hepburn footage to identify her for her sharpshooters. I am assured by my hopeful predators that The Iron Petticoat will go over big with people 'who can't get enough of Bob Hope.' Let us hope this swooning contingent is not confined to yourself and your euphoric agent, Louis Shurr."
Hope responded with his own full-page ad: "My dear Ex-Partner Ben: You once wrote The Front Page, and now you've followed it up with the back page... I am most understanding. The way things are going you simply can't afford to be associated with a hit. As for Kate Hepburn, I don't think she was depressed with the preview audience rave about her performance. Let's do all our correspondence this way in print. It lifts The Iron Petticoat." The letter was signed "Bob (BlowTorch) Hope."
The reviews of the day were scathing, with frequent mention of Hepburn's inconsistent accent. Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times that "Miss Hepburn's Russian affectations and accent are simply horrible, and Mr. Hope's wistful efforts with feeble gags to hold his franchise as a funny man are downright sad. The notion of these two characters falling rapturously, romantically in love is virtually revolting. If this was meant to be a travesty, it is." As for Hecht's having his credit removed, Crowther noted that, "A witness to the finished picture may readily figure why."
New York Herald Tribune critic William K. Zinsser: "'Vy you are smilink?' Katharine Hepburn asks Bob Hope, trying her best to sound like a Russian in The Iron Petticoat. Nobody's smilink. In fact, for Hepburn and Hope fans, this should be a day of cryink... When Miss Hepburn, encased in an army uniform that does nothing for her lissom figure, turns to Hope and says 'I vas vorried,' she has good reason."
Some contemporary viewers, appreciating the movie's novelty value, have been more forgiving. Critic Hal Erickson of Rovi writes that those who take a fresh look at the film "are astounded at how well Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn worked together."
MGM's distribution deal for The Iron Petticoat ended in December 1966, and until now the film had not since been seen in the Western Hemisphere. In the U.S. it was never broadcast on television or released on home video. In 1970 MGM returned all 35mm duplication and printing elements to Bob Hope, who paid $38,500 to settle the picture's debts and gain access to duplication negatives and prints created for the MGM release. Today, no one at The Bob Hope Legacy or Hope Enterprises, Inc., knows what happened to these elements.
The movie was shot in VistaVision, a wide-screen process with unusual clarity and beautiful color saturation that had been developed at Paramount. The high-definition restoration, using 2K digital scanning of the original VistaVision camera negative and the positive separation masters (held by Romulus Films), was begun in early 2012 by Technicolor Creative Services and Deluxe Digital in the U.K. Final color correction and HD mastering was completed at Cinepost in Atlanta.
In a final ironic link between the mismatched costars, both lived to a ripe old age (Hepburn, 96; Hope, 100) and died within a month of each other in 2003.
Producers: Betty E. Box, Harry Saltzman
Director: Ralph Thomas
Screenplay: Ben Hecht (screenplay); Harry Saltzman (story, uncredited)
Cinematography: Ernest Steward
Art Direction: Carmen Dillon
Music: Frederick Wilson
Film Editing: Frederick Wilson
Cast: Bob Hope (Major Charles "Chuck" Lockwood), Katharine Hepburn (Captain Vinka Kovelenko), Noelle Middleton (Lady Connie Warburton-Watts), James Robertson Justice (Colonel Sklarnoff), Robert Helpmann (Ivan Kropotkin), David Kossoff (Dr. Anton Dubratz), Alan Gifford (Colonel Newt Tarbell), Nicholas Phipps (Tony Mallard), Paul Carpenter (Major Lewis), Sidney James (Paul)
by Roger Fristoe
The Iron Petticoat
The working title for the film was Not for Money. Although the February 2, 1957 New York Times review of the film states that writer Ben Hecht declined to have his name credited in the film, his credit on the viewed print reads "Screenplay by Ben Hecht." A February 2, 1957 Cue article stated that Hecht repudiated the script and the film. According to a February 2, 1957 Saturday Review (of Literature) article, star Bob Hope and Hecht feuded about the production. A biography of co-star Katharine Hepburn notes that Hope had brought his own comedic writers on location in England, where they rewrote the script to incorporate more of Hope's typical humor. Hecht subsequently decided to pull out of the production, which was then called Not for Money. In a biography of Hope, the star claimed that when he found the script unfinished at the beginning of production, he offered to complete it with his writers, who retitled the film The Iron Petticoat.
As noted in a January 24, 1957 Los Angeles Times article, the film's plot about a staunch Soviet heroine who is converted to democracy by an American man bears some resemblance to Ninotchka, a 1939 film originally produced by M-G-M starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40) and then remade in 1957 by M-G-M as Silk Stockings, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (see below).
According to an June 18, 1956 Daily Variety article, producer Harry Saltzman (1915-1994) set up a distribution deal through which the British-based company Romulus Films, Ltd. released the picture in England, while M-G-M distributed it to the rest of the world. The film credits state that the picture was also a Remus Films production, however, no further imformation about this company, which apparently was affiliated with Romulus, has been found. The Iron Petticoat was the first film production for Saltzman, who later became well-known as one of the producers of the James Bond films.
Several of the film's reviews, as well as biographies of the stars, noted that Hepburn and Hope were miscast as a romantic team and the film was not a success for either star. Modern sources add Man Mountain Dean (Russian strong-arm man) to the cast.
Released in United States Winter December 1956
Remake of Ninotchka (USA/1939) directed by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas.
Released in United States Winter December 1956