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Operation Petticoat is a 1959 comedic film directed by Blake Edwards, and starring Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and Dina Merrill, later adapted for television in 1977.

The film tells in flashback form the story of a fictional World War II American submarine USS Sea Tiger, sunk pierside in the Philippine Islands during the opening days of World War II. Operation Petticoat follows the adventures and tribulations of the sub's skipper (Grant) and his crew (including Curtis as a deviously mercenary supply officer), as they first try to repair the sub and then reach Australia for the necessary refit. The voyage includes various detours along the way, including the acquisition of a group of stranded female Army nurses, an attempt to sink a Japanese ship, and a hurried stopover to overhaul and repaint the sub which quickly goes awry.

Other members of the cast includes several actors who became television stars in the 1960s and 1970s: Gavin MacLeod of Love Boat and McHale's Navy as Yeoman Hunkle, Marion Ross of Happy Days as Army 2nd Lieutenant Colfax, Dick Sargent, (later to star in the series Bewitched), as Lieutenant Stovall, Arthur O'Connell (The Second Hundred Years), and Gene Evans (Spencer's Pilots).

The movie was written by Paul King & Joseph Stone (story) and Stanley Shapiro & Maurice Richlin (screenplay). It received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Screenplay.

The film was produced with extensive support of the Department of Defensemarker and the United States Navy. Most of the filming was done in and around the since deactivated Naval Station Key Westmarker, Florida, which substituted for the Philippines, and Naval Station San Diegomarker, California.

The Sea Tiger in the movie was portrayed by three different American World War II era submarines:
  • Queenfish , in the opening and closing scenes (circa 1959), in which the "393" on the conning tower is visible,
  • Archerfish , for all the World War II scenes where the boat was painted the standard gray and black,
  • Balao , for all the scenes in which Sea Tiger was painted pink.


Plot

The film is told in flashback form as a recollection of Rear Admiral Matt Sherman (Grant), the fictional Commander of Submarine Forces Pacific in 1959. His is the story of the fictitious World War II American submarine USS Sea Tiger, which he has boarded early that morning in 1959, prior to its departure for the scrapyard. Having served as the first commanding officer of Sea Tiger, he takes a seat in his former captain's stateroom and begins reading his personal log, beginning with Sea Tiger coming under Japanese attack while pierside at the U.S. Naval Base in Cavite during the opening days of the Pacific War.

The Sea Tiger is sunk at the pier following an air attack early in the war. Her Captain, then-Lieutenant Commander Matt Sherman, and his crew, begin efforts to repair her. At this point, a new officer shows up. Lieutenant Nick Holden is a line officer and former admiral's aide with minimal sea duty experience. Holden, a self-styled "idea man," signs on as supply officer because he wants to get out of the Philippines before the Japanese arrive, and because he thinks he can work a better deal for himself in Australia. To obtain the needed supplies, Holden demonstrates considerable skill at scavenging and con artistry, skills learned in his impoverished childhood.

With the help of Holden and his deputy, a Marine sergeant recently jailed for misappropriating military supplies, the crew are able to procure the supplies needed to make basic repairs to the sub and then sail it for Australia, in hope that the repairs can be completed there. Holden and the captain come into conflict several times due to Holden's attitude toward the Navy in general: it seems that he became an officer not to serve his country, but to escape poverty and find a wealthy spouse. And indeed, he is engaged to a wealthy woman back home.

Along the way they pick up a contingent of female Army nurses stranded on another Philippine island. LTJG Holden sets his sights on one of the nurses, 2LT Duran, presumably hoping to have a little fun before he gets married. Meanwhile, LCDR Sherman has a series of embarrassing encounters with the very well-endowed but clumsy 2LT Crandall. This reaches its climax when Crandall arrives in the conning tower when the sub is attempting to torpedo an enemy tanker, causing the torpedo to miss the ship and obliterate a truck parked on the beach.

At the next stop, at which the crew are expecting to spend New Years, Holden sets up a casino, which he uses to get the men on the island to trade usable parts for chips. He also steals a pig from a farmer, hoping to throw a New Years' celebration for the men. When he is caught, Sherman is able to exact a measure of retribution for Holden's obnoxious behavior by forcing Holden to trade away most of his extraneous possessions for the stolen animal.

Sherman, Holden and the crew are eventually forced to continue on their journey with the sub painted pink after plans for a quick re-paint of the sub go awry. Not enough red lead or white lead undercoat primer paint is available to paint the entire sub either color, and so all the available paint of both colors is mixed together. The plan is to paint the sub gray after New Years celebration is completed, but the Japanese attack in the middle of it, forcing the Sea Tiger to make an early departure.

The pink sub becomes a target for an American destroyer force whose commanding officer is convinced that it must be Japanese. Grant saves the sub by firing the nurses' bras, panties and nylons out a torpedo tube. The garments rise to the surface, 2LT Crandall's bra is snagged by a grappling hook and taken aboard a destroyer, and it is soon evident to the destroyer crew that the submarine is American.

The story ends with RADM Sherman aboard Sea Tiger on the morning he has had to sign the final order directing her decommissioning and eventual scrapping. He is met by the current commanding officer of Sea Tiger, now-Commander Nick Holden, as he and his wife (the former 2LT Duran) and their sons arrive at the pier. Holden asks the admiral if there is any reprieve for Sea Tiger's fate. Reluctantly, he says there is none...but he adds that a new nuclear-powered submarine is about to come off the ways...also named Sea Tiger...and that the new Sea Tiger is Holden's next command. Sherman's wife (the former 2LT Crandall) arrives shortly thereafter with their daughters. Running late, the ever clumsy former Lieutenant Crandall/Mrs. Sherman manages to bump the family station wagon into RADM Sherman's staff car, which then locks bumpers with a Navy bus immediately in front of it. The bus then drives off with the staff car behind, with Sherman's chief petty officer/driver yelling and chasing after it. Sherman, by now used to his wife's clumsiness, assures her that they'll stop it at the gate. Holden, standing on Sea Tiger's sail, chuckles at the humor of it all as he maneuvers the sub away from the pier on her final voyage. Sherman looks longingly and humorously as the sub sails away, still belching smoke from its troublesome #1 engine.

Historical basis

Some of the plot points of the movie were based on real-life incidents. Most notable were scenes set at the opening of WW-II, based on the actual sinking of the submarine USS Sealion , sunk at the pier at Cavite Navy Yardmarker in the Philippines. Commander Sherman's letter to the supply department on the inexplicable lack of toilet paper, based on an actual letter to the supply department of Mare Island Naval Shipyardmarker by Lieutenant Commander James Wiggin Coe of the submarine Skipjack , and the need to paint a submarine pink, due to the lack of enough red lead or white lead undercoat paint.

See also: 1959 in film

Box office performance

This film was a huge box office hit, making it the #3 moneymaker of 1960, earning $6,800,000.

1977 television series

The movie was adapted as an ABC-TV series which ran from Sept. 17, 1977 – Aug. 10, 1979. Initially starring John Astin in Cary Grant's role of Lieutenant Commander Sherman, the TV series was probably most notable for the casting of Tony Curtis' daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis, in the role of Lieutenant Duran, the female nurse that the Curtis character has married by the end of the original movie. Most of the cast was replaced for the show's second season, a decision that led to low ratings and cancellation. Only 24 episodes of the series were produced in total.

See also: 1977 in television

References

  1. When a film is released late in a calendar year (October to December), its income is reported in the following year's compendium, unless the film made a particularly fast impact (p. 17). The #1 film of 1960 was Ben-Hur ($17,300,000), and the #2 film was Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho ($8,500,000).


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