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Operation Petticoat

Olive Films // Unrated // November 28, 2017
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted December 22, 2017 | E-mail the Author

"23 December, 1941: Sighted tanker, sank truck."

Set in the weeks following Pearl Harbor, Blake Edwards' Operation Petticoat (1959) remains an enjoyable WWII-themed comedy in which war takes a distant second. Like Ralph Nelson's Father Goose (also starring Grant, and released five years later), Petticoat's real battle is between the sexes, as our men on board the fictional "U.S.S. Sea Tiger" struggle to keep their raging hormones below sea level after rescuing five Army nurses during a repair run. Their cramped submarine is now a co-ed dorm, with Rear Admiral Matt Sherman (Grant) forced to play chaperone while adhering to the Navy's strict regulations. Meanwhile, the Sea Tiger's running on fumes, and Japanese forces are closing in quickly.

Clocking in at a not-always-brisk 120 minutes, Operation Petticoat takes too long to get going but runs at a steady clip once the ladies are on board; unfortunately, it's nearly an hour before that happens. Until then, the bulk of Petticoat's setup concerns the ailing ship, Sherman's men scrounging for replacement parts, and the somewhat unwelcome arrival of Lieutenant Nick Holden (Tony Curtis), who's just been assigned to the Sea Tiger despite his complete lack of experience. As Operation Petticoat takes shape, however, the pieces fall into place nicely and we're treated to a predictable but purely enjoyable comedy with no shortage of sexual tension: wisecracks eventually turn to mutual respect, ogling and cat-calls become actual conversations, and even a few sweet-natured relationships develop. It's the kind of premise that would have aged poorly without the third act, but Petticoat holds up nicely almost six decades later.

As usual, the majority of Operation Petticoat's enduring charm is purely due to Grant's presence; unlike Father Goose, he's taking the usual "perfectly groomed straight man" approach, trading in his suit and tie for a crisp Naval uniform that's as neatly tucked in as his libido. Curtis' turn as playboy Nick Holden offers a nice counterbalance: he turns on the heat just seconds after the ladies arrive, but learns to embrace his new position after Sherman keeps him on a short leash. The ladies---unofficially led by the "elder" 38-year-old Major Edna Heywood (Virginia Gregg) and buxom Second Lieutenant Dolores Crandall (Joan O'Brien)---turn in enjoyable performances as well, anchoring a supporting cast that also includes Dick Sargent, Gavin MacLeod, Marion Ross, and more. Though it's not exactly in the upper tier of Grant's filmography---and perpetually overshadowed by North by Northwest, released less than five months earlier---Operation Petticoat is an early career highlight for Blake Edwards and still offers a perfectly good time at the movies.

Olive's new Signature Edition Blu-ray aims to replace their own 2013 Blu-ray and does so with flying colors. Although it's not sourced from a new scan of the original negative like Olive's Signature Edition of Father Goose, there's been some restoration work done and it sounds quite impressive. There's also a well-rounded selection of brand new extras, including an audio commentary and retrospective interviews with some of the cast, crew, and their family members.

Though it apparently makes use of the same source material as their own 2013 Blu-ray, Olive's new Signature Edition of Operation Petticoat employs some obvious tweaking that yields a slightly more impressive 1080p image. Colors are most robust, well-balanced, and consistent than those on the earlier disc, along with slightly bolder black levels and a much more pronounced and natural grain structure overall. It's not exactly a complete improvement, however: no shortage of obvious dirt, debris, and other specks are easily spotted along the way, with the only forgivable moments during what's most likely short clips of stock footage. While a completely new scan would have made this a more definitive effort, it's certainly a step in the right direction and die-hard fans will be pleased with Operation Petticoat's appearance.

DISCLAIMER: The images on this page are decorative and do not represent the title under review.

Not to be outdone is the film's DTS-HD 2.0 mix (split mono), which sounds unusually robust for a film from this era. Dialogue is crisp and clear, with well-balanced background effects and a modest amount of depth at crucial moments. A handful of slight source and age-related issues can still be heard, but the impressive combat raids still pack some punch and even the quieter moments serve up a satisfying open-sea atmosphere. Optional English subtitles are included during the film, although I noticed at least a half-dozen typos and grammatical errors. Someone fall asleep on the job?

The interface includes chapter access, subtitle setup, and extras. Loading time is fast with no trailers or advertisements beforehand, aside from the company logo. Unlike standard Olive releases, this "Signature" line arrives in a clear keepcase with double-sided artwork, a matching slipsleeve, and a Booklet with an essay by film critic Chris Fujiwara.

Unlike the bare-bones 2013 Blu-ray, Olive's new Signature Edition of Operation Petticoat offers a number of fine extras. The first is an exclusive new Audio Commentary with film critic Adrian Marti, who talks about the contributions and early career of Blake Edwards, the forgotten popularity of war comedies, the 1970s TV series, the creative opening credits sequence, shooting at a naval base in Key West, scene breakdowns, character analysis and development, injury-free combat raids, the pink submarine, childbirth in war movies, and much more. It's a well-organized and informative track, balancing fun trivia about the cast and crew with technical comments for more serious fans.

Three recently shot Interviews are here as well. "That's What Everyone Says About Me" (11:29) features Blade Edwards' daughter Jennifer and actress Lesley Ann Warren, who talk about his professional career and personal life, childhood memories, and working with Edwards on Victor Victoria. "The Brave Crew of the Petticoat" (20:11) catches up with actors Gavin MacLeod [Yeoman Ernest Hunkle] and Marion Ross [Second Lieutenant Colfax] who discuss their memories of the film and other career highlights, although the 58-year gap results in a few foggy memories. Finally, "The Captain and His Double: Cary Grant's Struggle of the Self" (28:40) features Grant biographer Marc Eliot, who goes into modest detail about the leading man's life and career as a whole, obviously focusing a bit more on his later years.

Two historically-minded items round out the bonus features. A short Universal Newsreel (4:05), covering items of interest from December 13, 1959, shows clips from an address by President Eisenhower, the World premiere of Operation Petticoat at Radio City Music Hall, and even a few pro bowling highlights. Lastly, Archival Footage of the Submarine U.S.S. Balao (17:10) offers a nice tour of the WWII submarine used as Operation Petticoat's "U.S.S. Sea Tiger"; originally shot in 1945, it's presented in black and white with occasional text descriptions in lieu of voice-over narration.

Hugely popular in its day, Blake Edwards' early career highlight Operation Petticoat holds up quite well almost six decades later thanks to its enjoyable story, sharp dialogue, formidable sex appeal, wonderful lead and supporting performances, and a truly memorable atmosphere. Like Cary Grant's later film Father Goose, it carries the torch well for war comedies and has loads of charm. Olive's new Signature Edition Blu-ray easily one-ups their own 2013 Blu-ray with an improved A/V presentation and an impressive assortment of exclusive new bonus features. Though a bit on the pricey side like other titles in this line, Operation Petticoat is firmly Recommended for die-hard fans and newcomers alike.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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