Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Blake Edwards|
|Produced by||Robert Arthur|
|Written by||Paul King
Joseph B. Stone
Stanley J. Shapiro
|Music by||David Rose
Henry Mancini (uncredited)
|Editing by||Frank Gross
Ted J. Kent
|Distributed by||Universal International|
|Running time||124 minutes|
|Box office||$9,500,000 (US/ Canada)|
Operation Petticoat is a 1959 comedy film directed by Blake Edwards, and starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. It was the basis for a television series in 1977 starring John Astin in Grant's role. The film tells in flashback from the misadventures of a fictional American submarine, the USS Sea Tiger, during the opening days of World War II.
Other members of the cast include several actors who went on to become television stars in the 1960s and 1970s: Gavin MacLeod of The Love Boat and McHale's Navy, Marion Ross of Happy Days, and Dick Sargent of Bewitched.
United States Navy Rear Admiral Matt Sherman (Cary Grant), ComSubPac in 1959, boards the pre- World War II-era American submarine USS Sea Tiger prior to its departure for the scrapyard. The first commanding officer of Sea Tiger, Sherman sits in his former stateroom and begins reading his personal logbook, starting a flashback.
A Japanese air raid sinks Sea Tiger while she is docked at the Cavite Navy Yard in the Philippines on 10 December 1941. Lieutenant Commander Sherman and his crew begin repairs, hoping to sail for Darwin, Australia before the Japanese overrun the port. Lieutenant (junior grade) Nick Holden (Tony Curtis) is reassigned to Sea Tiger despite lacking any submarine training or experience. He and Sherman clash over Holden's attitude toward the Navy; Sherman is a Naval Academy graduate and career officer, while Holden became a naval officer, not out of patriotism, but to escape poverty of the inner city and find a wealthy spouse . . . and he is engaged to such a woman. Holden demonstrates great skill as a scavenger and con artist to obtain materials for repairs, however, and becomes the ship's supply officer.
The unpainted Sea Tiger—its backfiring #1 engine still producing black smoke—reaches Marinduque, where Sherman reluctantly agrees to evacuate five female Army nurses stranded there. Holden is attracted to Second Lieutenant Duran (Dina Merrill), while Sherman has a series of embarrassing encounters with the well-endowed but clumsy Second Lieutenant Crandall (Joan O'Brien). When Sherman prepares to attack an enemy oiler, Crandall accidentally launches the torpedo prematurely, blowing up a truck on the beach.
Sherman tries to leave the nurses at Cebu, but the Army refuses to accept them, as it is preparing for guerrilla warfare to oppose the coming Japanese occupation. When Sherman is unable to obtain needed supplies officially, he allows Holden to set up a casino to get them. The crew does not have enough red lead or white lead primer paint to coat the entire submarine in a single color, so the two have to be mixed together, resulting in a bright pink. The plan is to apply a second, gray coat after a New Year's Eve celebration, but a Japanese aerial attack forces a hasty departure.
Tokyo Rose mocks the mystery pink submarine in the Celebes Sea, while the Navy believes the submarine's color is a Japanese trick and orders that it be sunk on sight. An American destroyer fires depth charges at Sea Tiger, but (on Holden's suggestion) Sherman shoots the nurses' underwear out a torpedo tube. The destroyer's crew finds Crandall's bra and takes it to the captain, who concludes that it cannot be Japanese and stops the attack.
The arrival of Commander Holden, his wife (the former Lieutenant Duran), and their sons in present day-1959 interrupts Sherman's reminiscences. As current commanding officer of Sea Tiger, Holden asks if there are any "last minute reprieves" to save her from the scrapyard. Reluctantly, the admiral replies no, but at the same time promises Holden command of a new nuclear-powered submarine, also to be named Sea Tiger. Sherman's wife (Crandall) arrives late and rear-ends her husband's staff car, bumping it into the rear bumper of a Navy bus, which then drives away, dragging the admiral's staff car in tow with the Chief Petty Officer who is the admiral's driver chasing after it. As Holden takes Sea Tiger out of the port for scrapping, her #1 engine again backfires and emits black smoke one last time, causing Sherman to comment, "Strange. Still that number one engine. I guess they were never able to fix that.".
- Cary Grant as Lieutenant Commander (later Rear Admiral) Matthew T. "Matt" Sherman, USN
- Tony Curtis as Lieutenant JG (later Commander USN) Nicholas "Nick" Holden, USNR
- Joan O'Brien as Second Lieutenant Dolores Crandall, NC, USAR
- Dina Merrill as Second Lieutenant Barbara Duran, NC, USAR
- Gene Evans as Chief Petty Officer Molumphry, USN
- Dick Sargent as ENS Stovall, USN (listed as Richard Sargent)
- Arthur O'Connell as Chief Machinist's Mate Sam Tostin, USN
- Virginia Gregg as Major Edna Heywood, NC, USA, the nurses' commander
- Robert F. Simon as Captain J.B. Henderson, USN
- Robert Gist as Lieutenant Watson, USN
- Gavin MacLeod as Seaman Ernest Hunkle, USN
- George Dunn as The Prophet (of Doom)
- Dick Crockett as Petty Officer Harmon, USN
- Madlyn Rhue as Second Lieutenant Reid, NC, USAR
- Marion Ross as Second Lieutenant Colfax, NC, USAR
- Clarence Lung as Sergeant Ramon Gallardo, USMC (as Clarence E. Lung)
- Frankie Darro as Pharmacist Mate 3rd Class Dooley, USN
- Tony Pastor, Jr. as Fox
- Robert F. Hoy as Reiner
- Nicky Blair as Seaman Kraus
- John W. Morley as Williams
- Ray Austin as Seaman Austin
Curtis took credit for the film's inception. He had joined the Navy during World War II with the intent of entering the submarine service, in part because Grant, his hero, appeared in Destination Tokyo (1943). After he became a star, Curtis suggested making a film in which Grant would stare into a periscope as he did in Tokyo. Curtis very much enjoyed working with Grant.
The film was produced with extensive support of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Navy. Most of the filming was done in and around Naval Station Key West, now the Truman Annex of Naval Air Station Key West, Florida, which substituted for the Philippines and Australia. Filming for the period suggesting postwar 1959 was done at Naval Station San Diego, California.
USS Sea Tiger was portrayed by three different American World War II-era submarines:
- USS Queenfish, in the opening and closing scenes (circa 1959), in which the "393" on the conning tower is visible,
- USS Archerfish, for all the World War II scenes where the boat was painted the standard gray and black,
- USS Balao, for all the scenes in which Sea Tiger was painted pink.
Historical basis 
Some of the plot points of the movie were based on real-life incidents, such as:
- the sinking of the submarine USS Sealion at the pier at Cavite Navy Yard 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 Shipyard by Lieutenant Commander James Wiggin Coe of the submarine USS Skipjack),
- the need to paint a submarine pink due to the lack of enough red or white lead undercoat paint. The heat from the burning Sealion also scorched off the black paint of the nearby USS Seadragon and for a time this boat fought with only her red lead undercoat visible. This led Tokyo Rose to disparage American "red pirate submarines."
- the torpedoing of a bus by the U.S.S. Bowfin
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 September 17, 1977 to August 10, 1979. Initially starring John Astin in Grant's role of Lieutenant Commander Sherman, the TV series was probably most notable for the casting of Tony Curtis' daughter, Jamie Lee Curtis as Lieutenant Duran. Most of the cast was replaced for the show's second season, a decision that led to low ratings and cancellation. Only 32 episodes of the series (22 in season 1, 10 in season 2) were produced in total.
- "All-time top film grossers", Variety 8 January 1964 p 37. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to film distributors not total money earned at the box office..
- Private Screenings: Tony Curtis. Turner Classic Movies, 19 Jan 1999.
- United States Submarine Operations in World War II, p. 71
- Steinberg, Cobbett (1980). Film Facts. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 23. ISBN 0-87196-313-2. 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).
- Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (Oct. 1995) . The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present (Sixth ed.). New York: Ballantine Books, a Division of Random House, Inc. p. 780. ISBN 0-345-39736-3.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Operation Petticoat|
- Operation Petticoat at the Internet Movie Database
- Operation Petticoat at AllRovi
- Operation Petticoat at the TCM Movie Database
- Historic reviews, photo gallery at CaryGrant.net