Upon hearing the news of Tony Cutis’ death I was reminded of one of Hollywood’s funniest comedic military films “Operation Petticoat.”
Interestingly, Tony Curtis actually served aboard a submarine for three years in WW II. He “caught the acting bug” while attending signalman school. When discharged after the war, he used his GI bill to attend acting school. He lobbied hard to get his part in “Operation Petticoat” because he wanted to work with Cary Grant who he admired immensely and credited Grant with inspiring him to be an actor from watching all his films as a kid.
As a retired army officer I am often interested in not only the serious military movie genre films, but also in the comedic military genre films as well. Although war is a serious business, any veteran will tell you that much of their time in the military is punctuated by comedic episodes. To that end, I enjoy the comic side of war immensely depicted in film.
Blake Edwards’ 1959 “Operation Petticoat” starred 2 great Hollywood comedy icons of the era, Cary Grant as Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman, and Tony Curtis as Lt. JG Nicolas Holden. A submarine the “Sea Tiger”newly commissioned is damaged in the opening days of WW II. Cary Grant as Lt. Cmdr. Matt T. Sherman, looking for a command insists he can get it to a dockyard where it can be repaired quickly and put into the fight. He relies on Tony Curtis as Lt. JG Nicolas Holden who is his very “effective” but unscrupulous supply officer to get the parts necessary to get the sub underway quickly. While in the dockyard Curtis character, ever on the lookout for a “good time” befriends a group of 5 Army nurses. Just as repairs are about complete, the dockyard comes under a Japanese air attack forcing the nurses, some island natives, and a goat to come aboard while the sub puts out to sea. How funny can it get? Trying to get a primer coat on the sub, the crew had to mix white and red in order to have enough. When forced to flee the dock during the attack, they find themselves with the world's only pink submarine, still with 5 women and a goat aboard in the tight quarters of a submarine you can imagine what high jinks ensue in this great comedy!
Some back story facts about the film are very interesting:
Originally the film was to be a “low budget” back lot shoot in black and white which doesn’t make much sense since a major plot device is that this is a comedy about a pink submarine! Once Cary Grant signed on to the film, the studio increased the budget and went with color film stock and did much of the shoot on location in the Florida Keys. Grant decided to own a substantial piece of the film and wound up making a handsome profit, more than he previously did on any other movie, of over 3 million dollars since the film was a huge box office success and popular with the film critics.
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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 form 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.