Operation Petticoat: Wikis


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Operation Petticoat
Directed by Blake Edwards
Produced by Robert Arthur
Written by Paul King
Joseph J. Stone
Stanley J. Shapiro
Maurice Richlin
Starring Cary Grant
Tony Curtis
Dina Merrill
Music by David Rose
Henry Mancini (uncredited)
Cinematography Russell Harlan
Editing by Frank Gross
Ted J. Kent
Distributed by Universal International
Release date(s) December 5, 1959 (1959-12-05)
Running time 124 minutes
Country United States
Language English

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 includes 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.

Paul King, Joseph Stone, Stanley Shapiro, and Maurice Richlin were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing.



The film is told in flashback form as a recollection of Rear Admiral Matt Sherman (Cary Grant), the Commander of Submarine Forces Pacific (ComSubPac) in 1959. He boards the fictitious World War II-era American submarine USS Sea Tiger prior to its departure for the scrapyard. Having served as the first commanding officer of the Sea Tiger, he takes a seat in his former stateroom and begins reading his personal log, starting a flashback.

The Sea Tiger is sunk in shallow water by a Japanese aerial attack while docked at the U.S. Naval Base in Cavite in the Phillipines during the opening days of the Pacific War. Lieutenant Commander Sherman and his crew frantically begin repairs, hoping to be able to set sail before the Japanese overrun the port.

Self-centered Lieutenant (JG) Nick Holden (Tony Curtis), separated from his original posting, is reassigned to Sea Tiger. Holden demonstrates considerable skill as a scavenger and con artist to obtain the materials needed for the repairs. Holden and the captain clash several times due to Holden's attitude toward the Navy: it seems that he became an officer not out of patriotism, but to escape poverty and find a wealthy spouse. In fact, he is engaged to just such a woman.

The Sea Tiger manages to limp out to sea and reaches another Philippine island, where Sherman reluctantly agrees to evacuate a contingent of female Army nurses stranded there. Holden sets his sights on one of the nurses, Second Lieutenant Duran (Dina Merrill). Meanwhile, Sherman has a series of embarrassing encounters with the very well-endowed but clumsy Second Lieutenant Crandall (Joan O'Brien). This reaches its climax when Crandall arrives in the conning tower as Sherman is attempting to torpedo a fully-laden enemy oil tanker. She accidentally hits a button that launches the torpedo prematurely; it blows up a truck parked on the beach, much to the captain's embarrassment.

At the next stop, when Sherman is unable to obtain desperately needed supplies officially, he allows Holden to set up a casino to obtain what is needed. Holden steals a pig for himself, so when the indignant owner shows up with a military policeman in tow, Sherman is more than happy to trade some of Holden's possessions for the animal.

Because there is not enough red lead or white lead undercoat primer paint to cover the entire submarine, they have to mix the two together, resulting in a bright pink. The plan is to apply a second gray coat after a New Years dinner, but the Japanese attack in the middle of the celebration, forcing a hasty departure.

The pink Sea Tiger is attacked by an American destroyer force whose commanding officer is convinced that it is some Japanese trick. Sherman saves the day by firing the nurses' underwear out a torpedo tube. Crandall's bra is snagged by a grappling hook and taken to the commander, who concludes that it cannot be Japanese and calls off the attack.

The Sea Tiger limps into port, listing ... and pink ... to the hails and jeers of the crews of berthed vessels. This stops as the Sea Tiger shows its colors (hoists the ensign). In coming into port, the #1 engine belches smoke.

The story returns to the present. Sherman is met by Commander Nick Holden, his wife (Duran) and their sons. The admiral promises Holden command of a new nuclear-powered submarine, also named Sea Tiger. Sherman's wife (Crandall) arrives late, and driving too fast. She rear-ends her husband's staff car, which then locks bumpers with a bus in front. When the bus drives off, the staff car is towed along. Sherman, by now used to his wife's clumsiness, assures her that they will stop it at the gate.

As Commander Holden gives orders for the submarine to get underway to be scrapped, she once more belches black smoke, to which Admiral Sherman mutters, "Strange. Still that Number One engine. I guess they were never able to fix that."



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

The Sea Tiger was portrayed by three different American World War II-era submarines:

  • Queenfish (SS-393), in the opening and closing scenes (circa 1959), in which the "393" on the conning tower is visible,
  • Archerfish (SS-311), for all the World War II scenes where the boat was painted the standard gray and black,
  • Balao (SS-285), 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 (SS-195) 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 Skipjack (SS-184)), and the need to paint a submarine pink due to the lack of enough red or white lead undercoat paint.

Box office performance

This film was a huge box office hit, making it the #3 moneymaker of 1960, earning $6,800,000.[1]

1977 television series

The movie was adapted as an ABC-TV series which ran from September 17, 1977 to August 10, 1979.[2] 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.[citation needed] Only 24 episodes of the series were produced in total.


  1. ^ 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).
  2. ^ Brooks, Tim; Marsh, Earle (Oct. 1995) [1979] (trade paperback). 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. 

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