Olive Films continues to add to its long array of impressive releases; the company that began with a nice catalog of overlooked gems with great stars (including Bogart in The Enforcer, Cagney in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye) and spilled out into wonderful genre releases (Commando Cody - Sky Marshal of the Universe, The Colossus of New York) has previously tried to encroach on deluxe Criterion-level territory with superior editions in the Olive Signature series, stuffed with extras, notably The Quiet Man, Johnny Guitar, and High Noon.
After a hiatus and retooling the Signature series is back this month with a pair of Cary Grant films, Father Goose (not received for screening, but a promised new 4K scan from original negative) and this one, a delightful, oft-hilarious film that's too often overlooked or denigrated because, frankly, Cary Grant and director Blake Edwards both made many, many excellent comedies that are screen classics and this one is one of many "service comedies" and is rather sexist to boot. It's also funny as hell.
Grant is an admiral tasked with junking an old, broken-down sub, the Sea Tiger, which he had happened to captain during the opening weeks of WWII. Re-reading his old ship's log, he takes us back to one of the wackiest ships in the submarine fleet, a bucket of junk held together by mechanic Arthur O'Connell's savvy and bailing wire and whatever spare parts slippery Lt. Tony Curtis can rustle up from his various capers.
Cap'n Grant: "Can we make it?"
O'Connell: "Well, we got number one engine in shape. Number two I'll tell you about after we get it put back together again."
Cap'n: "How about three and four?"
O'C: "Well, I've been using them for parts for one and two."
During the course of the film, the straight-laced captain learns to loosen up a bit, while the devil-may-care lieutenant learns to take his duties a bit more seriously. Helping them both along are a bevy of nurses, stranded on the submarine and the object of much of the humor and all of the stares. The ladies include Marion Ross (later from TV's Happy Days), Joan O'Brien, and Virginia Gregg; seamen include Gavin MacLeod (whose nautical career including captaining The Love Boat, Frankie Darro, and Dick "No, the other Darrin" Sargent.
But the film, of course, succeeds because of its two great stars; Curtis idolized Grant, particularly his 1943 submarine film, Destination Tokyo, and when Jeff Chandler turned down the role of the captain (he thought the film was too smirky in the sex department, although these days it seems positively tame) Curtis lobbied for Cary, who bought a piece of the film for his production company (netting himself a $3 million payday; the film was the #3 box office hit of 1960, trailing only Ben-Hur and Psycho). Both men were coming off huge hits (North by Norhtwest for Cary, Some Like it Hot for Tony) and are in top form here. Director Blake Edwards famously said that there's no such thing as "acting"; it's REACTING, and of course Grant was one of the great re-actors in film history. This is one of his funniest performances and the film itself is never less than amusing and often hilarious.
For the Signature release (which will be limited to 3500 copies), Olive has cleaned up and revised its prior Blu-ray release of the film of a couple of years ago, and it definitely shows an improvement. The big news here are the extras, including informative audio commentary by Adrian Martin, features lasting from 11 to 20 minutes with Jennifer Edwards (Blake's daughter) and actress Lesley Ann Warren on Blake, interviews with Gavin MacLeod and Marion Ross, thirty minutes of Grant biographer Marc Eliot recounting the life of the star, a great Universal newsreel covering the film's premiere at Radio City Music Hall (plus a nice speech by Pres. Eisenhower, too), and several reels of WWII-era footage of one of the submarines used in the film, plus an essay by writer Chris Fujiwara (that's written in while letters on pink paper - c'mon, Olive, did you really think we could read that?)
Our In The Balcony "Best Release of 2016" award went to an Olive Signature release, Orson Welles' production of Macbeth, and we're hoping that the Signature line continues throughout the upcoming months to great success. Already announced: A New Leaf and Letter from an Unknown Woman.
As for Operation Petticoat, it's a terrific comedy that should be overlooked no longer, and one of our favorite releases of the year. Recommended and how!