Operation Petticoat (Blake Edwards / U.S., 1959):

The one about the pink submarine, though not before the opening credits give an aquatic glimpse of Cary Grant and Tony Curtis as a serene, striped fish and a whiskered, twitchy seal, respectively. (A snorting hog in coat and cap later has its part to play, too.) Blake Edwards’ recherché allegory of old and new orders in the South Pacific avails itself of They Were Expendable and Saps at Sea alike, the war is sketched as a period of wholesale scrounging in the face of toilet paper shortage. "A periscope sitting on top of a couple thousand tons of scrap metal" describes the vessel, gurgling its way to the Philippines after a blessing from the witch doctor; Grant’s veteran commander tries to hold it together, his opposite number is the wheeler-dealing lieutenant (Curtis) who arrives in pristine whites but is more than ready to get black-market grease on his hands. "Tell me, why did you join the Navy?" "I needed a uniform." Narrow passageways tangle cannily within widescreen rectangles, but the close-quarters mise en scène isn’t complete until a quintet of nurses comes aboard, complete with unmentionables hung to dry in the engine room. The upstart debates pajama tops and bottoms with the thoughtful blonde (Dina Merrill), the sexist machinist (Arthur O'Connell) has much to learn from the major's (Virginia Gregg) girdle, the captain marvels at the effect the bodacious klutz (Joan O'Brien) has on the torpedo-launching controls. In between air raids there's Curtis in oversized panama hat lording over an island casino and Gene Evans approving the salty twist given to Hell and High Water's tattoo gag, Edwards keeps it all on a handsomely even keel derived from Grant's immaculate deadpan. The brassiere floats to the surface to save the day ("The Japanese haven't got anything like that!"), the flag flaps over the rosy U-boat, such are the wonders of the "goddamn Navy," as Altman would say. What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? advances the line of thought. With Dick Sargent, Robert F. Simon, Robert Gist, Gavin MacLeod, and Marion Ross.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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