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Iron Petticoat, The (Blu-ray Review)

7 Jan, 2013 By: Mike Clark

Available via TCM.com
$29.99 BD/DVD combo
Not rated.
Stars Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn.

I can still remember as a child reading wire-service reportage of the Bob Hope-Ben Hecht squabble (originated by an ad taken out by screenwriter Hecht in The Hollywood Reporter) over the way the comic and his coterie of gag writers allegedly took a Hope/Katharine Hepburn comedy and trimmed/refurbished it into Hope’s image while reducing his co-star’s scenes.

Hope and Hepburn? Pause here for your eyes to bug out like a Tex Avery cartoon character over the mere existence of this obscurity — especially in light of the fact that until recent weeks via Turner Classic Movies airings, this half-heartedly released Technicolor comedy had never even been televised due to the fact that Hope (who secured rights) basically sat on it for decades.

Very much in the mode of Ninotchka, Comrade X and the arguably underrated Jet Pilot, it casts the stars as rival American and Soviet military pilots amid the latter’s gradual transformation into a capitalist of sorts who comes to appreciate sexier garb. Thanks to all that Hollywood tennis (I’m guessing), Hepburn’s athletic frame still looks terrific in a role that followed two consecutive Oscar-nominated performances (in 1955’s Summertime and then The Rainmaker, which had just opened as well). Otherwise, this may be her worst performance; her accent isn’t that far from Bela Lugosi’s in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda?

With the slightly straighter The Seven Little Foys, That Certain Feeling and the subsequent Beau James, Hope himself was venturing into new territory at the time — and this modest departure, directed by Ralph Thomas of the then popular Doctor in the House, feels much more like a standard British outing that just happens to have the leads it does. (They have slightly more on-camera rapport than they reportedly had off, but it’s only a matter of degree.)

MGM originally distributed a shorter version than this more official British cut — which, like several Brit pics but only a few non-Paramount Hollywood releases, was shot in the incomparable VistaVision. Thus, this rendering looks like a trillion dollars — every bit as stupendous as the Blu-rays I’ve seen of a couple other British films from the ’50s: Genevieve and (in VistaVision as well) The Battle of the River Plate. The result is well worth a look if you treat it strictly as a lab specimen, as opposed to a comedy that actually involves you.

Only slightly less bizarre than what’s on screen is the double bill Petticoat helped form when it came to my local 3,000-seater during the second week of January 1957. The co-feature was the Tom Ewell Little League comedy The Great American Pastime — certainly a combined ode to the stars and stripes if there ever was one.

About the Author: Mike Clark

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