The Iron Petticoat (1957)
The Iron Petticoat (1957)

Genre: Romantic Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 27 min.

Release Date: January 7th, 1957 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Ralph Thomas Actors: Bob Hope, Katharine Hepburn, Noelle Middleton, James Robertson Justice, Robert Helpmann, David Kossoff, Alan Gifford, Nicholas Phipps, Sandra Dorne

 


 

A

t the U.S. Air Force headquarters in Germany, an unidentified craft – possibly a Russian jet – flying through sensitive airspace requires the scrambling of planes to investigate. A woman, the heavily-decorated pilot Captain Vinka Kovelenko (Katharine Hepburn), is intercepted and brought to the commanding officer (Alan Gifford) for an interrogation. At first, he assumes she’s a political refugee from behind the Iron Curtain, but it turns out she’s not anti-communism; instead, she’s fed up with a fellow soldier getting a promotion over her. Such a blatant case of discrimination would not have happened if Stalin were still around.

“We don’t go in for brainwashing, captain.” Although Captain Chuck Lockwood (Bob Hope) is about to go on leave to London, he’s reassigned to soften up the newcomer, who could be a valuable tool against the enemy. He’s reluctant, upset about missing out on an opportunity to see his fiancee Constance Warburton-Watts (Noelle Middleton), but no one else is qualified to handle the prisoner. “Take her to dinner and sell her America.”

The premise is flimsy and barely makes sense; the seriousness of politics during the era are dismissed for an impractical, light romance. It’s also difficult to get used to Hepburn’s overdone accent (at times sounding as if a Bela Lugosi impression). Additionally, there’s little chemistry between the two leads at the start; it may be intentional, but it’s abrasive nonetheless. At least the duo clumsily believe they are persuading each other to defect, even though their patriotism is unshakeable, and the music by Benjamin Frankel is adventurous, lending prominent notes to the soundtracks of the Indiana Jones series.

“Your face reminds me how vile even a Russian can be.” Some of the insults are creative, but many of the conversations are bland and dry, particularly when discourse turns political. “The Iron Petticoat” is meant to be an airy comedy, sprinkled with slapstick and love-triangle hilarities, but much of it fails to inspire laughs, or merely remains moderately uncomfortable. The fact that Lockwood seems to purposely create a wedge between himself and his fiancee – or does nothing to alleviate her obvious jealousy – makes him out to be of questionable morality. It’s as if he’s trying to rid himself of Constance, while contradictorily hurrying up with their marriage certificate.

A good portion of the film resembles “My Fair Lady,” as Vinka steadily discards her severe demeanor and masculine garb for warmer smiles and lacy undergarments, while also exhibiting a “Ninotchka” flavor, though its occasional derivative qualities don’t help it feel any less muddled or insipid. Even a kidnapping ploy riddled with comic ineptitudes can’t spice up the proceedings. Weirdly, the progression of events just happens, unconcerned with pacing, sensible continuity, an abundance of overly suspicious actions, resolutions for major characters, or the ill-fitting nature of humor combined with violent abduction and treason. This leads to Vinka’s eventual realization of Chuck’s relationship betrayal – and the harsh consequences of desertion (aka “Soviet justice”). In the end, as the situations spiral out of control, “The Iron Petticoat” proves to be disastrously unfunny, even with its satisfying final shot.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10