Director: David MacDonald
Screenplay: Lew Schwarz, with Charlie Drake
Starring: Charlie Drake, Anne Heywood, Cecil Parker, John Turner, Thorley Walters
Running Time: 82 mins
BBFC Classification: U
Comedian, singer and actor Charlie Parker takes the lead as a loveable but lecherous stoker who, frustrated with being overlooked by Naval officers for so long and never getting to go to sea properly, tries to improve his career prospects by attempting to foil an all-female mutiny aboard the Royal Navy frigate, Huntress. He ends up on the ship with them, through a bizarre set of circumstances, which includes him having to dress up as a woman, and ends up trying to lead the few men, who were aboard the ship when it was taken over by the mutinous Wrens, in revolt.
Petticoat Pirates wasn’t a success on its initial theatrical release and it’s easy to see why. It’s obvious from the start that the filmmakers aren’t quite sure what sort of film they want to make. On one level Charlie Drake is mugging it up for all his worth, obviously harking back to his children’s entertainer days; at another level it’s trying to be ‘Carry On at Sea’ and, at yet another higher level, the film has some serious social messages to make about the role of women in the armed forces and further afield.
Drake isn’t really charismatic enough as leading man material, he’s more a Vaudeville type of slapstick comedy performer and, although he’s mildly amusing, he tries too hard to be funny, even down to a weird little affected walk he does. The rest of the cast are more fun to watch and there are some genuinely enjoyable performances from the likes of Cecil Parker, Anne Heywood and even Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper.
The naval men are generally quite annoying, constantly patronizing the women and saying things like ‘There’s a good girl’ and ‘isn’t it enough for you to be just a beautiful girl?’ No wonder the women were so desperate to prove themselves to their male counterparts! And the best parts of the film generally involve the women getting one over on the men, although it all turns a little too predictable in the end with the poor Wrens nearly all suffering from terrible sea sickness near the end and having to rely on a few hardier men to save the day! For a film which is quite feminist in many ways, it loses the moral high ground at this point, as if the writers decided they may have gone too far with all this ‘women’s rights nonsense’!
Considering this is a U certificate it contains quite a few adult themes and has short-arse Charlie spying on the girls at gym class and later in the showers and also in their dorm when he’s trapped in with them, surrounded by nubile young ladies lounging around in their undies.
The film is well shot and obviously had a decent budget, with the filmmakers themselves receiving quite a bit of cooperation from the Royal Navy, which all adds extra value to its look. The problem is Drake breaks the fourth wall a few times, conferring with the audience, which might work ok with pantomime, but here only reminds you that you’re watching a performance. Drake’s also included a couple of weird dream sequences which add nothing really to the film and slow the drama down too much. But all’s well in the end as Charlie saves the day, repairing the ship’s radar system, which was damaged in the storm that caused all the seasickness. Although he does end being stuck on top of it as it goes round and round the rest of the night!
The picture quality and sound are pretty decent, considering the film is now over 50 years old, and it’s nice to see that Network Distributing are putting films like this one out, even if it’s not really all that good.
I suspect fans of Charlie Drake will lap this up and, as a bit of British film history, it’s good to have the chance to see it. Add an extra half star if you’re a fan of British comedy from the Sixties.
Reviewer: Justin Richards
Petticoat Pirates is released on DVD in the UK on 27th January and is being distributed by Network Distributing. Unfortunately the only extras on the disc were a few (about 20) stills from the film and the film’s trailer. It’s just a pity we couldn’t have had some sort of documentary to accompany the film, perhaps talking to film experts and/or some members of the crew to put it into context and/or share anecdotes with us about the film itself. I’d much rather find out more about films like this one than about the average blockbuster that’s out today.