Karavansara

East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The Hepburn & Tracy Blogathon: The Iron Petticoat, 1956

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THE SPENCER TRACY AND KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON IS HERE, and despite my fevered state, here I am to do a post about the wonderful Katharine Hepburn, and one of her films.
Not one of her best films.
Not by a long shot.
But what the heck, it’s got Katharine Hepburn in it, so it can’t be bad, right?

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But first, please direct your browser to the In the good old days of classic Hollywood blog and get a full list of the participating blogs.
Enjoy the sights, read the posts, discover or re-discover movies that are well worth a view.
Yes, even The Iron Petticoat, the 1956 movie we’ll be talking about here, on Karavansara.
The movie Greta Garbo called

the worst film I have ever seen

Nice, uh?

Confessions of a classic movie lover: I usually found Bob Hope distinctively not funny.
The Bob Hope movies I like can be counted on the tips of my thumbs.
The Iron Petticoat, a 1956 British movie, is not one of those.
But there is Katharine Hepburn, and that’s enough for me.
Let’s check out the trailer…

“Stop the projection machine! There must be some mistake!”

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What an ugly poster!

Yes, the mistake is trying to redo Hernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka replacing Garbo with Hepburn and Bob Hope replacing Melvyn Douglas.
Or maybe it’s a remake of Joseph von Sternberg’s Jet Pilot replacing Janet Leigh with Hepburn and John Wayne with Bob Hope.
Or maybe there’s a few stray bits of King Vidor’s Comrade X, replacing Hedi Lamarr with Hepburn and Clark Gable with Bob Hope.

I guess you see the problems here: while Katharine Hepburn was a great, versatile actress and she was fully capable of taking on Garbo, Leigh and Lamarr both one-on-one and as a group, sadly Bob Hope was no no Douglas, no Wayne, no Gable.
And yet…

The plot: Russian jet pilot Hepburn lands in a US Air Base and US pilot Hope is assigned to be her watchdog, with a 100.000$ reward should he be able to convince her defect.
Many shenanigans ensue as the Soviet woman discovers the joys of silk slinkies and love for Bob Hope and the American Way of Life.

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The screenplay was by Ben Hecht, the guy that had written Front Page, Scarface, Gunga Din1, Wuthering Heights, Notorious, and had done uncredited screenplay doctor jobs for Gone with the Wind, His Girl Friday, The Sun Also Rises, Mutiny on the Bounty, Casino Royale, and The Greatest Show on Earth.
Hecht was no hack, and reportedly Hepburn loved his original script for Not for Money (the original title of The Iron Petticoat), that she hand-picked Ralph Thomas as a director, based on her liking his comedy Doctor in the House.

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Another ugly poster.

Now, it would be easy to dismiss Thomas as no replacement for Lubitsch, von Sternberg or Vidor, but he was a solid professional, with a long run of successful, highly popular comedies.
He had his directing chops all right.

The prblem was Hepburn’s counterpart.
Hepburn wanted Cary Grant to play the male lead, or possibly either James Stewart or William Holden.
And what a smash of a movie it would have been, had one of them accepted.
But all of them turned the script down.
And in walked Bob Hope, who liked the script and apparently wanted to leave the USA for a while.
The pairing looked wild enough to the production they decided to go with it.

But then Bob Hope asked for a rewrite of the script – to put more jokes in for him, and cutting what both Hepburn and Hecht considered Hepburn best scenes. He menaced he’d leave the production should his requests not be agreed upon.
Hope brought in seven of his writers to redo the script, and in the end Hecht asked his name to be removed from the credits.
The title was also changed.

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We were not joking about silk slinkies.

Director Thomas recalled…

I can’t really say I directed the picture. I refereed it. Each star would come on the set each day with a different piece of script. Each was happy with the scene he had – until they compared notes!

What had started as a sophisticate, almost-screwball comedy morphed into a Bob Hope movie – silly jokes and all. Hepburn was not pleased, but being a professional she carried on2, keeping her outbursts to a minimum.
In one occasion, Bob Hope menaced her “If you don’t behave yourself. I’ll tell everyone that you are Audrey Hepburn’s father!”
She on the other hand described him as “the biggest egomaniac with whom I have ever worked in my entire life,” and avoided talking about the movie.
Go and talk about strained relationships.

the-iron-petticoat

A distinctively unfunny, sometimes embarrassing movie, the critics hated it.

“Miss Hepburn’s Russian affectations and accent are simply horrible, and Mr. Hope’s wistful efforts with feeble gags to hold his franchise as a funny man are downright sad. The notion of these two characters falling rapturously, romantically in love is virtually revolting. If this was meant to be a travesty, it is.”

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The French poster shows there’s no way of doing a good poster for this movie.

And yes, that accent is inexcusable.
The movie was a financial disaster, barely recapping its cost – probably the only Bob Hope vehicle to bomb, according to producer Harry Saltzman.
Unavailable in the US for fifty years and rarely shown on TV, the movie is now part of the Turner Classic Movies archive.
Good luck catching it (you can check out Youtube) – and don’t say you were not warned.


  1. a Karavansara favorite 
  2. which reminds me, Thomas also directed a few Carry On movies… 
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Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

12 thoughts on “The Hepburn & Tracy Blogathon: The Iron Petticoat, 1956

  1. I can’t remember the movie, have it an italian edition?

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  2. Pingback: THE SPENCER TRACY AND KATHARINE HEPBURN BLOGATHON IS HERE – In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood.

  3. I am not a fan of Bob Hope either. I just don’t find him that funny. I would have loved to see the film as it was originally written. I still don’t think Hepburn would have been a believable Russian, but pairing her with Hope just makes the whole film painfully ridiculous. I’ve always been fascinated by Russian history and culture, but overall I think Hollywood rarely gets Russia right. And yes, that includes Ninotchka which I found painful to watch.

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    • Ninotchka has not aged well – Garbo is always a wonder to behold, but apart from that, it’s not the first Garbo movie I’d choose to see.
      And I agree – the Hepburn-Hope pairing is terrible.
      Cary Grant, or even James Stewart (that had been a real flyboy during the war) would have made quite a difference. In some alternate universe, the movie goers enjoyed a great show.

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  4. I’ve tried to watch this film, but I couldn’t make it all the way through. It was just too painful.

    However, you’ve done your readers a great service by warning people away from it. I’m serious!

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  5. I ahven’t got the nerve to watch this movie yet, but when I do I’ll certainly be enviosioning Cary Grant as the male lead. Kate Hepburn could do anything, and it’s too bad Bob Hope spoils the picture. I’ve watched few of his movies, and in the Hope-Crosby partnership, I’ve always preferred Bing Crosby.
    Cheers!
    Le

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  6. Thanks for joining in on the blogathon with a great piece Davide. I’m really sorry for the late reply. I’ve been sick with bad headaches again. I agree that this is known as Kate’s “Swan Song”, but honestly, I didn’t really mind this movie at all. I’m not a big fan of Bob Hope either, so I agree with you.

    I’ve also announced another blogathon, and would love to invite you to participate. Here is the link below with more details.

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