Are you under the age of 50? If so, you’ve probably never seen “The Iron Petticoat,” well, unless you live in the U.K. that is. It’s notoriously one of the most elusive titles for fans of classic cinema, having never been shown on U.S. television nor released on home video. But now — 56 years after it was originally released – the movie will finally make its premiere on TCM later this year.
The 1956 Cold War comedy was directed by Ralph Thomas and starred Bob Hope (although the role was originally written for Cary Grant) and Katherine Hepburn, and focuses on Hepburn’s Russian jet pilot who lands in West Germany and is quickly converted to capitalism after spending time with Hope’s Major Lockwood. But hey, this isn’t all about political ideals, there’s also a love story in there as well. Essentially, it’s very much in the vein of “Ninotchka” (in fact they are so similar, it’s believed that Hope brought the project to MGM instead of Paramount for distribution, to avoid any possible lawsuits).
So why has it been gone for so long? Well, Lou Lumenick breaks down the entire sordid history at the New York Post, but we’ll give you the short version. Essentially, the film was an independent production, with rights falling between Hope, screenwriter Ben Hecht, producer Harry Saltzman and U.K. production company Romulus Films. While the picture was released in a 95-minute cut in the U.K., Americans received a shorter 83-minute version. When Hecht learned of this he became incensed, took his name off the movie, and placed a full-page ad in The Hollywood Reporter, talking directly to Hope about his displeasure with the film. Hope responded with a trade ad of his own, but with all this happening before the movie’s release, it poisoned the well, and “The Iron Petticoat” was trashed upon its release by critics and subsequently was left to the dusts of time (except for screenings at retrospectives here and there).
Well, TCM has cut through all the red tape, and the 95-minute version will air in September as part of a night of Cold War comedies. The channel is also sorting out the rights for the video release as well (the film has long been available in the U.K.) and may include the shorter cut as a bonus feature. Either way, this long-tangled-up film is finally seeing the light of day on this side of the ocean. Set your DVRs…