TCM Unearths Katharine Hepburn-Bob Hope Comedy — Their Only Movie Together — That’s Been Out of Circulation for More Than Four Decades

Oct 26, 2012  •  Post A Comment

A comedy feature that hasn’t been seen in more than four decades, starring Bob Hope and Katharine Hepburn, has been unearthed by TCM and will be aired next month, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The movie is the 1956 Cold War romance “The Iron Petticoat,” in which Hepburn plays a Soviet jet pilot and Hope is a U.S. Air Force officer. The film was noteworthy for being the focus of a bitter Hollywood feud.

It will premiere Thursday, Nov. 29, on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), as part of an arrangement with Hope Enterprises, which holds the rights to the movie. It will also be sold starting Nov. 19 as a limited-edition Blu-ray/DVD combo, available from TCM.

“As detailed by writer Roger Fristoe on the TCM website, ‘Iron Petticoat’ had a rocky production history, with the broadly comic Hope bringing in his own gag writers to rework the screenplay by sophisticated Oscar winner Ben Hecht (‘The Front Page,’ ‘His Girl Friday’),” THR reports.

“The original script borrowed heavily from MGM’s 1939 classic ‘Ninotchka’ (1939); in that film, written by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch and directed by Ernst Lubitsch, a humorless Soviet agent (Greta Garbo) is seduced by Western values and a Parisian playboy (Melvyn Douglas).”

Cary Grant was lined up to play the lead, but became unavailable and Hope was brought in — bringing with him his own ideas for the comedy.

“When the principals gathered in England for filming, Hope told Hecht he had ‘minor suggestions’ for improving his screenplay. In truth, that amounted to a complete rewrite, with a generous number of typical Hope jokes added. MGM would later grant Hecht’s request to have his name removed from the credits on the U.S. release,” THR reports.

The story adds: “At a reported cost of $275, Hecht took out a full-page advertisement in THR to address ‘My dear partner Bob Hope: This is to notify you that I have removed my name as author from our mutilated venture, “The Iron Petticoat.” Unfortunately, your other partner, Katharine Hepburn, can’t shy out of the fractured picture with me.’ He added that Hepburn’s ‘magnificent comic performance has been blowtorched out of the film.’”

Hope then took out his own full-page ad in THR, signing it “Bob (BlowTorch) Hope.”

Hope’s ad said: “My dear Ex-Partner Ben: You once wrote ‘The Front Page,’ and now you’ve followed it up with the back page … I am most understanding. The way things are going, you simply can’t afford to be associated with a hit. As for Kate Hepburn, I don’t think she was depressed with the preview audience rave about her performance.”

The movie was last screened in the West in 1966, the story notes. After that the negatives and all copies were handed over to Hope.

After The Iron Petticoat premiered in Europe in December 1956, its running time was trimmed for MGM’s U.S. release a month later. (TCM’s version has been remastered and restores it to the original British running time.) The movie, shot in VistaVision, remained with MGM until 1966, when it was last shown in the West and all the negatives and copies were turned over to Hope.

The movie — the only one in which Hope and Hepburn worked together — was a disappointment both at the box office and with critics, the report notes.

One Comment

  1. It’s a godawful movie! The pairing of Hope and Hepburn is a horrible mismatch. Still, fascinating stuff for movie buffs.

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