The Honeymoon Machine (1961)
I can only guess that Glenn Ford was unavailable for this military comedy from MGM. A genre that Ford frequently excelled in during the late fifties and on into the early 60’s. Perhaps the studio just wanted to go with a youth movement and didn’t bother attempting to recruit Ford and therefore cast the rising star, Steve McQueen, to take the leading role that sees him surrounded with a more than capable cast of costars including a scene stealing Jack Weston.
While I can’t quite figure out what the movie’s title really has to do with anything here, McQueen is a young officer on a navy ship under the command of Admiral Dean Jagger. McQueen’s a con artist who likes nothing better than gambling and women. The ship is currently running tests on recovering a rocket launched into orbit and with the help of scientist Jim Hutton and his master computer Max, he can pinpoint the mathematical equation of just where the rocket will fall back to earth after it’s orbital journey is through.
With the ship putting into scenic Venice and an off limits casino in town, McQueen convinces pal Hutton to use his master computer at beating the roulette wheel to make the boys a fortune. In order to succeed the boys launch a quietly skilled operation beginning with them donning their civilian clothes and enlisting Jack Mullaney into their scheme. The plan is to feed the results of the Casino’s roulette wheel to Max over a period of seven hours at which point Max will in turn hand out the three odds on favorite numbers to hit over the ensuing spins.
Everything seems on schedule until comedy interrupts.
First up is when McQueen meets Brigid Bazlen, A bold beauty who just happens to be the Admiral’s daughter and she’s caught McQueen’s eye. Hutton himself runs into ex-flame Paula Prentiss who is a delight here as a near sighted beauty caught up in one comical screen gag after another due to her short sightedness. Using coded signals from ship to shore and back again, the boys begin to cash in at the table but when Dean Jagger’s Admiral sees the ship sending signals to the shoreline, the roulette wheel is going to experience some major setbacks.
Jagger calls in the shore patrol and attempts to decipher the meaning of the numbers to no avail though some of the wording has him and his officers convinced that an attack is imminent but from who and where remains a mystery. Injected into the film is William Lanteau as both Hutton’s opponent for the hand of Paula and a U.S. Embassy official who is of course an ass that makes the hilarious mistake of continually calling Jagger by his unwelcomed nickname, Old Fog Horn.
Enter Jack Watson.
Watson is a member of the crew assigned to search the guest rooms of the casino which leads him to knock on the door of McQueen and company who have retreated to update Max and their winning system. Weston immediately recognizes McQueen who knows of Weston’s weakness for drink and loads him up with more than he can handle. A drunken Weston discovers the ship’s blinker in the room and things will only get funnier when he becomes convinced that martians may be involved. Yes martians!
Far from being a movie that one is likely to recall when discussing the career of McQueen, it’s actually a very enjoyable film of it’s type. I think we also have to consider the fact that in 1961 McQueen was still a young actor trying to find his place in cinema and comedy isn’t something we’d be seeing him frequent though he always had a knack for injecting some humor into his characterizations. James Garner is another actor that could easily have taken the reigns in this role. McQueen would return to the navy in the outstanding 1966 feature, The Sand Pebbles, for which he would receive his one and only Oscar nomination.
A hard film not to like thanks to Weston, Paula and Old Fog Horn or rather Old Pro Dean Jagger who is quite amusing as the befuddled Admiral worried not only about an impending attack but just who is the young man his daughter has been hanging out with all night in the Venice Casino. This was the second consecutive film to feature co-stars Hutton and Prentiss who had just appeared together in Where The Boys Are and one year later the pair would reunite again in another military comedy, The Horizontal Lieutenant.
There’s another “old pro” involved here and that’s the director, Richard Thorpe. Thorpe had been in the game since the silent era and had filmed everything from Tarzan flicks to musicals and a number of Robert Taylor epics during the 1950’s.
Looking for a copy of this odd entry in the career of cinema icon and noted “king of cool” Steve McQueen? I picked up mine via the Warner Archive Collection.