Steve McQueen Makes Use of “The Honeymoon Machine”

Before he played a sailor in The Sand Pebbles and gambled for high stakes in The Cincinnati Kid, Steve McQueen starred as a Naval officer gambling for big bucks in The Honeymoon Machine (1961). But whereas the later films were “A” list dramas, The Honeymoon Machine is a modest comedy intended as a showcase for its up-and-coming stars.

McQueen plays Lieutenant Fergie Howard, who hatches a scheme to take advantage of a state-of-the-art computer–the Magnetic Analyzer Computer Synchrotron–on board his ship. With the help of a scientific genius pal (Jim Hutton) and a gullible fellow officer (Jack Mullaney), Fergie plans to make a fortune playing the roulette wheel at a Venice casino.

Based on the outcomes of hundreds of roulette wheel spins, the computer can predict the three most likely winning numbers based on the result of the previous spin. Pretty soon, Fergie and his pals are rolling in cash. Their plan gets more complicated, though, when Fergie falls for an admiral’s daughter (Brigid Bazlen) and his scientist pal encounters an old flame (Paula Prentiss). Even worse, the admiral intercepts the ship-to-shore communications with the computer and thinks that high-level espionage is being plotted.

The screenplay for The Honeymoon Machine was written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and George Wells. It was based on Semple’s 1959 Broadway play The Golden Fleecing, which starred Tom Poston as Fergie. Constance Ford and (Poston’s future wife) Suzanne Pleshette played the female leads. The film version was Semple’s first big screen credit. He would go on to write major films such as Papillon (1973) and Three Days of the Condor (1975)–though he is best known for creating the original Batman TV series.

Steve McQueen was not the first choice to play Lt. Fergie Howard. MGM wanted Cary Grant for the part (yes, for a role originated by Tom Poston!). When Grant passed, the studio cast McQueen, who had just been signed to a three-picture deal. According to several sources, McQueen didn’t like The Honeymoon Machine and walked out of a screening of it. He certainly doesn’t put forth much effort on the screen. It’s not a bad performance, but clearly McQueen seems to be relying on little more than his natural charisma.

On the other hand, The Honeymoon Machine affords Jim Hutton, Paula Prentiss, and Jack Weston an opportunity to shine. Prentiss steals all her scenes as an heiress who dislikes wearing her glasses–though clearly she can see very little without them. Weston has a field day as a bourbon-loving sailor who imagines seeing Martians.

The always affable Hutton was paired with Paula Prentiss in five films. Their height had something to do with the casting–Hutton was 6’5″ and Prentiss 5’11”–but they also displayed an effective on-screen chemistry. They make The Honeymoon Machine an entertaining endeavor–though it’s one of those frothy 1960s comedies that once consumed is easily forgotten.

The irrelevant title is a reference to “Operation Honeymoon,” a missile project involving the computer in the opening scene of the movie. It has nothing to do with the rest of the film!

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!