The Steve McQueen movie that Steve McQueen hated

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From my reading of various Steve McQueen biographies, I’ve always assumed the star’s little-seen 1961 comedy “The Honeymoon Machine” was a hopeless bomb.

McQueen got top billing, but the picture came out two years before “The Great Escape” launched him into the stratosphere, making him one of the biggest stars of the 1960s and 1970s.

Tha actor never did another out-and-out comedy — although there was plenty of sly humor in such hits as “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968) and “The Reivers” (1969) — and if you trust such Internet sources as IMDB, McQueen was right to steer clear of another farce.

Perhaps the bad buzz has begun to disperse over the past year that the movie has been available on DVD from the wonderful video-made-on-order service, the Warner Archive (www.wbshop.com).

“The Honeymoon Machine” is by no means an undiscovered classic, but it is consistently amusing and it goes just a little farther out for laughs than you might expect from an early 1960s Hollywood studio product.

The picture was based on a play by Lorenzo Semple Jr., who would go on to write the devilish 1968 black comedy “Pretty Poison” and the very funny 1980 Dino DeLaurentiis version of “Flash Gordon” (he also wrote two of the best paranoid thrillers of the 1970s — “The Parallax View” in 1974 and “Three Days of the Condor” the following year).

McQueen did nothing to be embarrassed about in “The Honeymoon Machine” — he’s charming and funny heading up a good cast that includes Paula Prentiss (below), Jim Hutton, Jack Weston and Brigid Bazlen.

The plot is a piffle about a group of Navy men — led by Lt. Ferguson “Fergie” Howard (McQueen) — who decide to use a government computer to win big at a Venice casino. While in the middle of these shenanigans, Fergie falls for the gorgeous daughter of an admiral — played by the delightful Brigid Bazlen who made three movies in her late teens and then retired.

Some of the best scenes in the movie are powered by Paula Prentiss as a near-sighted heiress who wants to marry one of the schemers (Jim Hutton) who won’t say yes until he has money of his own.

Prentiss was launched by MGM the previous year in “Where the Boys Are” where her sexy good looks and terrific comic timing caused the studio to put her into “The Honeymoon Machine” and “The Horizontal Lieutenant” right away.

Paired with Hutton in all three MGM pictures, Prentiss had a brainy, spacy style somewhat reminiscent of Jean Arthur but the studio system was coming to a close just when she was getting started, and this marvelous actress soon had to go out on her own, with mixed results.

Broadway and film veteran Jack Weston shows up in the second half of the movie for some great physical comedy as an inebriated signalman.

It’s hard to see why McQueen was so down on “The Honeymoon Machine” unless he felt the other players were stealing scenes from him. Once he became a star, McQueen moved in the direction of cool underacting and stories in which he could be a lone wolf rather than a team player.

Joe Meyers

One Response

  1. Rich says:

    Great piece. Now I want to see this movie, it sounds like fun!