Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Honeymoon Machine (1961)

THE HONEYMOON MACHINE is a rib-tickling comedy with a bright, engaging cast. It's been recently released by the Warner Archive in a remastered widescreen DVD, and it gets my vote as a very good time indeed.

Nothing says "'60s romantic comedy" like a colorful animated title sequence, which announces a cast including Steve McQueen, Paula Prentiss, Jim Hutton, Dean Jagger, and more.

McQueen plays a navy lieutenant on leave in Venice who gets the crazy idea to use a top-secret navy computer to help him win at roulette. (Don't ask, just go with it.) He's aided by civilian computer guru Hutton and another lieutenant, played by Jack Mullaney.

In a single day and night in a Venice hotel and casino, McQueen falls for the daughter (Brigid Bazlen) of an admiral (Jagger) and Hutton reunites with an old flame (Prentiss); meanwhile, the use of the computer almost triggers an international incident.

There's not a whole lot more to the plot, but it's played to the hilt by the actors, and some of the climactic comedy scenes with Jagger are laugh-out-loud funny. The movie is admittedly fairly silly but I spent a really enjoyable 87 minutes watching it.

Particular kudos go to Prentiss, as an elegant klutz who's blind as a bat without her glasses. She's absolutely delightful. Prentiss and Hutton had previously appeared together in WHERE THE BOYS ARE (1960) and later in 1961 they costarred with Bob Hope in another essential early '60s comedy, BACHELOR IN PARADISE.

Bazlen is cute as McQueen's romantic interest. This was her first feature film, after a couple of TV appearances. She also appeared in KING OF KINGS (1961) and HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962), then disappeared from the screen after a couple more TV roles. She was just 44 when she passed away in 1989.

McQueen and Hutton are just fine, of course, and Jagger shows a delicious comic touch as the dense admiral, "Old Foghorn." They're supported by Jack Weston, Ken Lynch, and William Lanteau.

The movie was directed by longtime MGM director Richard Thorpe, whose career stretched from silent movies to 1967. While at MGM, he directed everything from romantic comedies to musicals to adventure films, from Esther Williams and Tarzan films to Elizabeth Taylor and Elvis Presley -- the quintessential "house director."

The cinematographer was the great Joseph LaShelle (LAURA, RUN FOR THE SUN). The screenplay by George Wells was based on a play titled "The Golden Fleecing," by Lorenzo Semple Jr. Costumes were by MGM designer Helen Rose.

The Warner Archive widescreen print of this CinemaScope film is excellent. The accompanying trailer on the disc has not been remastered.

For more on the movie, read Glenn Erickson's review at DVD Savant and another review by Joe Meyers; Meyers writes that the film "is consistently amusing and it goes just a little farther out for laughs than you might expect from an early 1960s Hollywood studio product."



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