You have to hear the theme song that plays over these opening credits. It is such a pre-rock apotheosis of cutesy-poo simpering Chordettes-style whitebreadery.

Here’s one movie that’s quite easy to describe. It’s a farce about guys in the US Navy who are stationed in Venice and use a missile-guidance supercomputer and a signaling beacon [or whatever it’s called, a briefcase-sized lamp that they use to transmit Morse code – they call it a “blinker”] to win big at a casino roulette table. So, strict verisimilitude.

The general impression one gets from this movie is that it has a bunch of actors who have spent many years playing teenagers, now playing adult characters but still interacting the way they used to do in the teen movies. The most obvious modern example of this situation is St. Elmo’s Fire. I don’t know if that was really the case, but the characters in THE HONEYMOON MACHINE [Richard Thorpe, 1961] certainly act very silly and seem untroubled by responsiblities.

The actors include Jack Mullaney, age 31, as the slow-witted Southern guy, doing a very loud Broadway Southern accent; Paula Prentiss, age 23, as the sardonic and husky-voiced woman with boring suitors; and Jim Hutton, age 26, as the straight-arrow computer engineer who refuses to marry Paula Prentiss because she’s rich [talk about surmountable obstacles]. And Steve McQueen, age 31 [three years after The Blob], as the fast-talking charming excitable schemer. This is not a role in which McQueen is often found, and he spends most of the time with a furrowed brow and pursed lips no matter how many goofy mannerisms he throws into his snappy patter.

Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss, both freakishly tall

McQueen does well enough in the Joe Piscopo / Mike Damone role. In the first half of the movie he gets a little annoying [yes, there’s a scene where he’s told of the computer’s powers and starts stroking and petting it and whispering his love]. But later on he’s a straight man. Which is odd, as the farce gets more and more frantic in the second half, as farces do, and yet the comedic moments shrink away. We get scene after scene of people standing around in a hotel suite, as the irascible admiral played by Dean Jagger [clearly the J.K. Simmons of his time] orders people to find the missing blinker, to find out what the ship is signaling to, to start negotiating with the Italian government which will apparently be bankrupted and start an international incident if the casino bank is broken, etc. Eventually he gets convinced that it’s aliens, for no reason at all. Yes, aliens. Come on! And the youngsters run around in another hotel suite hiding the blinker, getting the investigating seaman drunk [Jack Weston, also doing a theatrical accent, of some East Coast locale], bonding under stress, etc.

This is based on a play. As such it has some good dialogue, albeit entirely during the scenes when characters are getting to know one another, not during the farcical parts. The best scenes are Hutton and Prentiss encountering each other in a bar [“Jason. Is it my fault my father manufactures frankfurters?”], and a wholly unexpected outburst by McQueen’s love interest, the admiral’s daughter Julie, played by Brigid Bazlen. Who was 16 at the time but playing a few years older, and fits right in with the adults despite occasionally using words like “dopey”.

This is the scene depicted on the poster. She met the three sailors a few minutes ago, and doesn’t know yet that they’re sailors. McQueen’s character has helped his shipmates find reasons to leave the room. He plasters a smile on his face and walks toward her.

Fergie: Well … here we are.
Julie: That’s the quickest scuttling of chaperones I’ve ever seen.
F: You’re not listening – I said here we are.
J: Well then, what are we waiting for? [removes jacket] Close the drapes, bring out the liquor, let’s get this show on the road! [throws her arms around his neck] Action, that’s what I like! None of that beating around the bush, none of that modesty jazz …
F: Take it easy! Look, Miss Fitch!
J: Call me Julie.
F: All right, Julie –
J: It had to happen! It had to –
F: Not necessarily –
J: Come on, I’m putty in your hands. [pushes him onto the couch … kisses him, then stands up again and grabs her purse]
F: What are you, some kind of a sex fiend?
J: Just teaching you a little lesson. Don’t make jokes with admirals’ daughters. We cut our teeth on sea wolves. Than which nothing is wolfier. [takes out compact]
F: Do you, uh, give out many of these lessons?
J: As many as I have to. But I’ve gotta admit, you scare off pretty easily.
F: I think I feel my courage oozing back. Want to try again?
J: School’s out for the day. [heads toward door; he dashes ahead to block it]

This scene stands out even in this movie for its implausibility, but it’s quite progressive.

Finally, the reason I watched this film. Because the TCM synopsis mentioned a computer. I always like to see how those are depicted, in genre movies from the days when a computer filled a room. HOT MILLIONS (Eric Till, 1968) is highly accurate and has highly believable computer nerds. BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (Ken Russell, 1967) is more about artificial intelligence and supervillains, and is interesting in that I never considered, for most of the movie, that the voice giving orders was anything other than a man in a control room interpreting the computer’s output and making decisions. No, it’s the computer itself, calling all the shots. Past notions of the possibilities of A.I. are amazing.

As for The Honeymoon Machine, the only insight comes from how the characters refer to “Max” [MACS], the computer, as the “electronic brain”. Or just the “brain”. Occasionally the “computer”. They aren’t necessarily trying to be cute; to the layman it comes naturally to describe this device as a “brain”. I never appreciated that back then, “electronic brain” was a real term, not a marketing exaggeration or a tiresome simplification. Was there was a period when people took “information superhighway” seriously? I don’t remember it.

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For more on computers starring in movies: Starring the Computer.

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