The Honeymoon Machine

With the demise of the studio system and rise of independent production companies during the 1960s, studios could no longer count on a roster of stars under exclusive contract. Like its counterparts, M-G-M, which had once boasted “more stars than there are in heaven,” looked to groom the next generation of acting talent—and to do so set their sights on The Honeymoon Machine (1961).

The Honeymoon Machine was a romantic comedy adapted by George Wells from Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s The Golden Fleecing, a 1959 play that ran for 89 performances on Broadway (starring Tom Poston and Suzanne Pleshette). M-G-M bought the play in 1958 before its Broadway run and cast members of its pool of young talent in the lead roles. Among those budding stars were Steve McQueen, making his comedy debut, as well as Brigid Bazlen, Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss. (At the time, M-G-M also counted Yvette Mimieux, Joyce Taylor, Maggie Pierce, Haya Harareet, George Hamilton and George Peppard among its growing stable of young actors.) “If The Honeymoon Machine is a box office success,” predicted one studio spokesman, “you will see a lot more such casting on this lot.”

McQueen and Jack Mullaney star as two sailors on vacation in Venice. Along with a scientist portrayed by Hutton and love interests played by Bazlen and Prentiss, they rely on the Magnetic Analyzer Computer Synchrotron (or “Max” for short), a new shipboard “electronic brain” supercomputer, to help them break the bank at a Venice casino. Mayhem ensues when Admiral Fitch (Dean Jagger) misinterprets their Morse code messages about roulette numbers beamed from ship to shore as a threat from the Soviets.

Cary Grant had passed on the lead role of Lieutenant Ferguson “Fergie” Howard that eventually went to McQueen, who was under a non-exclusive contract to M-G-M when the studio offered him the part. McQueen’s manager, Hilly Elkins, “pushed him to do it,” remembered McQueen’s first wife, Neile, “on the grounds that it had more lines than stares.” She recalled how Steve “soon realized he was making a dog and just started doing anything, funny voices and all, for laughs.” McQueen fought with 21-year-old costar Bazlen and director Richard Thorpe. Elkins had the task of babysitting Bazlen, the daughter of Chicago Sun-Times writer Maggie Daly. “My job was to keep the two from killing each other, either with fisticuffs, verbal attacks, or [having sex],” Elkins recalled in Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel. “It was a choice, depending upon the moods of the two kids.” In the end, Elkins took “full credit” for McQueen’s unpleasant experience in his first starring role at the studio.

Leigh Harline provided the brief, lighthearted score to The Honeymoon Machine roughly six months before beginning work on The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. Harline bookends the film with an up-tempo song, “Love Is Crazy,” written with lyricist Jack Brooks, whose lines set the breezy tone of the film: “You don’t need launching pads to shoot up to the sky/Whoopsidaisy, love is crazy/Those electronic brains all give the same reply/Love is crazy, love is mad.” As befitting the Venetian locale of the story, Harline lends the music a taste of old Italy, using mandolin and accordion for local color.

With its share of Cold War mock-paranoia, harmless sexual innuendoes, and double and triple entendres, the New York Herald Tribune called The Honeymoon Machine “a comedy that strains your credulity but not your facial muscles.” Out of the actors, McQueen came under the most severe attack, with Saturday Review suggesting that he “go back to TV westerns and selling cigarettes.”

Most critics, however, were kind to the film itself. “The comedy is not so inventive that it requires a leading thinker of our time to appreciate it,” said the New York Post. “The main point is, it moves fast and easy, and everyone in the cast seems to be enjoying it, and so does the audience.” Films and Filming said it was “quick, smooth, and blessedly unpretentious,” while the Washington Post’s Richard Coe called it “the funniest comedy to arrive from Hollywood in too long.” Time wrote: “The Honeymoon Machine is the Hollywood machine in a rare moment of felicitous clank, turning out the slick, quick, funny film for which it was designed.…It produces a satisfyingly idiotic conclusion.”

Even though Harline’s score clocks in at just over 11 minutes in the finished film (three of the tracks on this CD went unused), critics took notice. Variety called the score “serviceable” and the song “a routine ditty” that was “warbled” over the titles. Limelight said the song had “a catchy lilt and blends well into Harline’s topnotch score.” Film Daily called Harline’s score “light and infectious,” and The Hollywood Reporter agreed: “Harline’s infectious score is another unobtrusive assist.”

27. Main Title
The Honeymoon Machine begins with an animated title sequence: a brief French horn call leads to a theremin portamento as a computer rises like Poseidon from the ocean depths. The bulk of the credits play out against the upbeat song “Love Is Crazy,” written by Harline and Jack Brooks, and sung by a small female vocal group.
28. Lovely Venice
A travelogue-style montage of the canals and architecture of Venice receives a lovely waltz spotlighting mandolins and strings against an accordion countermelody. The cue ends as sailors Fergie Howard (Steve McQueen) and Beau Gilliam (Jack Mullaney) and scientist Jason Eldridge (Jim Hutton) disembark at their hotel.
29. The Casino
Harline most likely composed this (ultimately unused) cue for a scene in the hotel casino, where Jason and Beau record data about the spins of a roulette wheel to feed into the shipboard supercomputer. Strings play a gentle gavotte accompanied by accordion and marimba as Jason encounters frankfurter heiress Pam Dunstan (Paula Prentiss), a former flame. A lilting string waltz (at 2:10) was likely meant to accompany Jason and Pam as they retreat to the bar and he learns that she is in Venice to marry stuffy Tommy Dane (William Lanteau), his old college nemesis.
30. Quandary
A mandolin and accordion duet plays for a transition back to Fergie’s hotel room, where he tries to think up an excuse to get out of meeting Admiral Fitch (Dean Jagger), father of Julie (Brigid Bazlen), whom he is trying to romance.
31. Love Is Crazy
Fergie tries to seduce Julie in his suite as mandolin and accordion offer a more subdued rendition of “Love Is Crazy.”
32. Crazy Mixed Up Love
Muted trombone and saxophone play a sultry version of “Love Is Crazy” while Fergie expresses his love to Julie.
33. Lovely Venice (Reprise)
Julie convinces Fergie to take her on a gondola ride, with Jason and Pam tagging along, before they all head to the casino to “break the bank.” Mandolin and accordion play a brief reprise of the “Lovely Venice” theme.
The Casino (Reprise)
This brief (unused) reprise of “The Casino” was most likely intended for Jason feeding numbers to Fergie at the roulette table.
For this unused cue, Harline resets a portion of the earlier “Casino” music (beginning at 2:25 of track 29) for accordion and strings. This short cue was intended to segue out of “Escape Part 2” (from the next track) but for listening purposes has been placed here.
34. Escape Part 1
Signalman Taylor (Jack Weston) wakes from an alcohol-induced stupor to the sound of a woozy bassoon theme. Beau struggles to keep him from sounding the alarm to Admiral Fitch about the shenanigans with the roulette wheel. Thinking Beau is a Martian, the inebriated Taylor chases him out of the hotel. A staccato brass passage accompanies Beau’s escape via gondola, with the cue ending as Taylor shouts “Follow that Martian!” and falls in the canal.
Escape Part 2
More staccato escape music accompanies Beau’s return to the casino and his inadvertent tip of a mothball to the gondolier.
35. End Title
When Beau enters the hotel suite and sees Julie and Fergie in bed, he drops a box of Venetian glass, shattering the contents (a recurring gag in the film). As Beau runs out of the room, the orchestra swells with a brief orchestral quote of “Love Is Crazy” as Fergie informs him that he and Julie are now married.
End Cast
A vocal reprise of “Love Is Crazy” closes the film. —