Friday, September 7, 2012

Steve McQueen does comedy!

You probably wouldn't think of Steve McQueen when you think of comedy. Yet McQueen did make one comedy during his film career. That movie, The Honeymoon Machine, shows up tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM on TCM.

McQueen stars as Lt. Fergie Howard, who serves on board a US Navy ship which is currently docked in Venice, Italy. The ship is carrying a computer (one of those massive early 1960s-style computers) which is part of a top secret project, the computer being run by tech whiz Jason Eldridge (Jim Hutton). Together, the two of them get a brilliant idea. There's a grand casino in Venice, and they could use the computer to analyze the spins of the computer's roulette wheel, figuring out the pattern and then predicting the outcome of future spins, which would allow them to break the bank!

It's a ludicrous plan that would have no chance of succeeding in real life, but this is a Hollywood movie, so you'll have to put up with a little unreality. Fergie sets himself up in a hotel room from which he has a view of the ship, which is important because this way he can send back the data without anybody suspecting where that data is going. Except, of course, that somebody spots there are communications going from the hotel to the ship, and brings this to the attention of Admiral Fitch (Dean Jagger), who just happens to be billeted in the hotel room above Fergie's. The admiral, unsurpisingly, thinks his top secret program is being compromised, and wants to get to the bottom of this. Complicating matters is that Fergie has met the admiral's daughter (Brigid Bazlen), and the two have begun to fall in love with each other.

And if that's not complicated enough, it's about to get worse for our plotters. Jason comes ashore where he meets the ambassador's fiancée. She's played by Paula Prentiss, and you know that in a movie with Jim Hutton and Paula Prentiss, those two are going to have a thing for each other. Never mind the possibility that it could cause a serious incident. Meanwhile, are Fergie and Jason going to be found out? Are they going to be able to carry out their plan to try to break the bank?

Hutton and Prentiss do a fine job as they always did when they were paired. Steve McQueen, on the other hand, is a surprise doing comedy. The Honeymoon Machine is the sort of comedy of lies I've suggested in the past that I'm generally not a fan of: the comedy starts off with a little lie, and then the characters have to pile bigger lie on top of bigger lie to keep the original lie from coming to light. But there's really room for all sorts of comedy here: the sort of mild sex comedy that was seen in a lot of early 1960s movies, as well as some physical comedy when a character gets stuck on a hotel ledge.

The Honeymoon Machine is nothing groundbreaking, but it's pleasant enough stuff. It's also fun to watch Steve McQueen doing comedy, which alone makes it worth the watch.

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