Honeymoon Machine, The (1961): Thorpe’s Farce, Starring Steve McQueen

Richard Thorpe directed The Honeymoon Machine, a middling, overtalkative farce, starring Steve McQueen, Brigid Bazlen, Jim Hutton, Paula Prentiss, Jack Mullaney, and Dean Jagger.

Grade: C (** out of *****)

The scenario is based on the 1959 Broadway play, “The Golden Fleecing,” by Lorenzo Semple Jr..

The Honeymoon Machine
Honeymoon Machine 1961.jpg

Theatrical release poster


Three men devise a plan to win at roulette with a U.S. Navy computer, and the scheme works until an admiral ruins their plans.

McQueen was second choice for this role, after Cary Grant, who was a generation older than him, turned the part down.

Civilian scientist Jason Eldridge runs Magnetic Analyzer Computing Synchrotron (MACS), a vacuum tube computer aboard the United States Navy ship USS Elmira. He and his friend Lt. Ferguson Howard realize that, by using MACS to record a roulette table’s spins over time, the computer can predict future results.

Howard and LTJG Beauregard Gilliam check into a Venice casino’s hotel dressed as civilians with Eldridge, defying Admiral Fitch’s order that naval officers on shore avoid the casino and wear uniforms. They plan to use signal lamps to communicate with a confederate manning MACS on the Elmira.

At the hotel, bachelor Howard meets and romances Julie Fitch, the admiral’s daughter. Eldridge reunites with former girlfriend and heiress Pam Dunstan, in Venice to marry another man. The betting system is very effective, and the three men accumulate hundreds of thousands of dollars in casino chips; the money gives Eldridge the confidence to propose to Dunstan. However, Admiral Fitch sees and investigates their signals; soon the Navy, the American and Soviet consulates, and Venice city authorities are on alert for a “revolution”.

The gamblers get Signalman Burford Taylor, who finds their signal lamp, drunk to detain him, but Taylor escapes and reports to the admiral. Julie Fitch tells her father that she and Howard have “got to marry” each other to save him from court-martial. The Soviets accuse the Navy of using MACS to steal from the casino. To avoid an international incident Howard agrees to intentionally lose all his chips on his last bet, but a riot breaks out between Soviets, Americans, and Italians in the casino over the chips.

The movie ends with newlyweds Howard and Fitch celebrating their honeymoon in the hotel.

Steve McQueen walked out of the first public sneak preview and vowed never to work for MGM again, despite being under contractual obligation for two more pictures.

According to MGM records, the film made a very modest profit of $122,000.

Steve McQueen as Lt. Ferguson ‘Fergie’ Howard

Brigid Bazlen as Julie Fitch
Jim Hutton as Jason Eldridge
Paula Prentiss as Pam Dunstan
Dean Jagger as Admiral Fitch
Jack Weston as Signalman Burford Taylor
Jack Mullaney as Lt. Beauregard ‘Beau’ Gilliam
Marcel Hillaire as Inspector of casino games
Ben Astar as Russian consul
William Lanteau as Tommy Dane
Ken Lynch as Capt. James Angle
Simon Scott as Capt. Harvey Adam


Directed by Richard Thorpe
Produced by Lawrence Weingarten
Written by George Wells, based on The Golden Fleecing
by Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Music by Leigh Harline
Cinematography Joseph LaShelle
Edited by Ben Lewis
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Release date

August 23, 1961 (New York City)

Running time: 84 minutes