Not Atoll What it Seems

JUNE IS SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES MONTH

A Mad Men fantasy project on film, 1964’s all-star farce HONEYMOON HOTEL is available for occupancy via the travel agents at the Warner Archive Collection/Turner Entertainment/Warner Bros. Entertainment.

The movie, sort of a Love, American Style full-length rendition of The Devil’s Disciple (INSERT gobsmacked reaction HERE), is one of approximately 9,000,000,000 “sex” comedies unleashed post-Pillow Talk; everyone who was anyone eventually did at least one – even Brando (the still home vid unreleased Bedtime Story, made the same year as this pic).  In a nutshell, HH relates the unlikely shenanigans involving a wedding from hell gone wrong (or right, depending on how you look at it), a tropical paradise hotel and a plethora of wink-wink-nudge-nudge lechery and debauchery all revolving around maneuvering nubile females into what the great Carrie Fisher dubbed as “surrendering the pink.”

Quasi-good guy schlepp Jay Menlow, a successful New Yorker, is looking forward to his upcoming nuptials to the stunning Cynthia Hampton; his playa roomie, Ross Kingsley, isn’t so sure; in fact, he may not even show up, as Ross can’t fathom being chained to one woman until the “death do us part” thingy.

Cynthia, however, is a harpy in shapely human form, pure evil learned from her parents – affluent one-percenters who nickel-and-dimed their way to a fortune (they even bitch to the hired help at the pre-wedding reception).  No surprise that a rift erupts between the soon-to-be newlyweds, blamed by all upon poor nudnik Menlow, who, with Ross’s aid, escapes the betrothal.  Double problem:  Kinglsey is supposed to be on a big business trip for his aluminum company and Jay has already put down a non-refundable fee on the honeymoon suite.  Ross arrives at the perfect solution (once he discovers that the place in question – the Boca Roca – has ten girls for every man).  They’ll vacay together.  Unfortunately, Ross didn’t read the fine print:  top-heavy femme numbers refer to island residents, not guests – as only honeymooners are allowed to stay at the resort.  Of course, this gives us some gay gags, as the two show up as a couple, but the real fun begins when Cynthia’s super-gorgeous bestie, Lynn Jenley (bizarrely listed as “Lynn Hope” in the end credits), turns up as the hotel’s activities director.  And Ross has some definite activities in mind.  Add to the deception is the arrival of Kingsley’s cheating horndog boss, Mr. Sampson (who lands with buxom ditz doll Sherry in tow), AND Cynthia who decides to give Menlow another chance, AND Menlow himself, who wants to be more like his pal and nail Lynn for himself.

Need to take a breath?  Get the Mad Men ref now?

For all the smutty innuendoes, HONEYMOON HOTEL, like most of the “naughty” Hollywood competition at the time, was innocent enough to send the kiddies to. A bunch of us caught it because of the wonderful Onterora policy:  matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and rainy days.  There was a torrential downpour on this particular morning, and gaggles of urchins lined up in their slickers at 2:30 that afternoon.  I loved the pic at the time, not getting some of the borderline lurid jokes, but dug seeing a comedy with costars Robert Morse and Robert Goulet as a kind of 1960s Martin & Lewis; I sincerely hoped the movie would be a smash, and that the Culver City dream factory might pair them again (I was starved for a new comedy team).  Interestingly enough, while HH was made at the King of the Musical Studio, MGM never bothered to utilize the considerable singing talents of these two leads (noted Leo suit Pandro Berman even functioned as HONEYMOON‘s producer), although Goulet does get to warble the Sammy Cahn-James Van Heusen sleazy-listening title tune.  The Roberts had become mega-famous due to their individual appearances on-stage in How to Success in Business Without Really Trying and Camelot.  Metro made neither (both would be filmed three years later by other studios, the latter not even costarring Goulet).  Morse, under contract to MGM, never appeared in a musical, and, in his tenure there, only made one picture that is constantly revived (The Loved One).  Not that HONEYMOON HOTEL is a bust; it’s quite entertaining in its way, and perfectly reflects the benign pre-Graduate sex pic era.  The script is by R.S. Allen and Harvey Bullock, two scribes noted for their extensive TV sitcom/any com work, principally numerous episodes of Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes, The Patty Duke Show, The Love Boat (and, big shock, Love, American Style).  The director, Henry Levin, best-remembered for 1959’s witty adventure Journey to the Center of the Earth, proved that he did have a light touch, so…For me, it’s the beautiful Panavision camerawork that seals the deal technically, thanks to the efforts of Harold Lipstein (the original warm MetroColor now popping ebulliently in ways that the 1964 prints never achieved (thank you, Warner Archive, for this excellent made-to-order DVD).  A perky score by Walter Scharf adds to the froth, and the frothing.

Morse and Goulet aside, it’s the amazing supporting cast that makes this feminist nightmare a must-see.  Keenan Wynn (as Goulet’s boss), Elsa Lanchester, Bernard Fox, Elvira Allman, Sandra Gould, Chris Noel, Beverly Adams, Julie Payne, Vito Scotti, and Naomi Stevens are such fun; however, ultimately, the women leads put it over.  Nancy Kwan steals the picture (and with these pros, that’s quite a feat) as the funny, cool Lynn; the only sore thumb is believing that she could ever be besties with the likes of Cynthia (Anne Helm, usually a pleasant actress, who is so horrific here that it’s actually uncomfortable to watch her screeching shrike of a performance); and, yeah, Kwan gets to show her dancing skills in the only MGM moment, a hilarious and seductive fertility dance.  The unsung hero (well, heroine) is Jill St. John as the bodacious bubblehead Sherry.  St. John, certainly no real-life flake, brought the house down then by her attempt to walk through a glass patio door.

St. John also gave me my one personal lasting memory of HONEYMOON HOTEL.  As we exited the theater, one of my pals checked out a lobbycard showcasing the actress.  “That’s not the color of her clothes and hair.”  Even at ten years old, I was cinema-savvy and began to explain the hand-coloring process that defined the lobbycard art form.  “But why didn’t they just use color photos?,” she reasonably asked (MGM actually did try that briefly in the early Fifties).  “Well, because…they’re lobbycards.” was my brilliant answer.  “That makes no sense!” she stubbornly replied.  57 years later, and I still can’t shake that exchange.  Go figure.

The infamous lobbycard incident that caused a major adolescent controversy in 1964!

HONEYMOON HOTEL. Color. Widescreen [2.35:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; mono audio. Warner Archive Collection/Turner Entertainment Co./Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. CAT # B00Y7R9H38.  SRP:  $17.99.

This title and others can be purchased at the Warner Archive Amazon Store or online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold*

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