Vintage Cable Box: “Brainstorm, 1983”

“Why do you have to die to let go?”

Brainstorm, 1983 (Christopher Walken), MGM/UA

Where does our yearning for technology originate? Is it the most foolish form of narcissism; the desire to create “artificial” life to earn god-like stature in the pantheon of universal nature? Where does virtual reality fit? Is that our fatal flaw as humans? That, rather than experience life through the natural receptors of our eyes we, instead, want to replicate reality through the circuitry of a computer’s architecture? As Brainstorm opens, scientist Christopher Walken samples a technology that allows him to experience the reactions of another. In this case, a goofy co-worker who tries a piece of steak with marshmallow sauce and a cherry on top. As a gag, he substitutes his interface for that of a chimp, which nearly fries Walken’s brain, but the test is successful. It’s a wonderful moment that also points to the inherent dangers of going down rabbit holes, or in this case, up jungle vines. It’s interesting to me the connection to primates, as I tend to view our human relationship with computers comparable to lower primates and their relationship to us.

Removed from the movie’s staggering science, we plunge into Walken’s strained relationship with his wife, Karen (Natalie Wood, in her final role). It’s never clear to me why they are separated, other than the requisite work-obsessed husband who doesn’t give enough of his soul to his marriage, or that Wood, while initially a warm person, is emotionally distant from her husband. Meanwhile, aforementioned rag-a-muffin/science dork prankster Gordy has the most fun, working flight simulators, riding horses and driving race cars all while recording the experiences for the software. Karen works out the marketing for the device. Her problem is to make the unit much smaller than it presently is (basically a motorcycle helmet with a lot of circuitry attached). She convinces Walken to reduce the circuitry so that it can be worn in something similar to a bicycle helmet. The applications of this device are off-the-wall. Machiavellian CEO of their firm, Alex (Cliff Robertson) is blown away by the system and immediately sees dollar signs. Walken and colleague Louise Fletcher are understandably worried about long-term effects on the brain and other consequences.

Let’s go back to the fatal flaw. Why do we put so much time and work into replicating and simulating life experiences rather than enjoying them on our terms? I understand practical applications. The movie takes pains to explain that the Military would love to get their hands on the technology, but there’s also the obvious “harmless” application: games. Unfortunately, as the movie pre-dates virtual reality technology being made today, it also makes recent attempts by Google and Microsoft look primitive by comparison. While somewhat cost-prohibitive right now, I can see a future where everyone will wear devices like these on their heads, perhaps experiencing simulated “life” while simultaneously engaging in the more mundane aspects of their real lives. Maybe parachuting into an active volcano while grabbing a carton of milk at the supermarket? Our friend, Gordy, produces the virtual reality equivalent of a “sex tape,” which he proffers to a co-worker, who then goes into what I can only call an orgasm-induced state of catatonia. If computers are perfect, yet imperfect man creates perfect computers, then computers aren’t really perfect, are they? Doy.

In the muddle of Walken and Wood’s domestic troubles, there was the very interesting (and disturbing) idea that feelings could be recorded along with the sight stimulation. I don’t think we ever go further than that, except to finally see that we, as humans, can become irredeemably lost in our thoughts and feelings, and that the computer will never know when to stop destroying us with our fears. There’s a lot to admire in Brainstorm, but the movie feels oddly cold, lacking the true human connection we need from Wood and Walken; the best scenes are when Wood relives their courtship and marriage, and the couple reconcile as she sings a song to him under a bed-sheet. It’s such a beautiful (and sad) moment, you wish there were more scenes like these. MGM and director Douglas Trumbull swore up-and-down all of Wood’s scenes were shot before her untimely death, but she feels like a ghost in this movie. Walken, with his unusual mannerisms, makes for an interesting protagonist. You never know what he’s thinking. Fletcher is exceptional and was robbed of an Academy Award nomination. Her death scene is spectacular. As she dies of a heart attack, she records her experiences on the virtual reality software. Brainstorm could’ve been an incredible movie with a little more heart.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month. Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees Race Again”

“You Flew All the Way to Hollywood for This Part?”

Buckle up your seatbelts because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. “The Monkees Race Again” was the last full episode filmed, wrapping on December 20, 1967. After the previous two terrific episodes, “The Monkee’s Paw” and “The Devil and Peter Tork,” this one is a bummer because the Monkees appear to have zero enthusiasm. It seems as though they had a case of “senioritis” and weren’t interested in making these types of episodes any more.

Directed by James Frawley, “The Monkees Race Again” first aired on February 12, 1968. The writers were Dave Evans and Elias Davis & David Pollock. Davis and Pollock worked together on many television shows such as The Carol Burnett Show, Frasier, and M*A*S*H. This episode was their first writing credit. Dave Evans wrote nine Monkees episodes, including the excellent “Find the Monkees” and “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers.” The “a.k.a. Leave the Driving to Us” portion of the title is an allusion to the iconic Greyhound Bus slogan “Go Greyhound and Leave the Driving to Us!”

The Monkees are in their driveway fixing the Monkeemobile when Davy gets a phone call. The audio sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher, but the caller is actually Davy’s grandfather’s friend, T.N. Crumpets, an auto racer who’s been “winning all the major races lately.” He needs the Monkees help. They try to start the car but instead the red phone starts up and drives back into the house. That cute sight gag was my favorite moment of the episode.

Peter, Davy, and Mike arrive at Crumpet’s garage and go bananas admiring his race car. Where the [cuckoo’s] Micky? The Butler startles them by… standing still and staring. They should be used to people staring by now. He introduces his boss, T.N. Crumpets, who is terribly British. There are Union Jack flags decorating the garage in case his nationality wasn’t clear. Crumpets tells the Monkees that some “absolute rotter” has been sabotaging his car.

Peter and Mike take a look at the engine and cause a small explosion. Micky, whom they’ve established as the group mechanic, wanders in. I guess he took the Greyhound bus or was out parking the Monkeemobile. Imdb trivia states that Micky Dolenz was a mechanic in real life in between acting jobs. I know little about car racing, but I assume this story is meant to mimic (very loosely) Formula One. Some legal races do take place on temporarily closed off public roads, making the finale of this episode not so unbelievable. The British dominated the Formula One Racing world from 1962-1973, connecting Davy’s line about Crumpets winning all the major races to reality.

The next scene takes place at the garage of Baron von Klutz, foreign-accented villain, who is having trouble with his own car, the Klutzmobile. He and his toady, Wolfgang, struggle to get the engine started. Both the Baron and Wolfgang are in World War I military dress and have a periscope installed in their garage, which they use to view black and white footage of a U-boat battle. They also use it to spy on Crumpets’ garage. They watch the Monkees do nonsensical things to “fix” Crumpets’ car: using a saw, hammering a nail into it, filing a piece of wood. Wolfgang wonders, “Who would be so stupid as to treat a machine this way?” The Monkees all look up and bow as though they heard him.

This periscope joke could have been weirder or more imaginative. They could have taken a hint from the episode “The Chaperone” where they had party guests looking at Alcatraz through a telescope. The execution of that gag was unexpected and funny. I realize that most of the jokes on The Monkees were corny or silly, but the difference is in how they are executed. Most episodes were very funny. With this and “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes” however, the humor falls flat due to the lack of joy and imagination. For that matter, the “Klutz” name isn’t that funny either because they never make use of the pun.

Baron von Klutz is a loose parody of Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the “Red Baron.” He was a World War I airplane fighter pilot who destroyed 80 of the allied forces aircraft between 1916 and 1918 until he was shot down and killed himself. Baron von Klutz has the Iron Cross on his car, which was used on German WWI airplanes and was first a Prussian and then German military decoration. These World War allusions were a missed opportunity. They could have added a fantasy sequence where the Monkees become WWI pilots, or created some other historical parody, like Peanuts with Snoopy as the WWI Flying Ace. I’ve read in multiple sources that Frawley used to work with the Monkees in rehearsal of the episodes to re-work or add quick funny bits. I’m guessing no one felt up to it this time.

The Baron and Wolfgang march over to Crumpet’s garage counting, “Eins zwei drei vier.” The Baron approaches Crumpet to gloat over his car trouble. The Monkees cover that everything is fine; the engine was taken apart to “make it lighter.” Micky tells the Baron that the car is in perfect tune, and he proves it by smacking him on the helmet with a tuning fork. Baron laughs evilly and says he will see them at the race. I’m so glad someone is having a good time.

The Baron and Wolfgang repeat the same “I can’t move/ you’re standing on my foot” gag three times between this scene and the last and it’s not funny. David Hurst and Stubby Kaye are two great actors and I wish they’d gotten a better episode. After they go, the Monkees manage to get the engine working. Crumpets decides they should celebrate with tea. What a party animal!

The Baron and Wolfgang’s next plot is to capture Crumpets and Micky. Meanwhile, the Monkees have tea with Crumpets. (Heh.) For atmosphere, the Butler sprays the air with “London mist.” Stu Phillips has an adorable instrumental version of “London Bridge is Falling Down” scoring the scene. Baron and Wolfgang sneak up behind in plain sight and spray knockout gas. No one notices. Come on, the Monkees aren’t this dumb. Davy cracks that it smells like Liverpool (in a spot-on Beatles accent). After they pass out, the villains grab Micky and Crumpets and drag them out.

Micky and Crumpets are tied to chairs in the Klutz garage. Baron starts in with the villain cliché of revealing his plot. Micky guesses “You’re going to award me the Blue Max?.” This is a reference to the 1966 film The Blue Max, which was about a World War I German air force pilot striving to win the highest military order awarded by the kingdom of Prussia. It could also be Micky’s clever way of pointing out how anachronistic the Baron and Wolfgang are; like many Monkees villains, they seem to have stepped out of a time bubble. Speaking of history-related jokes , as the Baron discusses his plans to win the race and make the Klutzmobile famous, his speech comes to a Hitler-type shouting climax and there’s a “Seig heil!” chant from somewhere in the background. Between this and Wolfgang’s Hitler mustache, the required mocking of Nazis is present. Crumpets protests that Micky is not a mechanic and the Baron decides this is reason to gag him.

Knowing how The Monkees loved to spoof popular television shows of their day, this episode is also a parody of Hogan’s Heroes, with Baron as a stand-in for Colonel Klink and Wolfgang substituting for Sergeant Schultz. It’s not a great parody though. There’s no unique take on the topic. Compare this to the much funnier “Hillbilly Honeymoon” where they parodied “The Beverly Hillbillies” but made the episode guest characters dark parallel versions of the ones from the original show.

Mike, Peter, and Davy wake up and give a half-hearted “They’re gone!” when they realize Crumpets and Micky are missing. They rush over to the Klutz garage, where Peter finds Micky’s tuning fork on the ground. Wolfgang approaches to block their entry and fibs that it’s his tuning fork, an “a.” Wolfgang and the Monkees take turns hitting themselves in the head with the tuning fork, arguing over whether it’s Micky’s “b flat” or the Wolfgang’s “a.” Peter notices that Wolfgang has a good voice and asks if he’d like to join the group if they don’t find Micky. Cute line referring to the fact that Stubby Kaye was a star of musical comedies. He performed one of my favorite numbers in Guys and Dolls.

Wolfgang pulls a gun on them and tells them to go. Mike and Peter break the fourth wall to bust Wolfgang’s balls about having a gun on television. They must be joking, because the Monkees have had guns in their hands themselves many times. “The Monkees in Texas,” “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” “The Picture Frame,” not to mention the crazy amount of gunfire in “Monkees à la Carte” and “Hillbilly Honeymoon.” I know they were probably making a statement against violence, but it was vague and chaotic as it played out. The Baron approaches and he intimidates the Monkees into leaving.

Mike, Peter, and Davy finish fixing up Crumpet’s car. Mike remarks they have no one to drive it, but Davy points out that as a British subject, the Racing Commission may allow him to drive the car. Yes, but why is it so important that they have representation in the race? There’s nothing at stake here that anyone cares about. All the same, they go to see the Official, (played by Don Kennedy, the policeman from Monkees à la Cart) who agrees to let Davy race. He has only one concern, “I don’t think he’ll be able to see over the wheel.” Punch him in the knees, Davy!

They go back to the garage where Mike and Peter put Davy in the car with a phone book (remember those?) under his butt to boost him up. He says he’s “a little high” so they rip out a few pages. No, Davy you’re not a little high. That was in “The Monkee’s Paw.” Davy takes a joy ride and it seems he’s also familiar with Peanuts.

The Baron spots Davy through the periscope and realizes the British car isn’t out of it yet. Wolfgang un-gags Crumpets, allowing him to breathe. Crumpets proclaims, “You’ll never get away with this!” and gets gagged again. Micky meta-comments to him, “Boy, you sure got a lousy part.” You said it, Micky. In order to steal Crumpets’ car, the Baron makes an announcement on the loudspeaker, calling the Monkees to the reviewing stand. Despite his heavy accent, the Monkees buy this and go running. This is even sloppier than the knockout gas bit; Peter is naive enough to fall for this, but Mike is not. These are all gaffes I’d happily ignore if the episode was funnier. Team Klutz takes Crumpets’ car back to their garage. They take parts from it and put them in the Klutzmobile. Un-gagged Crumpets helpfully comments that they’re putting the part in backwards. I don’t know why he’s helping them, but he gets gagged again for his trouble.

Mike, Peter, and Davy go back to the Official’s office where they try to convince him they can race without a car. The Official refuses, because you’ve got to have some standards. Davy remembers that the Monkeemobile exists, and they run off. Out on the track, Davy gets ready to race the Monkeemobile and Mike discusses their plan: during the race he and Peter will go to the von Klutz garage and find Micky and Crumpets. (The voice announcing, “ladies and gentlemen, cars and drivers are now on the starting grid” sounds a lot like Mike.) Davy wonders about the other contestants. The Baron pulls up and declares there are no other contestants. So, these dummkopfs managed to fool, sabotage, or murder all the other racers teams. I do like that they switched the Baron’s helmet for goggles and an aviation cap.

A girl walks by with a racing flag for her skirt. To her dismay, the Marshall tears her flag-skirt off so he can signal the start of the race. As he gives the signal to start, his pants come down. With these two gags, I suspect some absolute rotter sabotaged my DVD and swapped it for an episode of The Benny Hill Show. Mike and Peter burst into the garage as Wolfgang was about to shoot the prisoners. Wolfgang has the gun, but he runs away from Peter and Mike instead of shooting them. Yeah, they are two intimidating guys.

The Klutzmobile and the Monkeemobile race on real roads, mixed with superimposed footage of the actors in the cars. The Baron forces Davy off the road and leaves him hanging off a cliff. He gets going again and the Baron sends tires rolling at him. Davy swerves to avoid them and they roll in front of the Baron, causing him to crash into a tree. Davy wins. The girl in the checkered skirt (now intact) gives him the trophy, a flower wreath, and a kiss. The IMDB says this is Valerie Kairys but there’s no clear shot of her. I’m sure the Imdb would never lie to me.

It’s nice that Davy won, but in other episodes where the Monkees participated in races, “Wild Monkees” and “Don’t Look a Gift Horse,” there was something on the line. In “Wild Monkees” they would have been torn to pieces by bikers if they didn’t join the motorcycle race. Not to mention risking their manly reputation in front of the girls. In “Don’t Look a Gift Horse,” Davy raced a horse to help the broken-hearted little kid who wanted to keep it. With “Monkees Race Again,” I suppose Davy’s defending Crumpets’ reputation and the British and American honor against their World War I and II former enemies, but neither of these was worth rooting for as they played out.

Since the race is over, the romp to “What am I Doing Hangin’ ’Round?” (Michael Martin Murphey/Owen Castleman) ) is completely pointless. The actors do some goose-stepping and “heil” arms. German characters were used often as the stock villains for mid-to-late twentieth century pop culture and this episode is only 23 years after the end of WW II. I think that the British pop culture has done the best job at making dark comedy out of Nazi’s, etc. The funniest thing I’ve seen using the post world war tensions as humor was the Fawlty Towers episode, “The Germans.” It’s worth checking out if you’ve somehow missed it.

I wouldn’t have nitpicked so many little details in this episode, if the Monkees had given more enthusiastic performances. When they’re into it, it’s so entertaining that I don’t really care if it makes sense. Unfortunately, the actors playing the Monkees were interested in other things at this point in the series. Micky and Peter directed episodes around this time (Micky co-wrote his), Mike recorded The Wichita Train Whistle Sings sessions just before this, Davy opened a boutique called Zilch, and they were all getting ready to shoot Head. These are just a few of the things I found in The Monkees Day by Day book by Andrew Sandoval. I’m sure there were other distractions. They didn’t seem to care about performing for the show by this time. I watch these episodes to see the Monkees’ friendship, to watch them solve problems together in funny ways, and to see their interactions. I got none of that in “The Monkees Race Again.” There was none of the usual warmth or interest in entertaining and connecting with the audience.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

 

 

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Devil and Peter Tork”

“The Devil Went Down to Hollywood, Looking for a Soul to Steal.”

“The Devil and Peter Tork” is a classic episode, a fan favorite that receives a lot of well-deserved praise. Like the previous episode, “The Monkees’ Paw,” “The Devil and Peter Tork” was inspired by a short story: “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” by Steven Vincent Benét, about a farmer who enters into a contract with “The Stranger” and is in danger of losing his soul. The mythical litigator, Daniel Webster, sets up a court case on behalf of the farmer and wins his soul back for him.

“The Devil and Peter Tork” first aired on February 5, 1968, but was shot nearly a year earlier, in April, 1967. The episode has a first season/early second season feel, due to both the Monkee’s hair and clothing styles and the more innocent (relatively speaking) tone. The reason for the delay, per IMDB trivia, came from the network reacting to the “Hell” lines that mocked NBC’s Standards & Practices division. A alternate rumor about the reason for the delay was that the network objected to the sly drug references in the song “Salesman.”

Story writing credits for this episode go to Robert Kaufman (1931-1991), with the teleplay by Robert Kaufman and Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso. This was Kaufman’s first and only Monkees episode. He also wrote the story for Divorce, American Style, screenplay for Freebie and the Bean, and Love at First Bite as well as many other film screenplays and television episodes. Episode director was James Frawley.

The episode begins with Peter visiting a pawn shop, admiring the many instruments. It appears to be the same music shop from “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool,” only the set is lit in this episode to appear ominous and shady. Peter calls out to see if anyone is in. Mr. Zero startles Peter, touches his shirt, and smoke rolls off from his touch! It’s not the creepiest thing that ever happened on this show, but it’s pretty scary! Zero explains that the instruments belong to musicians who have fallen on bad times.

Zero invites Peter to look around. Peter immediately notices the harp and approaches it to look more closely. He tells Zero he’s always loved the harp. Zero-the-cynical says he’s sure Peter means “need or desire, no one loves things anymore.” But Peter knows how he feels; he loves the harp. Of course he doesn’t have any money. No problem, Zero simply snaps his fingers and a contract appears, “play now, pay later.” Peter signs it and carries the harp out the door (magically opened for him by Zero). Zero calls someone on a red phone and requests a reservation for one; he’s just purchased the soul of Mr. Peter Tork. Meanwhile, Peter carries the harp down the street on foot.

Back at the pad, Mike patiently explains to Peter that, though the harp is beautiful, he doesn’t know how to play it. Micky and Davy agree that Peter should take it back and they leave him to it. Zero appears in a puff of smoke and asks Peter why he needs Mike now that he has his harp? Zero wants Peter to believe that material possessions are more important than people. Mike wisecracks that he does the sweeping up, etc. Zero disregards his sarcasm by magically popping a broom into Mike’s hand. He goes after his quarry, telling Peter to play his harp. Peter tries it out, and it seems Zero has given him supernatural knowledge of how to play it perfectly. Zero promises to make Peter famous, but Peter is not interested in fame; he’s simply entranced with the beautiful music. Zero puffs away. Monte Landis is appropriately menacing as Zero in this episode. This is my favorite of all of his seven performances on the show. Born in Glasgow, he plays Zero with a British accent. This is a fitting choice, as American movies and television shows love to cast Brits as “evil” characters.

Mike, Micky, and Davy re-enter the scene when they hear Peter playing, curious about how he learned so fast. Peter explains that Mr. Zero taught him. He asks if they could add it to the act, and Micky turns into a newspaper salesman, “Extra, extra, group earns fame and fortune by adding harp into act” Skeptical Mike points out that, “no one was ever an overnight success” as he goes to answer the ringing phone. It’s Harry’s Booking Agency, calling to tell them that with the harp, they’re going to be an overnight success. Ha! Mike is bemused.

The story of their climb to fame and fortune is told with a montage. There are shots of a train, kids screaming from “Monkees on Tour,” and newspaper headlines: “Monkees Intro Harp” “Monkees Harp a Hit!,” and “Monkees Harp Happening.” More Monkees on tour footage with a transparent image of Peter playing “Pleasant Valley Sunday” on the harp superimposed.

Back at the Monkees house, Peter’s still playing. (I’ve got blisters on my fingers!) Micky, Mike and Davy look through the hundreds of offers from the mail. Zero pops in with a puff of smoke. The Monkees are not amazed. I guess when you can materialize props and costumes yourself, nothing surprises you. Zero asks Peter if he’s pleased and likes all the money he’s making. All Peter cares about is making people happy with the music. He is of course the perfect character for Zero to target, because he was always the least likely to look for a catch in any bargain.

It’s time to pay up though, as Zero pulls out his contract. Mike, the type who always looks for the downside, grabs the contract and looks it over. (Peter Tork wise-cracks in the DVD commentary that Mike was always looking at contracts.) He quickly discovers that Peter has sold his soul to the Devil. Peter innocently says he doesn’t believe in devils. Zero says this makes Peter’s soul more interesting because innocence is “at a premium.”

This is an interesting thought. Can the Devil take your soul, if you don’t believe in him/it? Or is it like the film The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” [“And like that … he’s gone.” – Editor’s Note] Does disbelief of evil give it great power? Or are you still innocent if you don’t acknowledge the existence of good and evil? As Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Humans give those concepts power, they aren’t inherently true and don’t come from anyone but us. These are all possibilities to think over anyway.

Micky thinks Zero’s joking, as I would. Zero proves his power by snapping his fingers, shattering the chair that Micky tried to sit on, making Davy’s shirt vanish, and giving Mike that damn broom again. They all are convinced, yep, he’s the devil. That’s their proof? The Monkees themselves have made many a prop and costume appear out of nothing. Come on, impress me Mr. Zero.

According to the contract Zero gets Peter’s soul by midnight. (Shouldn’t it be on Peter’s death?) Mike points out that it’s only 8 p.m., and Peter wants his other four hours thanks. Zero agrees, undoes his mischief, and vanishes. The other three Monkees huddle around Peter, who admits he’s scared. He starts to say, “I don’t want to go to h—” but is cut off by a flash of hell-red lightning and a romp to the song “Salesman” (Craig Vincent Smith).

Woo hoo! I love this song and this romp. Zero sits on a throne with sexy female devils at his feet. The lady devils bring Peter to Zero and jab at the Monkees with devil forks. This is all mixed in with footage of Mike singing the song in the Rainbow Room. The Monkees get their own devil costumes, and they run around and dance etc. This is one of the better romps of the later part of the season. There’s a colorful, cheesy-yet-creepy vibe to it and great editing. I don’t know how this played to people in the 1960s. I’ve seen plenty of Vincent Price movies from that time with this same look.

After the romp is the classic dialogue:
Mike: So that’s uh, that’s what [cuckoo] is all about.
Davy: Yeah, [cuckoo] is pretty scary.
Micky: You know what’s even more scary?
Peter: What?
Micky: You can’t say [cuckoo] on television.

I love Micky’s cocky expression as he delivers the stinger. “Salesman” is on the album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. The riff always reminded me of the Beatles’ “Taxman” and that was probably by design. The lyrics describe the life of a door-to-door salesman in cynical terms. The line that might have scandalized standards and practices is, “There goes salesman and he’s sailing high again /He’s sailing so high, high, sailing so high.” Considering the drug references that got by in episodes like “The Monkees Paw” and “A Coffin Too Frequent,” I doubt this was an issue. The joke above about not being allowed to say “hell” seems the more likely reason for the network delay of the episode.

Apparently “hell” had been said around this time on Star Trek. Captain Kirk said, “Let’s get the hell out of here” in the 1967 episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” It’s listed here on TV firsts. I’m guessing it was still considered pretty outrageous at the time. Wow, racy!

As the Monkees discuss what to do, Zero returns. The boys try to stall for time but Zero isn’t having it. He pulls Peter to the door, telling him he’ll like it “down there.” Then comes the most sweetly selfless moment ever on The Monkees:

Every time I see that scene, it gets to me. Davy Jones does it so sincerely. Zero turns him down of course, so Micky and Davy grab Peter and have a tug-of-war with Zero. Mike on the other hand, stands back and uses his brain. He tells Zero that if the contract is valid, there’s nothing the Monkees can do. But, he wants to take that contract to court to test it. Mike is taking more of the Daniel Webster role in this, despite the way the episode is named; he asks for the trial and makes the compelling argument toward the end.

Zero claps his hand and materializes a hellish, red-curtained, fire-lit court. Presided over by Judge Roy Bean, the jury consists of “twelve condemned men from Devil’s Island.” Yeah, I’m sure that’ll be fair. [Don’t they get a voir dire? – Editor’s Question] Roy Bean, if you were wondering, was a famous judge in late 19th Century Texas. He was known for his “unusual rulings” and was portrayed after his death as a “hanging judge” although he only ever sentenced two men to hang.

Zero calls old west gunfighter Billy the Kid as his first witness. Billy agrees that Zero kept his bargain and made him the most famous gunfighter in the West. Mike loses the “choosing fingers” contest with the other Monkees and has to take the first defense. He steps up to question “Mr. Kid” but is easily intimidated and backs off.

Zero wants to wrap it up, but Micky insists they call another witness on the fourth-wall-breaking-grounds that, “the television show’s not over.” Zero swaps out Billy for the renowned pirate, Blackbeard, who recites, “Yo ho ho and a bottle o’ rum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” Davy takes that as his cue and stands up to question him. Blackbeard sways his rum bottle back and forth until Davy gets seasick.

Zero smugly calls infamous warmonger Attila the Hun. Micky steps up to the challenge, promising to be like Spencer Tracy from Inherit the Wind. (Never without a show-biz reference, that guy.) Attila doesn’t speak English so they start a conversation in faux “foreign” language. Attila backs Micky to the table with his sword until Mike stands up and shouts gibberish that makes Attila back off.

Micky: “What’d you say?”
Mike: “I don’t know!”

The judge is ready to pass sentence, but Mike’s not through. He calls the defense’s first witness: Zero himself. Zero materializes the contract for evidence. He claims in exchange for fame and fortune, Peter gave up his soul. Mike argues that Zero didn’t give Peter anything in exchange for his soul. Peter didn’t want fame and fortune; he just wanted to play the harp. Zero argues, “I gave him the ability to play the harp… in return for his soul.”

Poor Peter. He’s always the most sympathetic Monkee and I really feel for him here. This episode scared me a bit when I was a kid. I was raised Catholic so Hell was a real concept. I’d say this episode and “Son of a Gypsy” (thanks to the hot poker) were the two Monkees episodes that disturbed me the most. But I don’t mind; I like being scared. An episode with any kind of emotional impact is going to stick with me much longer. I was really worried for Peter. But never fear; Mike is here. He argues that Peter’s love of the harp and music gave him the power to play, not Zero. Micky and Davy listen thoughtfully and attentively while Zero laughs at his ideas.

Here’s where Zero makes his mistake. He takes the supernatural power away from Peter and materializes the harp. Mike tells Peter to go play. Peter is frightened, but Mike insists that no one can give Peter the power or take it away. Peter sits down and plays a beautiful instrumental arrangement of “I Wanna Be Free.” Of course, it’s not that simple. You can’t just do something because you love to do it. BUT, for the sake of this being a 30 minute show, let’s say for Peter, “love” equals many, many hours of practice, therefore what Mike says is meaningful and credible.

The jurors and the witnesses are touched; they’re even moved to tears. Zero is no longer laughing. This bit does parallel the original story, if we compare Peter’s playing of the harp to Daniel Webster’s way with words as described here:

“For his voice could search the heart, and that was his gift and his strength. And to one, his voice was like the forest and its secrecy, and to another like the sea and the storms of the sea; and one heard the cry of his lost nation in it, and another saw a little harmless scene he hadn’t remembered for years. But each saw something. And when Dan’l Webster finished he didn’t know whether or not he’d saved Jabez Stone. But he knew he’d done a miracle. For the glitter was gone from the eyes of judge and jury, and, for the moment, they were men again, and knew they were men.”Steven Vincent Benét, “The Devil and Daniel Webster”

Just like Webster, Peter has performed a miracle of restoring the humanity of the judge and these hard, bitter, hell-bound men. With his playing, Peter makes an argument in his own defense, and earns his name in the story title. He finishes playing and the judge declares him “not guilty!” Defeated, Zero snaps himself back to hell. The Monkees hug and celebrate.

This is a truly wonderful episode. Not so many laugh-out-loud moments as I normally expect, but a well done story, sensitively acted. I know it’s not perfect, but I like it so much I don’t feel like picking nits. This is one of the most emotionally engaging stories for me, included with “One Man Shy” and “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” These are also the episodes that revolve around the non-actor characters, Mike and Peter. Not a coincidence I’m sure; there’s something about their less practiced acting style that makes them relatable, easy to empathize with. Or maybe they just lucked into better stories being written around them.

The last bit of the episode is the bouncy, energetic Rainbow Room performance of “No Time” (Hank Cicalo). This tune has a gospel feel and is therefore a great way to end this particular episode. Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you all have a wonderful 2018 and don’t have to make any deals with the Devil.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkee’s Paw”

“You’ll never work in show business again!”

“The Monkees Paw” was directed by James Frawley, written by Coslough Johnson, and first aired January 29, 1968. I enjoy this episode; it’s good old fashioned storytelling, based loosely on the short story, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs. In that story, a married couple comes into possession of a mummified monkey’s paw that was cursed by a “holy man.” The couple tempts fate when they make an innocent wish that leads to a tragedy. The point being, I suppose, “don’t mess with fate.” There have been many adaptations of this story, including films and stage plays, an opera, an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, a radio play with Christopher Lee, and the short segment on The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror II.”

The Monkees version begins at an empty nightclub where the band audition with “Goin’ Down.” The Manager of the club (played by Henry Beckman, the D.A. from “The Picture Frame”) rocks out awkwardly in appreciation. Davy plays drums and Micky sings up front, playing tambourine and maracas. Yeah, they should have set the band up that way the entire series. The nightclub’s current act, Mendrek the Magician, watches from the side, sensing that he’s about to be replaced.

After the song ends, the Manager immediately hires the Monkees. When Mendrek inquires about his own fate, the Manager calls him a has-been and fires him. The two older men argue. Mike intervenes, standing up for Mendrek and asking the Manager not to just “throw him out.” Mendrek thanks Mike by stomping on his foot. Mendrek is a sympathetic character, yet he’s also unsympathetic because, let’s face it, he’s kind of a jerk.

Now for a tangent about clothing styles. For the episodes filmed after the summer of 1967 tour, the Monkees everyday costumes changed from the interchangeable mix-and-match shirts to variations on tunics, mandarin collars, and love beads. Except Mike. Beginning with “Monkees on the Wheel” he wore a tucked in shirt and tie, which I suppose suits his on-screen personality. I suspect at this point the actors were choosing their own clothes and they all look terrific, but sometimes Mike looks like their older brother, chaperoning the band around town [Your pot-smoking accountant brother-in-law – Editor’s Note].

Mendrek assumes the Monkees are going to mock him. Instead they instead offer condolences. They are always supporters of the underdogs. Mendrek says, “Oh don’t be sorry. People don’t want to see Magicians anymore. They want to see reality. As it’s shown to them on television.” Wow. Replace “television” with “YouTube” and that line still works today! This theme of older entertainers threatened by young rock-n-rollers was also in “Monkees at the Circus” and “Captain Crocodile.” Micky finds the Monkey’s Paw in Mendrek’s things; he’s grossed-out, but curious. Mendrek tells the story of how he acquired it from a Lama while looking for “secrets of the unknown” in Tibet.

As told in flashback, Micky plays Young Mendrek, who has climbed a snowy mountain in a magician’s tux to see the High Lama. Instead, he finds the regular lama, known as “Reg.” Mike plays Reg with as broad a Texas accent as possible, comically smashing the expectations about how a lama would speak. Young Mendrek wants to see the High Lama, but Reg explains that he’s out back “sleeping it off.” That’s how he got his name. Nice subversive joke. Young Mendrek tells Reg he’s looking for “Tibetan Unknown Secrets.” Reg is resistant at first and even serves Mendrek papers for trespassing. Eventually, he gives Young Mendrek the Monkey’s Paw, claiming it will grant him three wishes.

Back in the present, Mendrek offers Micky the “priceless” Monkey’s Paw for a quarter. This is pretty nasty of Mendrek. Going by the source story, we can assume that he’s had misfortune because of it, and now he’s wishing this on Micky. I don’t think Micky’s after “mystic power” the way that Young Mendrek was. As Mendrek is leaving, Micky gives Mendrek the quarter, officially purchasing the paw out of pity so that Mendrek won’t be a “vagrant” as the manager calls him. After the Manager kicks Mendrek out, Mike, Davy and Peter look at the camera to tell us, “Well, that’s show business!” with a musical flourish. Recycled joke from “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” but it still works here.

Back at the Monkees pad, bad luck kicks in. Micky’s on the phone with the never-on-this-show-before mentioned “Musicians Union” asking how they can pay their dues if they don’t work? But they can’t work unless they pay their dues. Of course they haven’t worked for a long time. Peter gets in some deliberately out-of-character political commentary with a tongue-in-cheek delivery to the camera:

Micky wanders off holding the paw and distractedly wishes for a way they could get that money. I don’t think he intended to use Monkey’s Paw. (Although he knew about the wishes from Mendrek’s story.) There’s been nothing in Micky’s characterization to suggest he’s superstitious, but throughout every scene in the episode, he continues to hold on to the Monkey’s Paw. Out of the blue, the Manager walks in and says he’ll pay their dues and take it out of their salary, for a kickback of 142%. Later, Micky defends the Monkey’s Paw to Mike, Peter and Davy, as it got them their dues paid, despite the ridiculous interest rate.

Davy is starving and wonders if the Monkey’s Paw could get them some food. Micky wishes for a spaghetti dinner “big enough to feed all four of us.” Spaghetti noodles drop on his head. The others rush up and eat it right off of him. Notice that the Monkees are relatively innocent and don’t make any “Make us as popular as the Beatles” wishes. That’s true to the story where the poor couple involved only wishes for enough to pay their mortgage off, no more.

At his home, Mendrek’s daughter expresses her sympathies about his recent unemployment. He tells her he sold the Monkey’s Paw to one of those “long-haired weirdos.” Daughter worries, “Don’t you remember The Book of Mysteries said it was cursed?” The Book of Mysteries? Would that be Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? Mendrek says if that were the case, his luck would change immediately. Just then, he gets a call informing him that he won a million dollars. I can’t help but be a little happy for him. He looked so down and out in the earlier scene, and Hans Conried is so likable.

At the nightclub gig, Micky obsesses over the Monkey’s Paw and his final wish. The others tell him to let it go already. Peter complains that Micky hasn’t talked about anything else since he got the Monkey’s Paw. Micky starts to say, “I wish I could stop talking about it.” but only gets to “I wish I could stop talking…” before his voice vanishes. Someone announces the Monkees and they start playing “Goin’ Down.” It seems a little unfair that this happens to him, since he didn’t have any selfish intentions with his wishes.

Micky’s screwed since he can’t talk or sing. He stands on stage and mouths the words. The crowd boos them off the stage and the Manager demands an explanation. Mike bluffs that Micky’s singing with his feet, “Haven’t you ever heard of “A Young Man with a Corn,” which is a joke-reference to the 1950 movie, A Young Man with a Horn. Playing along, Peter suggests it’s like the jazz song, “Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy-Floy.” Davy makes the pun, “Sock it to me, baby.” Micky does some fast foot-work, but the Manager is unimpressed. He warns them that if Micky can’t sing by tomorrow the Monkees are, “Outta show business!” as he puts it. Does he have that kind of power?

At the pad, the Monkees huddle around Micky, who tries to say “Four Score and Seven Years ago.” Poor Micky. This is really hitting him in the worst place, his wonderful voice. Davy suggests that the Monkey’s Paw has no power, and the problem is all in his head. Did Davy forget the spaghetti ex machina? Mike reasons that the problem began with Mendrek. Well, duh.

The Monkees arrive at Mendrek’s house, where he has bags on his desk with dollar signs on them, as you do when you’re rich [Gene Simmons cashes another check! – Editor’s Note]. Mendrek is busy on the telephone. The Monkees, always eager to answer other people’s phones (See “Too Many Girls” and “Monkees in the Ring”),  answer some of Mendrek’s lines. There’s a Tonight Show reference when Peter tells a caller, “No, no Mr. Carson. Mendrek wants you on his show.” Mendrek pauses to give them his attention, and Mike brings up the Monkey’s Paw. Mendrek quickly brushes him off, claiming he’s too busy. Mendrek knows darn well the paw caused Micky’s problems.

I’m curious about Mendrek’s name. I wonder if it was inspired by the comic strip, Mandrake the Magician, which ran from 1934 to 2013. Mandrake was a hypnotist who used his powers to fight all kinds of villains and spies. It had a pulp-adventure feel, which is right up The Monkees’ writer’s alley.

Back home, the Monkees kid themselves that there’s some other cause for Micky’s sound of silence. They attempt to cure his “illness” with a cutaway gag, putting him in a boiling pot of chicken soup. Later, Micky silently chatters with Mr. Schneider, still holding the Monkey’s Paw. Mike, Peter, and Davy talk about him around the totem pole. Mike suggests that they need to re-teach Micky to talk. Davy makes a bad pun based on the totem pole, asking, “How?” With visibly red, stoned-looking eyes, he giggles uncontrollably at his own joke. I guess Davy Jones decided to play the “High Lama” himself in that scene.

Peter, Mike, and Davy dress in academic robes and give Micky lessons on talking. They use a blackboard that has a few inside jokes such as: “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken,” “Frodis,” and “legalize.” Mike wants to teach Micky to say “pencil,” but Micky still can’t speak. Peter tries to prompt him, using his p-popping trick. They give up, Mike holding the writing implement in question and pondering, “Do you suppose it has anything to do with the fact that this is a crayon?”

The Monkees hope that this is just a mental block. In a hilarious and memorable scene, they take Micky to a psychiatrist, played by Severn Darden (Guggins from “Monkee Vs. Machine.” They also use the same office set they used for Guggins. He gives Micky the ink-blot test, but the others keep piping in with their interpretations. Missing the point of the test, the shrink becomes furious, insisting that the only right answer is:

At the nightclub, Davy tells the Manager they’ve incorporated Micky’s silence into the act. By which he means, they’ve decided to imitate the Marx Brothers. Out on the stage comes Mike as Groucho, Micky as Harpo, and Peter as Chico. I guess Davy’s the Zeppo. Mike does bits from Groucho’s game show, You Bet Your Life. “Say the Magic Word, you get a hundred dollars.” There are other You Bet Your Life/Monkees connections. Joy Harmon, from the episodes “The Picture Frame” and “Monkees on the Wheel” and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez from “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” were both discovered on You Bet Your Life. Doodles Weaver from “Monkees Manhattan Style” appeared on the show as a comedian.

The Manager fires the Monkees and promises, “You’ll never work in show business again!” (Again, I doubt he has that power.) Back at the Monkees house, Mick-o mopes. Davy doesn’t blame the manager; he agrees an act like the Marx Brothers would never sell.

They wind up back at Mendrek’s. To his credit, he is now helping “the less fortunate.” That would include the Monkees. Davy and Mendrek’s cute daughter look through “The Book of Mysteries” to see if they can find a solution. Unfortunately she never gets a name; she’s listed on the IMDB as “Daughter.”

Mendrek hits the gong from “Monkees Chow Mein” to jumpstart Micky’s power of speech but only succeeds in freaking Peter out. Fortunately, Davy discovered that the solution is to sell the Monkey’s Paw to someone else. Mike suggests they only sell it to someone deserving and, with perfect timing, the Manager enters to re-hire Mendrek. They all get to work on selling the paw to the Manager. The Manager finds a quarter a bit steep and wants to know more about the “special powers.”

They demonstrate via the montage of magician’s tricks to “Words” (Boyce/Hart). Micky and Mendrek are the magicians who make the others vanish and reappear with “pop” sound effects. There’s also recycled footage of the Astonishing Pietro footage from “Too Many Girls.” Mendrek puts Micky in a giant cup of coffee, perhaps to accompany the giant phone from “Monkees on the Line.” Five Monkee points to whoever gets the reference in this picture:

After the romp, the Manager demands they sell him the Monkey’s Paw. They happily comply, and Mike suggests he go ahead and make a wish (with a look to the camera, inviting us in on the joke). The Manager wishes for a million dollars, which rains on him from above. Immediately the IRS shows up and arrests him for tax evasion.

Back at the Monkees pad, Micky talks a mile a minute to make up for lost time. The Monkees are once again right back where they started, no better or worse off, despite their ill-advised fling with the supernatural. They say goodbye, borrowing each other’s names, and sing the theme a capella. Overall, this was a fun adaptation of the original story. Lots of funny scenes and lines and I’m always happy when the plot revolves around them as musicians. The guest cast was terrific as usual, with the talented and engaging Hans Conried as Mendrek, walking the line between friend and foe to the Monkees.

There’s an interview clip, in which Peter talks about the death of the Hippie Movement, but more interesting is the outtake from the episode that follows. The Monkees are at Mendrek’s desk and do a brief Three Stooges “Hello, hello, hello.” Hans Conried breaks character and curses, “(whistle), I hate these kids.” According to this article on Something Else Review,  the actors playing the Monkees were encouraged by the producers to be energetic and goofy all the time, creating a spontaneous mood where “their madcap sensibilities could be captured with first-take efficiency.” Conried did not enjoy this environment. His expressed frustration was a moment that embarrassed Micky Dolenz because he was a fan of the older actor. Dolenz talks about this on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monstrous Monkee Mash”

“What an episode! I’ve never felt this way before!”

Boo! Welcome to the recap for “Monstrous Monkee Mash.” The name is a tribute to the novelty song, “Monster Mash,” written by Bobby Pickett and Leonard L. Capizzi, released in 1962. In that song, Bobby Pickett imitates Boris Karloff and tells the story of a mad scientist, whose monster rises up from the slab and creates a new dance sensation. Micky did his own Boris Karloff impression in “A Coffin Too Frequent.”

I have mentioned that I love these spooky themed-episodes, which would include “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” “I Was a Teenage Monster,” “The Case of the Missing Monkee,” “A Coffin Too Frequent,” and this one. The plot for “Monstrous Monkees Mash” is nothing special, but there are some unusual moments, editing tricks, and some other self-referential jokes. And of course it’s packed with pop-culture allusions. “Monstrous Monkee Mash” first aired January 22, 1968 and the opening credits tell us the director was James Frawley and writers were Neil Burstyn and David Panich.

The episode creeps in with a shot of the same spooky house used for the exterior shots in “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” but this time includes a flash of lightning effect. Lorelei, played by the gorgeous Arlene Martel (She was also Madame in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.”), leads Davy into the mansion library. She’s wearing all black, white face powder, and blood red lips. I had no idea Davy liked the Vampira type. A spooky but fun score accompanies this scene and the entire episode. Davy compliments the painting of the green-skinned vampire, which is clearly a real person standing in a frame. He goes over to the little toy bat on the desk and pulls its string. “I want to drink your blood,” says the bat in James Frawley’s voice. Davy wants to get the hell out of there, but Lorelei places a large gold necklace around his neck and kisses him. (It would have been fun if it had been the same “magic locket” from “Fairy Tale”.) There’s a “pop” sound, and Davy’s hypnotized!

The Count steps out of the painting and reveals their plan: Davy will become Dracula reborn. They express their excitement with evil laughter. Bwha-ha-ha ha! This episode is a tribute to the Universal Studios movie monsters from the classic horror and sci-fi films made in the 1920-1950s, featuring the iconic Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, and others. These also included comedies, such as Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy, etc. Abbott and Costello were an influence on The Monkees comedy style. Lon Chaney Jr., who was a guest star in “The Monkees in a Ghost Town,” starred in nearly 20 of these films and was Universal’s lead monster movie actor in the 1940s. His father, Lon Chaney, was in the two films that began this phenomenon, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

At the Monkee’s house, Mike, Micky, and Peter notice that Davy isn’t back from visiting his new girlfriend yet. Mike calls Lorelei’s number but all they get is an earful of evil laughter. Mike comes to the conclusion they need to go help Davy. Peter and Micky have a better idea; they hide under a blanket.

Back at the mansion, the count gives Davy lessons on being a vampire, including making him drink tomato juice to “get used to the color.” Davy’s feelings are summed up as, “Blood, bleh!” He gives Davy a Dracula cape, and Davy flies around, suspended on obvious black wires until he crashes into the wall. Peter, Mike, and Micky show up at the scary mansion and pull a large doorbell rope that’s an homage to the bell the Addams family pulled to summon Lurch. (You rang?) The Count and Lorelei invite them in, and then they leave the Monkees alone in the library and pop into the picture frame to eavesdrop.

Now, we get to the trippiest scene in the episode, thanks to the editing. There’s a random behind-the-scenes moment of Micky showing the director his medium and small “scare.” Mike finds the book on how to become a vampire. Peter takes a look and carries on about how he’s sure he’s seen the vampire pictured in the book before. (The audience can see it’s the Count.) The Count figures that Peter’s not-so-sharp brain is perfect for “the monster.” Micky flusters Mike with a comically self-centered panic attack, thinking the book applies to him personally. Throughout all this, there’s lots of quick cuts to the pictures of the Count in the book and various shots of the actual count, using the very fast editing style that they used in “Monkees on the Wheel,” “Monkees Watch Their Feet,” and “The Frodis Caper.” Besides making me dizzy, these quick cuts make the scene a standout. With just the dialogue and action alone, it wouldn’t be as interesting.

That would have been a very creepy Morticia Addams-type line to say, but with Peter’s delivery it’s adorable instead. Mike catches on that the Count is the same as the vampire in the book. He pulls Micky and Peter close to tell them his plan. Lorelei gets a pen and notebook to spy from inside the portrait. Mike suggests they act like everything is fine, while Peter goes to search the house. Peter quite wisely doesn’t want to, so Mike and Micky go to search the house, squeezing through the library door Stooges-style.

In the basement of the mansion, Davy is chained to the wall while he chats with The Wolfman, played by Monkees stand-in David Pearl. Davy convinces The Wolfman he’s being treated badly by the other monsters. In a cute reference to the Universal monster movies, Davy points out that the Wolf Man made over 30 movies with Dracula and never even got second billing. The wound-up Wolfman growls and menaces Lorelei when she enters the basement, so Davy translates his demands, “He wants a better percentage of the profits, he wants cook-outs on weekends, and he wants to play his own music.” Nice meta-comment on that last demand.

Lorelei pops into the library with Peter and they repeat the same “What a kiss!/It’s not my kiss, it is the necklace!” dialogue from earlier, and now he’s hypnotized. The Wolfman enters and wants to carry Peter off, so The Count distracts him with his “magic powers”– hot dogs on a string. “I love hot dogs!” declares the Wolf Man. So dumb, yet so funny. The Count and Lorelei lead Peter away for a good old fashioned brain swapping. This didn’t work out so well for the mad scientist in “I Was a Teenage Monster.”

Mike looks around the mansion while Micky holds his hand and crouches over like a little kid. The Mummy approaches them but instead of fearing him, they admonish him for being so dirty. Suddenly scared again, Micky makes a selfish suggestion to forget Davy and form a trio. They go back to the library and find Peter’s also missing (He’s gone!). Micky’s already moved on to forming a duo, and if Mike vanishes he’ll go solo. He sings, “Here I come, walking down the street…I get the funniest looks…”

Mike and Micky tiptoe around the hallway, unaware that the Wolfman is following them. Mike finds a “secret door” and excitedly walks through it. Micky turns around to tell The Wolfman “You oughta get a haircut, they won’t let you into Disneyland.” He realizes he’s talking to a monster and runs back into the library. Micky performs a classic Monkees-scramble to fast music, piling furniture against the door to keep the Wolfman out. Lorelei appears and the two of them repeat the kiss/necklace joke for the third time, until he gets to “What a necklace!” and Lorelei cuts him off with, “Oh, shut up.” [Cute. – Editor’s Note] Nice crescendo for that repeated gag. Lorelei tells the Wolfman he can have Micky. The Wolfman opens the door out so the furniture was never blocking his access to the library. Hee hee.

In the basement, Mike is impressed with the level of creepiness until he realizes he’s alone. He opens the sarcophagus and finds the Mummy. Creeped-out but still polite, he apologizes, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know this was occupied” and runs back upstairs to hide in the library portrait. Lorelei and The Count enter and start discussing their plans so Mike spies on them this time, using Lorelei’s pen and notebook. The ghoulish family intends to take Peter to the underground crypt with the monster and put his brain into the body of the Monster. They keep mixing up whose brain is going where, until Mike finally has to break out and ask for an eraser. The Count obliges. Heh.

Downstairs, Micky and Davy are both chained to the wall and they worry about their future as monsters. They fantasize about what it will be like and pop into Dracula/Wolfman costumes. Davy does a passable Transylvanian accent while Micky’s wolf man sounds like iconic disc jockey Wolfman Jack. Davy thinks they need a girl so he can bite her neck. Micky howls to attract a female, and Monkees extra Valerie Kairys answers his call.

Unfortunately for Davy, The Count interrupts them before any biting occurs. They’re confused about what he’s doing since it’s their “typical Monkees fantasy sequence,” and they analyze that part of the show for him, as Mike analyzed the tag sequence in “Monkees on the Wheel.” Basically, in a Monkees fantasy sequence, they’re in control and allowed to be and do whatever they want. The Count lays it out for them, “It seems this show is different!” He proves it by telling them to take off their makeup. They can’t! They break the fourth wall to call the makeup and prop department for help, but no one shows up. The Count is suddenly in a director’s chair with a cameraman nearby. He declares, “And I control you anytime I want to simply by thinking about it!” Thoroughly in charge, he orders the Wolfman to chain them back up and proceed with the operation. As the Count said, this show is different, and they’ve broken down and re-imagined their own format!

One thing about Ron Masak’s performance as the count: He shouts all of his lines. It’s over-the-top, even for The Monkees. My guess is that he’s doing an imitation of the television “Horror Host,” the kind that presents old horror films and makes jokes in between commercial breaks. This is a television trend that started when Screen Gems licensed 52 Universal horror films in 1957 and encouraged the use of hosts for the nationally-syndicated program, Shock Theater. Examples of hosts would be Vampira, Zacherley, Elvira, and, more recently, Svengoolie.

Here comes Mike to the rescue. But first he performs some awesome physical comedy. He gets to the basement steps, sneaking around in the most obvious way possible. Once he’s confident there’s no one around, he starts in with the manly strut and…he falls down the stairs. He hears the Count coming and hides in the sarcophagus with the Mummy. Cozy!

The Count gets ready for the brain transfer and breaks the fourth wall to mention the obvious fake backdrop behind him. Funny, I was thinking the same thing. It’s nice that it occurred to them their audience was observant. Mike sneaks out of the sarcophagus wearing the Mummy’s bandages. The Count calls on the Mummy-man for assistance, so Mike pretends to be the Mummy, shouting “Mummy!” at the Wolfman. The Count begins the operation, while Mike does his best Igor impression. The Count holds up and identifies a tool as a scalpel. Mike corrects him that it’s a bone chisel and, “it’s used to split!” He grabs the operating table with “Peter” on it and proceeds to “split.” Bad pun, but funny anyway.

Mike wheels “Peter” into the dungeon and frees Micky and Davy from the wall chains. The Count catches on that Mike tricked him, but Lorelei gleefully reminds him they still “control the others” with their thought waves. The Count summons Micky, who “attacks” by gnawing on Mike’s hand. This is a call back gag to “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” when Micky turned into a werewolf, and Mike salted his hand and offered it to him. Next, the Count uses his powers to make Davy bite Mike’s neck. This is getting weird; everyone stop snacking on Mike!

Mike tries to wake Peter for help, but of course Mike has taken the monster, and Peter’s still with the Count. Lorelei reminds the Count that he has the switch that activates the monster. I love Arlene Martel’s sexy/scary Morticia-esque performance in this episode. The Count throws the switch, commenting, “Do you realize the last time I did this, New York went out!” This ignites the romp to “Goin’ Down” (Dolenz, Jones, Tork, Nesmith, and Hildebrand). Monsters and Monkees dance and run around. The best part is Micky-as-Wolfman and the Wolfman fight over a fire hydrant. Ha. The most pointless part is old footage from the first season of The Monkees where the boys jump over a pool in front of the California Mountains.

This is a silly and cheesy but still fun episode. Despite the lack of originality, I can’t dislike something so hilarious, even the dumbest jokes land. This one certainly slides by on style over substance. The guest cast was a scream (pun intended); the Monkees were all charming and funny. The set decoration, the spooky yet bouncy background score, and the mood lighting are perfect, giving it just the right horror movie tribute feel. This is creepy-cute well before Tim Burton, though it obviously owes a lot to The Munsters and The Addams Family. While “Monstrous Monkee Mash” doesn’t have the social commentary factor of “The Monkees Watch Their Feet,” or the hipness of “The Frodis Caper,” it is worth mentioning with those other two because of the comic self-awareness, cool editing tricks, and variations on the traditional Monkees episodes.

David Pearl, who is hilarious in “Monstrous Monkee Mash,” got a credit at the end as the Wolfman, though this is far from his first appearance on The Monkees. Find a complete list of David Pearl’s appearances here.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees Watch Their Feet”

“The more days that go by, the more good old days there are to miss.”

“The Monkees Watch Their Feet” a.k.a. “Micky and the Outer Space Creatures” is a standout episode of the second season, mostly because of the unusual story-telling style. Instead of seeing things from the Monkees point of view, the story is done as a documentary (or mockumentary), introduced to us by comedian Pat Paulsen. Like “Fairy Tale,” this is a deviation from the usual format. I imagine that if you had never seen The Monkees before and somehow this episode or “Fairy Tale” was the first you saw, you’d be puzzled. “Monkees Watch Their Feet” is also one of the most subversive of the series. Much of this episode is a commentary on the Red Scare, the war in Vietnam, and the generation gap, expressed both in Paulsen’s narration and in the homage to science fiction movies.

Alex Singer directed “The Monkees Watch Their Feet” and two of my other favorite episodes, “Monkees à la Mode” and “Monkee Mayor.” The scenes with the Monkees were shot in May of 1967, but the narration sections with Pat Paulsen were shot the following September. It makes me wonder if, when they were looking at the May footage, the production team decided they didn’t have much of an episode and needed to add something. Some of the other season two episodes ended up feeling incomplete. Maybe this was one they cared enough about to fix. Coslough Johnson wrote this episode and many other Monkees episodes that I mentioned in previous recaps.

The episode begins with Mike in front of an American flag. “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (Julia Ward Howe, 1861) plays, adapted by Monkees composer Stu Phillips. The flag in the background has only 35 stars, the official flag in 1863. The scene has a very official “State of the Union” address vibe. Mike speaks into the microphone, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this evening RayBert Productions and Screen Gems, with its usual lack of cooperation from the National Broadcasting Company, is pleased to present this special report from the Department of UFO Information. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Secretary of the Department of UFO Information, Mr. Pat Paulsen.” They start right out with a jab at the Network with the “usual lack of cooperation from the National Broadcasting Company.” Unfortunately, that’s all we’re going to get of Mike. (He was recovering from his tonsillectomy during the dates when the initial scenes were shot, according to the book, The Monkees Day-By-Day by Andrew Sandoval.)

Paulsen warns us that aliens are among us and preying upon “the innocence of our youth” (“because they know they’ll try anything.”) This is a common theme in The Monkee series, the joke that adults cannot comprehend teenagers/young adults at all. Throughout Paulsen’s narrative, he uses alien invasion to explain the “strange” behavior of kids. He sets up his “documented film report” and reveals a small film screen upon which we see Micky, Peter, and Davy in their pad. It seems to me that the Monkees are objects rather than subjects in this episode because we see them first on Paulsen’s film screen. This gives the audience a rare detached view of them, seen through Paulsen’s eyes. Note that he addresses the audience, but the Monkees never break the fourth wall in this episode.

Paulsen describes the boys as “three average, typical young American teenagers with their own television series.” The scene moves into the Monkees living room, where they’re getting dressed. That must have been some party, if they left their clothes in the main room. Davy nags the others to hurry so they can start rehearsing. Micky’s clothes vanish with “pop” sound effects, and Davy scolds him that he’s supposed to be putting his clothes on.

Paulsen analyzes the incident of Micky’s missing clothes and blames it on aliens, “Certainly if the intent was to be humorous, it would have been funnier than that. Unless it was a TV show.” His deadpan delivery of these ridiculous lines is excellent. I also enjoy his awkward stammering and physical shtick, contradicting his “Authority Figure” status with the visual of someone who doesn’t even have control over his own body and surroundings.

After the credits, Paulsen begins describing the problems and confusion of being a young adult. He narrates Micky’s life with clips from episodes past. He calls Micky a “teenage millionaire” (Clip of Micky as M.D. from “I’ve Got a Little Song here”), “deeply troubled” (Micky with Brenda in “I was a 99 Pound Weakling,”). He describes the “vague longings and awakenings in his body” (Micky in “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” lays in the harem girls’ laps) and “vague awakenings of his mind” (Micky blows raspberries in “It’s a Nice Place to Visit”) There’s some clip of Micky in front of a WWI plane that I don’t recall shown at Paulsen’s line, “Tormented by a war he must fight in a country thousands of miles away.” But even with all this, Paulsen comes to the conclusion that aliens are messing with Micky.

To prove his point, we get a scene on an alien spaceship. The Assistant alien tells her Captain they need to start “Plan D” which is “Disposal of Earthlings through the various means of destruction at our command.” This could be a reference to the infamous 1959 film, Plan 9 from Outer Space, which concerned a plot to take over the world by controlling the undead. The aliens in this episode use a young adult instead of a zombie. This strikes me as a subtle joke that teenagers are easily controlled zombies, through the media and peer pressure [Brilliant, prescient point! – Editor’s note].

Micky walks down the beach while Paulsen narrates the theme lyrics, “Here he comes walking down the beach; He gets the funniest looks from everyone he meets.” Micky finds his missing gear on the trail left for him, including a ladies stocking that Paulsen describes as “an oversight” on the part of the aliens. Snicker. He gets zapped into the alien spaceship as he tries to pick up his drum. Paulsen hilariously mocks the teenage trends of the time, “The young man finds himself in a strange environment. Gone are the psychedelic lights, the ear shattering music, the strangely painted ritualistic dancers. All of the good, solid, peaceful things that, to him, means security and home.” He’s got a point: The spaceship is not all that weird in comparison to the psychedelic ’60s.

Micky is friendly to the aliens, wandering around and admiring their “pad.” He pulls a handle that traps him in a cage. The aliens try to duplicate him. Their first attempt is a gorilla (actually a man in a costume as seen in “Monkees Chow Mein.”) The Assistant, who is clearly the one in charge, tells the Captain to reduce the brain tissue and lower the IQ. This does the trick. She tells the Captain that Robot Micky will spy, while they question the real Micky, who appears stoned inside the alien cage. One flaw in this plot for me, the usually quick and clever Micky is required to be naïve and passive for this to work. On the other hand, this is Paulsen’s view of Micky, not the Monkees point of view so maybe this is his convenient (to the plot) version of him.

Paulsen waves his pointer stick to emphasize his words, comically off-rhythm with himself. (That’s probably harder to execute than you’d think.) He ponders, “Whatever happened to the good old days? Perhaps you figure that the more days that go by, the more good old days there are to miss. That’s tricky thinking and not the answer. Today is not a good old one, because the aliens are causing riots and crime waves, drug addiction, unemployment, etc. They want to put the blame on teenagers.” This is accompanied by a clip of screaming fans from “Monkees on Tour.” Then, and a subversive stab at the Vietnam War and reaction to war protesters:

Paulsen narrates that the aliens made a perfect robot of Micky, except that the robot’s feet are backwards. Robot Micky walks along the beach, where Davy and Peter find him and immediately sense that something’s wrong. Paulsen tells the audience never to give anyone the benefit of the doubt when looking for aliens. Peter and Davy notice the spaceship, but Robot Micky diverts them, smartly suggesting that if they’ve never seen a spaceship before, then how would they recognize one? Peter, “He’s right man. Probably some new drive-in.” Another funny point made. When styles become so “out there,” how would humanity know if something was “off.” An alien landing in Times Square would probably be ignored.

This storyline of Micky being replaced by an alien seems to be a comic homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), which was about humans who are replaced one-by-one with emotionless alien duplicates. This film could be seen as a warning on the dangers of Communist brainwashing which was the fear at the time, or possibly it was a comment on the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) Red Scare hysteria. There’s a short breakdown here on the ways sci-fi movies made political commentary on the Red Scare.

At the pad, Robot Micky behaves strangely. He reports back to the aliens through a microphone on his thumb, he thinks the phone is a “Pussycat,” and he tries to ask the fridge out on a date. Davy and Peter point out his odd behavior. When Robot Micky tries to kill them with dynamite, Davy and Peter subdue him, tie him down, and go over his body with a checklist. They discover the backwards feet and surmise that he’s not Micky. Robot Micky’s head swivels around and says, “Klaatu, Barada, Nikto” referencing the 1951 sci-fi film, The Day The Earth Stood Still, another film that, like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, was a commentary on cold war politics. Micky also quotes Forbidden Planet: “My Name is Robbie the Robot.”

Peter and Davy go to the military UFO department for help. There’s a young agent, using binoculars to search for UFO’s and an older man, the Chief, who’s a bit wacky. Peter and Davy tell the Chief their belief that Micky’s been replaced by an alien because his feet are backwards. The Chief asks them to make an official report, but that’s about all the help he offers. As usual, the adults/authority figures are no help. The Chief removes his shoes under the desk and pushes them so the heels are facing forward, so now the Monkees think he’s an alien. The younger agent helps them tie him up. There’s a sight gag throughout the scene that’s tricky to catch in the chaos:

Paulsen admits “Yes, our government’s position on certain matters is unbelievable. Often, the fight against the aliens must be carried out by the citizens alone.” Peter and Davy prepare to do exactly that. They question Robot Micky on the whereabouts of the real Micky and on why the aliens are on earth. Robot Micky keeps replying, “I won’t talk.” Davy pulls a Captain Kirk on him (Kirk’s method of breaking robots and computers just by confusing them with logic). There’s a great shot of all this action from an unusual camera angle.

When Peter accidentally squirts Robot Micky with seltzer, he freaks out and they discover he’s a robot, rather than an alien. In jumpsuits and face shields, Peter and Davy take him apart in order to make him help them find Micky. The close shot of the robot’s tubes and wires look like the same ones Micky used in “Monkee See, Monkee Die” when he tried to repair the radio. After poking in several wrong places, they hit the right one, and Robot Micky agrees to take them to the spaceship to find Micky.

The flying saucer brings them in when Robot Micky repeats, “Klaatu, Barada, Nikto.” Peter, Davy, and Robot Micky pop (with sound effects) onto the ship and reunite with Micky. The aliens and Robot Micky fire lasers at the Monkees and this begins a romp to “Star Collector” (Goffin/King). Sadly, this is a typical romp, nowhere near as clever as the rest of the episode. There’s a notable moment used in the opening when Peter rides a bike around the ship. The one joke I like is when the Grandfather clock (I don’t know why there’s a Grandfather clock on the spaceship, but just go with it.) blows up at exactly midnight and this happens:

In the aftermath, the aliens are passed out on the control panel. Robot Micky apologizes to the Monkees, who invite him to come home with them. With regrets, he tells them he can’t stay because he’s got a little “blender” on Zlotnick. Wow, he really has a thing for kitchen appliances.

Paulsen wraps things up with a mock-serious explanation about the danger of aliens with backward feet in our society, “America, if you let this menace into your midst, you will not know whether you are coming or going.” I was not around yet for the HUAC days, but I’ve assume this is what they’re going after throughout the episode, making commentary on the hearings investigating Hollywood on charges of spreading Communist propaganda. Paulsen is flanked by two uniformed soldiers, and he takes the little flags from his desk and puts them into the soldier’s rifles. For ultimate patriotic affect, no doubt. He wraps things up, “In summation, let me say once more, emphatically, we are being attacked by outer space. The time has come for us to stop sticking our bayonets into each other, and start sticking our bayonets into space.”

Pat Paulsen (July 6, 1927 – April 24, 1997)  is clearly the star of “The Monkees Watch Their Feet.” His performance is a variation of his act that he performed on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour as a regular guest star. See clips here. As a gag that started on The Smothers Brothers, he ran for president in 1968 on the STAG party ticket (Straight Talking American Government). He ran for president five other times, ending up on the primary ballot several times and occasionally getting a percentage of the votes. Here are two of his campaign slogans, “I’ve upped my standards. Now, up yours” and “If elected, I will win.” And another funny quote, “If either the right wing or the left wing gained control of the country, it would probably fly around in circles.”

Obviously, I dig this episode a lot. It’s got it all; mockumentary, sci-fi, and political satire. I have to wonder what it would have been like if they hadn’t added the Secretary of the Department of UFO Information scenes later. I’m guessing another weak story that’s a pale copy of an episode from the first season. There’s not much to the plot, let’s face it. With those Paulsen scenes and narration, the style adds to the substance and the episode becomes brilliant comedy. I wonder how this would play for younger people who grew up after the wall came down. Even for me growing up in the 1980’s I still have memories of the paranoia of communism and fear of a war with Russia so this episode strikes a chord with me. I do think that even today there’s plenty of government conspiracy and fear of “others” that makes this all sadly still relevant.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

Monkees vs Macheen: “Fairy Tale”

“Once Upon a Time, In the Land of Kirshner”

“Fairy Tale” was directed by James Frawley, written by Peter Meyerson, and aired on January 8, 1968. This is a memorable episode, and when you think of the series, this one’s bound to come to mind. It’s funny and unexpected. They break with the regular episode format and the usual premise of them as an out-of work band to show them acting out a comic stage play. I’m all for shows that can experiment and then return to their usual format. The episode takes place on sets with colorful backgrounds, such as ones used in some of the musical performances for “Valleri,” “Words,” and “Papa Gene’s Blues.” The sets are all cardboard and look like they were made for a school play. Instead of the usual poking fun at old movies, this story is a parody of the fairy tale genre, reminiscent of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends “Fractured Fairy Tale” segments. Most kids watching the show had probably read books of fairy tales many times.

The Town Cryer, played by Regis Cordic, who was also the Doctor in “The Monkees Christmas Show” as the Town Cryer, blows a horn and sets up the story for us, “Once upon a time in Avon-on-Calling…” Avon-on-Calling is a joke referring to the “Avon calling” door-to-door cosmetics sales company and commercials. I remember Avon – both my grandmothers were into it. The Town Cryer introduces Mike the cobbler, Davy the tailor, Micky the innkeeper, and Peter the unemployed. The Cryer continues to narrate that Peter is out of work because he can’t stop dreaming about the princess. The other three advise him to give it up.

Peter plays the underdog role in this one, and he’s the perfect choice, having done it so well in “One Man Shy.” He’s the poor young hopeful hero like the youngest son from “Puss in Boots” who ends up marrying a princess. Speaking of princesses, she’s in a carriage that just so happens to be stuck in the mud in Peter’s little town. Princess Gwen is played by Mike, with a long blonde wig (sideburns fully visible), false eyelashes, and an extremely unpleasant attitude. Mike’s Gwen performance contradicts the expected beautiful, sweet, and virtuous princess. Gee, I wonder if these two kids can work it out.

After the opening titles, Mike as-the-cobbler starts carrying on about what a great-looking chick Mike-as-Gwen is, (“those sideburns, that body”). This gag of Mike lusting after himself happens several times and is weird and funny. The Princess Gwen version of Mike shouts for her knight, Harold, to get her out of the mud. To my amusement, there’s a sign with an arrow helpfully pointing out where the “mud” is supposed to be on the set (as seen on the “title” graphic in this post).

Harold promises his “fair jewel of the east” that he’ll have her out of the mud in a moment. Mike bats false eyelashes at Harold. Just reading the previous sentence makes me laugh. Mike as a “pretty girl” is the funniest way the show could have gone. Micky does crazy things all the time, so if he’d played Gwen it wouldn’t be as unexpected. Davy as “pretty” is a little too obvious. Mike is the perfect choice for maximum comic effect.

Peter offers to carry Gwen out of the mud, but she says she’ll walk across his back instead. That’s a shame: I would’ve loved to have seen Peter Tork carry Michael Nesmith. Gwen warns Harold that if he doesn’t get the carriage out of the mud in 10 minutes, she won’t marry him. She walks across Peter’s back to get back into the carriage, and then Harold steps on Peter to talk to her. Micky pulls Peter out of the “mud,” and Peter kicks the sign in frustration.

Harold and his fellow knight, Richard, go to the Inn and demand food, launching a montage of them eating like savages with twinkly “la la” music playing. Mike and Davy help Micky wait on the unruly knights, giving them a plastic and rubber food feast (but real bread). It gets ridiculous as they start piling furniture on the tables for the knights to eat, and then the gag escalates as they bring lights, stands, and film equipment to the banquet.

Peter hears Harold telling Richard his plan: Richard will lock Gwen in the tower, torture her, kill her, and then Richard will stab himself. What’s in this for Richard? Before Peter can warn Gwen, the knights return to the carriage. Peter supplies his back for them to walk across again. Gwen rewards Peter by giving him her locket (Mike gets it caught in his wig but yanks it out and keeps going in character). They order the horsemen, Ric Klein and David Price, “let’s away!”

Peter tells Micky, Mike, and Davy (innkeeper, cobbler, and tailor) about Harold’s plan to lock Gwen up in a tower with “an impenetrable dragon.” He uses the p-popping trick that he used on the “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” track on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Micky suggests the locket might be of use. Peter disagrees and bites it to demonstrate its cheapness. There’s a puff of smoke and the Fairy of the Locket appears, complete with a Bronx accent and hair half in curlers. They tell her the princess is in trouble. The Fairy identifies her as, “The selfish, conceited, overbearing one, oh, with the Texas accent?” This is classic fairy tale stuff gone goofy: the dragon, the magic locket, the fairy, and the rescue.

The Fairy starts giving orders. She tells Mike to make shoes that will “scale high walls.” Davy is to “sew me a suit of mail that nothing can penetrate.” Micky is supposed to turn a kitchen knife into a sword that can cut through iron. When this is done, Peter will take these things and save the princess. The Fairy tells Peter not to drop, crush or lose the locket. Not because it would lose its magic as Micky assumes but because, “I’ll be killed, stupid; it’s my home.”

Much miming and physical acting to “la-la-la” music as Mike, Micky, and Davy make enchanted objects for Peter. The score to this episode, with all the “La las,” “Uh-huhs,” and “magic lockets”, is funny all by itself and enhances the goofy tone. Peter ends up with chain-mail armor, a prop sword, and (to my amusement) wingtips. Mike, Micky, and Davy push Peter into the forest. Comically contradicting the hero archetype, he is not brave and wants to get out of it, “I don’t even like her anymore.” He suggests, “What about the army, 10,000 strong?” Nice Lord of the Rings reference, Peter. Once he’s on his own, the first person he meets is Davy as Little Red Riding Hood, Micky as Hansel and Davy as Gretel, and then Micky as Goldilocks. These are funny little bits, clashing with the expected image of well-known childhood fairy tale characters.

Peter gets to the castle and approaches the Dragon, who appears to me to be more the Asian New Year’s style than the medieval fantasy I would have expected. Peter is prepared to fight him with his magic sword, but the dragon doesn’t want to play that game. He asks Peter a riddle instead. Director James Frawley supplies the voice of the dragon, “What has two ears, two eyes, and a very short life.” Peter doesn’t know but that’s good enough for the Dragon, who lowers the drawbridge and allows Peter entrance to the castle.

Unfortunately, it’s a trap; Richard is waiting for him. Richard tries hitting him with a mace and club but the score tells us the “magic locket” is protecting Peter. Richard tries beating at him with his sword and shield but nothing hurts Peter. He has this beaming, adorable smile on his face the entire time as Richard is trying to kill him, as only Peter Tork could do. Richard runs off and Peter looks up at a stock footage shot of the Empire State building, identifying it as where the princess must be languishing. (“Languish, languish.”)

Peter does the Batman-style crawl up the wall with his anachronistic wingtips. He gets to the tower and asks Gwen to escape with him through the window, but she’s afraid of heights. Peter says she has nothing to fear because of his magic locket. Gwen realizes she gave him a valuable magic locket and demands it back. Harold and Richard enter the scene, and Harold orders Richard to “Get them.” Richard, showing more logic than his boss, asks, “Why should we do that? They’re already in prison.”

Because he no longer has the luck from the locket, Peter’s sword gets stuck when he tries to defend himself. He asks Gwen to return it, but snarks, “You’re going to fight them with a magic locket? You might as well do a dance to Spring.” The knights pull knives on Peter. Harold promises Gwen a torturous death, so she dumps him. With that, Peter and Gwen are now cellmates.

Back at the inn, the Monkees drink milk, as they did in “Hitting the High Seas.” The Town Cryer announces, while crying, that Peter will be executed. (Mike is mouthing the Cryer’s lines for some reason.) Mike, Micky, and Davy head off through the woods to rescue Peter. After searching for him for three days, they decide to split up. Micky runs into Little Red Riding Hood (Davy), and Davy runs into Goldilocks (Micky).

Nothing quite like a smutty joke in the middle of a fairy tale, eh kids? Micky, Mike, and Davy reach the castle and freak when they see the dragon. The dragon asks the riddle: “What has six eyes, six ears, and a short life?” Sharp-witted Micky quickly figures it out, “Three dumb peasants.” The dragon lowers the drawbridge and the Monkees jump to show the impact, and their jumps are deliberately out of sync with each other.

Gwen is shrieking in the tower as the knights are about to kill her. Mike, Micky, and Davy get up there and the knights and the peasants fight, mixed with footage of knights climbing a castle wall and fighting from some old film that I can’t identify, unfortunately. Gwen is flattered, “Defending my honor, isn’t that groovy? A bunch of long-haired weirdos and some vicious people.” Harold says he’s basically non-violent and Peter agrees, so they arm wrestle instead of sword fight.

Gwen finally tosses the locket back to Peter. Once he has it, Harold and Richard instantly give up the fight. Micky and Mike sing, “Robin men, Robin men, riding through the woods,” their own variation on the theme song to The Adventures of Robin Hood TV series. Gwen offers Peter anything he wants for a reward. Mike, Micky, and Davy prompt Peter to ask her to marry him, especially Mike who goes on about how hot she is again. Peter asks Gwen, but Mike breaks character, takes the wig off, and turns him down, “Yeah, I’m already married, man, Phyllis and Christian and my little kids.”

Mike-the-cobbler ends with, “Well, that wraps up another laugh riot” and reminds us to “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken.” They sing the Monkees theme a capella as they walk off and wave to the camera. The episode proper is followed by a brief interview segment. Bob Rafelson and the other Monkees tease Mike about playing Princess Gwen. He only comments, “I fail to recognize that I really did that you know.”

After this is the performance clip for the song “Daily Nightly” from the album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. The song was written by Michael Nesmith and the lyrics refer to the Sunset Strip curfew riots from 1966. This same riot was also mentioned in the interview segment for the episode “Find the Monkees.” The lyrics are beautiful and poetic, “Darkened rolling figures move through prisms of no color/Hand in hand, they walk the night/But never know each other.” The song also uses the Moog instrument, as did “Star Collector.” For “Daily Nightly” Micky played the unusual instrument himself. In the book the Monkees Day by Day (Andrew Sandoval, 2005), Peter mentioned that he thought Micky did a better job playing the Moog on “Daily Nightly” then session musician Paul Beaver did on “Star Collector.” According to Tork, instead of trying to play it like a “monophonic musical keyboard,” “Micky just made the Moog stand up and speak in a way that Paul Beaver didn’t have a clue.”

“Fairy Tale” really was a laugh riot, despite Nesmith’s sarcasm. Everyone’s big over-the-top acting suits the visual style with the flat sets and grade school theater costumes etc. There are so many good lines and funny sight gags. Nearly all the dialogue makes me laugh. The Monkees carry most of the comic weight themselves in “Fairy Tale,” playing multiple roles. The best part for me is that the two non-actor Monkees took the lead roles, and they really committed to it. The guest cast did their part to be hilarious as well; the dastardly Harold, and post-modern fairy. “Fairy Tale” was an experiment that worked. It could’ve gone either way when they risked breaking the format, but it paid off in big laughs and a fun premise that kids can relate to, since they most likely know all those common fairy tales. It was fun to see those stories taken apart and played with, Monkees-style.

The episode was obviously, for whatever reason, low budget. It seems to me that the crew and performers used their creativity to make that work for them and came up with hilarious episode.

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.