“A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Bandstand”
The Monkees really got into a lot of genres didn’t it? It has more in common with cartoons than sitcoms in that way, as they don’t stick to the “situation.” There were Monkees episodes inspired by westerns, gangster films, science fiction, horror, mystery, and spy stories to name a few. If you were seeing these for the first time, you certainly wouldn’t be able to guess what they might try next. They just incorporate the notion that they’re a band right into the storyline, whatever it is. “The Case of the Missing Monkee” is a cross between mystery, sci-fi, and a spy story. Director and Monkees producer Bob Rafelson gives the episode a cinematic feel using more medium and close shots than usual. There is also a dark edge to the whole thing. “The Case of the Missing Monkee” which premiered January 9, 1967 was written by head writers Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso.
Speaking of the cinematic effect, the opening shot is a lovely pan across a banquet room where the scientist Professor Schnitzler is giving a speech. The Monkees sit on the bandstand, waiting to play. Schnitzler tells his audience, “war is war, peace is peace, and science is science.” Mike’s puzzled face reflects my own, but Peter’s impressed. He introduces himself to Schnitzler, who admires the Monkees music and discretely passes Peter a note. Peter reads. “They are taking me to the Remington Clinic.” He tries to tell Mike, but Mike’s all business because they have to perform. Peter ignores him completely and wanders off to look for Schnitzler. This week’s villain, Dr. Marcovich notices him. Good for Peter, doing his own thinking. Unfortunately, he wanders over to the curtain at the side, gets hit with a large mallet, and dragged off. The mallet is a silly contrast to the serious setup. This is one of the many instances in the series where Peter is the one finding trouble with his naivete and curiosity.
After the opening theme, Mike, Micky, and Davy look for Peter. Mike finds Dr. Marcovich and tugs on his coat, earning a “Don’t do that” from Marcovich. The Doctor dismisses them and tells them to play music as they’re supposed to. Mike remembers the note, reading it as “I am being taken to the Remington Clinic.” Outside the Remington Clinic, I’m surprised to see daytime as I assumed the banquet was at night. Inside, they attempt to get help from the Nurse at the desk and describe the missing Peter. The cheerful but clueless Nurse knows nothing about him or Schnitzler.
Go figure; Mike doesn’t mention Peter’s charming dimples and manly shoulders (like I would have). Also, in every picture I’ve ever seen of Peter Tork, his eyes look brown to me. The nurse tells them to go to the police. A subtle dig at authority as Davy mutters something about going to see “the man” and they go. Dr. Marcovich overhears the entire thing and denies to the nurse knowing anything about Schnitzler. He stops to make “evil faces” for good measure. I enjoy this actor; he is dramatic and menacing in most scenes and then he pulls off goofy stuff like this.
Davy, Mike, and Micky have indeed gone to the man, and bring a cop to the banquet location. The former French restaurant is now a Chinese restaurant complete with a ridiculous stereotypical Chinese restaurant owner. The owner makes The Monkees look like dopes and the cop tells them not to bother any more policemen until they know where they were. We have another situation where the boys have no responsible adult they can trust. “The man” indeed. The restaurant owner is of course Marcovich in disguise and he really hams it up, laughing and jumping up and down after peeling off his disguise.
The Monkees try to fool the nurse into rushing them into the clinic, but the Nurse is too diligent and bureaucratic. Davy gives her his address as 1438 instead of 1334. He either really hit his head or he doesn’t want these questionable people knowing where he lives. I love the performance of the Nurse. She’s aggressively perky and nice, pathologically efficient, and not at all helpful. The Monkees don’t love her and lose their patience, especially when she says she can’t admit Davy immediately. In the meantime, she gives him a cough drop. I don’t know what’s in it, but it motivates Davy to drop his crutches and dance and sing “Old Folks At Home” (Stephen Foster) again, as he did in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.” Coincidentally or not, both of these episodes were written and directed by the same team. Getting high on her own supply, the nurse takes a few wacky cough drops and inspires stock footage of rocket ships.
The Monkees resort to breaking in to the Remington clinic. Davy questions the legality of this. I can’t believe a Monkee is questioning breaking the law but it leads to the following witty exchange: Micky: “So what do you want to do? Do you want to run home where it’s safe and leave Peter here in trouble all alone?” Davy: “Of course not.” Micky: “Well, it was just a suggestion.” Instead, Micky busts out what he refers to as the Bathook. Mike sensibly points out the ladder right behind them. The Bathook, by the way, is one of the many references to Batman made by The Monkees. This is beautifully listed here, on The Monkees Go Ape for Batman!
Finally in the clinic, Davy, Mike, and Micky disguise themselves as patients and begin to search for Peter. A very creepy atmosphere was created in the hospital with the Monkees nervous reactions, the lighting scheme, and the music. It would have been even better without the laugh track. Meanwhile, Marcovich and his partner Bruno have Peter tied up in another room. They discuss how they will sneak Schnitzler out of the country and “America will lose one of its greatest scientists.” Finally, we have an idea of the plot of the villains. This dialogue makes me think it’s a sort of foreign espionage story they’re going for, though like the Maltese Vulture it’s just what drives the story along.
Bruno wants to know what to do with Peter. Peter lists his woes but he’s really quoting the medical drama Ben Casey. There’s a Ben Casey connection as David Jones appeared in the 1965 episode, “If You Play Your Cards Right, You Too Can Be a Loser” as a glue-sniffing wife-beater [What? – Editor]. Try to picture that, will you? Speaking of Batman, Davy’s co-star on Ben Casey was pre-Bat Girl Yvonne Craig.
Bruno pulls a gun on Peter since he “knows too much.” (Peter: “Thank you!”) Sidekick Bruno is truly threatening, enhanced by Vincent Gardenia’s intense, no-nonsense performance and dour expression. Marcovich has a better idea. Peter tries to rescue himself by calling “Shazam!” at the mirror but only manages to break it. Catch a little “Monkee Men” theme here. Meanwhile the other non-missing Monkees try to get out of the one room where they have been searching, but here comes Bruno to give physical therapy.
There’s a silly sequence as they receive their therapy using the (now ancient) exercise equipment. Micky pulls on the wall pulleys, Davy uses the “vibrating belt machine” to get rid of his spare tire, of course leading to a site gag where he pulls out an actual tire. Mike is on the rowing machine, but not exercising; he serenades the lovely and lucky Valerie Kairys with a banjo.
After Bruno leaves them, The Monkees resume the search for Peter but stop to answer the ringing phone. There they go, answering phones that aren’t theirs again. In a cute fourth-wall-breaking bit, Mike takes a call from TV Guide and updates them on the plot. Meanwhile, Marcovich uses his sci-fi, super-science ray on Peter to erase his memory. Peter writhes in agony and thinks about being on the beach with the kids in the “Saturday’s Child” romp.
Just as Mike, Davy, and Micky are about to give up hope, they enter a room and Peter wanders in behind them. Peter has no idea who they are. After a couple of false starts, they scare his memories back. Peter remembers that Marcovich and Bruno plan to smuggle Schnitzler out of the country. The nurse comes in and Mike, Davy, and Micky hide, telling Peter to play dumb. Peter gets sensitive about his perceived intelligence, “Why am I always the one to play dumb. Why can’t I play smart once in a while?” The Nurse covers Schnitzler’s face with an oxygen mask.
When she goes, Micky admires the villains’ plan to smuggle Schnitzler out in an ambulance. The mask gives Mike a plan of his own, and he puts Micky in the Professor’s place. Micky protests this with one of my all-time favorite bits of Monkees dialogue: Mike: “Believe me Micky, there’s no other way. Besides, Dr. Marcovich is an evil man.” Micky: “Well, what about me?” Davy: “You’re not evil, is he Mike?” Mike: “No, he’s not evil. He’s crafty and selfish maybe, but he’s not evil.” Dr. Marcovich and Bruno come to get Schnitzler and the non-disguised Monkees hide under the cart as they wheel out Micky.
This leads to my favorite bit of the episode, where Mike, Peter and Davy play “doctor.” In the operating room, Marcovich and Bruno prepare to do something to “Schnitzler.” Mike, Davy, and Peter enter in surgical scrubs. Mike adopts Micky’s typical shtick of pretending to have authority where he has none. Marcovich actually apologizes for questioning them. Bruno and Marcovich are marvelous at the thankless job of being straight men to the boys.
This whole scene is reminiscent of The Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races scene where Marx Brothers take over the Standish Sanitarium. Many sight gags and one peanut butter sandwich later, Mike and Marcovich end up physically tugging the “patient” back and forth until Micky says he’s dizzy and sits up. Marcovich and Bruno recognize them as “those musicians” and it leads into a wonderful romp to “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” (Boyce/Hart).
The romp is also packed with silly, energetic gags, including a lot of running in and out of doors in the hospital corridor. All the characters, heroes and villains, do this funny run where they take little steps with their hands up like dog paws. In the equipment room, Micky rides the exercise bike like a horse and Bruno also rides it, cut together like a chase scene. Micky and Mike have binoculars and stop to ogle a pretty nurse for a moment. I love their saucy looks to each other. Mike does the frantic bit on the rowing machine we see in the second season opening credits. Bruno “chases” him on the same bike. The Monkees get the bad guys in a two-man pile on a gurney.
After the wackiness dies down, Schnitzler thanks them for saving his life. Micky and Mike tell the bad guys they’re going to get 20 years and a wrist slapping from the AMA. As they leave, Marcovich looks more relieved to be rid of these lunatics than upset at being caught.
In this episode, the comedy is stirred in beautifully with the mystery and adventure of the plot. There are lots of great scenes of The Monkees working together, even if Peter is missing a lot of the time. They do tend to isolate him a bit, don’t they? The guest cast is excellent as usual, these great characters were never afraid to go over the top, and always made great straight men to The Monkees. One element that keeps these episodes fun to watch for 50 years, is the fun with different genres. This is probably something they were willing to try with a show geared towards kids, not adults. Kids might be more open-minded and entertained by a show that regularly bends reality, even its own rules of reality. Of course I’m an adult and enjoy it tremendously even after watching for many decades. Although the writing of the episodes did eventually get into a rut, it was more the plots and the gags themselves, and not the styles they tackle that were ever lacking imagination.
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.