Monkees Vs. Macheen: “The Prince and The Paupers”

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 “Everyone in the world has a doppelganger” 

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“The Prince and The Paupers” first aired on February 6, 1967. The teleplay was written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, from a story by Peter Meyerson. It’s a spoof on the Mark Twain novel, The Prince and the Pauper, but just barely. The novel is about two boys who look alike; one’s a prince, one is very poor. Through a plot of mistaken identity, each boy learns what it’s like to live like the other. “The Prince and The Paupers,” on the other hand, has more in common with The Monkees earlier episode, “Royal Flush.”

Davy and Prince Ludlow are identical, but the plot revolves around Davy charming a girl and keeping a young royal from getting killed by an ambitious, greedy adult relative.

 “The Prince and the Pauper” was the only Monkees episode that James Komack directed. He has many credits as a director, including Get Smart, Welcome Back Kotter, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and Star Trek. I don’t find this episode as funny as it could be. I don’t know if that has anything to do with the director, since he was very experienced with comedies. For whatever reason, most of the jokes fall flat and no one seems to be having much fun.

The story starts off with the Monkees hoping to get a gig at the embassy. The Count’s assistant, Max, comes out to the hall where they are waiting. He tells Davy the Count has been looking everywhere for him and insistently drags Davy into the throne room. The Count wants to know why Davy is wearing “bizarre clothes.” (He’s wearing his red Monkees shirt.) A young man, identical to Davy, enters from a side door. The Count realizes his mistake and dismisses Davy, but Ludlow wants to talk to him.

Ludlow tells Davy his troubles; he has to be married by his 18th birthday or lose the throne to Count Myron. Davy’s awkward characterization of Ludlow is adorable. It’s fun to see him pull off a different character. Ludlow explains he’s shy and bad with women. How is this possible?  Davy tries to pump him up.

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Meanwhile, corrupt adults Count Myron and Max fence in another room and discuss their plan to prevent Ludlow from ever getting married. Seems Ludlow’s personality has been doing most of the work for them up to now. Ludlow’s best prospect is Wendy Forsythe, but the scheming Count has told her that Ludlow’s no good.  Unfortunately, though the guest cast is made up of talented actors, they aren’t as entertaining as the cast from most episodes. These two don’t seem to be having much fun, and feel a bit stiff. The guest cast is usually one of the best elements of any given episode, especially when the performers are really relishing their “evil” roles.

Mike, Peter, and Micky enter and see the two doppelgangers. Davy fills them in on Ludlow’s problem. A courtier (played by Donald Foster, who was also the Rolls Owner in “Success Story”) announces the arrival of Wendy. Ludlow panics so Mike, Micky, and Peter decide Davy should talk to her as him. They dress him in Ludlow’s clothes.

Everyone but Davy hides and watches as Wendy enters. Davy really does charm her somehow. It’s certainly not the lines he says that get her to want to come back, messing up her name and telling her to call him “high.” But their eyes and facial expressions convey that they like each other. Davy Jones was good at generating chemistry with other actors. That’s not an easy task for a performer so I’m always impressed when it happens. I wish the scene would’ve been longer though. He should have had to work harder, and had wittier dialog to work with. After Wendy leaves, Ludlow asks Davy to substitute for him for a few days and convince Wendy to marry him.  [These are the kinds of problems you WANT to have – Editor] 

Davy sits on the throne dressed theatrically in a crown and robe. Mike’s staying behind because he doesn’t trust the Count and suspects he’s up to no good. Ludlow will go back with Micky and Peter and learn how to behave around women. Peter says he’ll teach him “all he knows.” Presumably what he learned in “One Man Shy?”

Micky gets one laugh from me in the scene, telling Davy to “free the serfs.” Maybe because it felt spontaneous. Micky and Peter carry “Ludlow” away from the embassy. Most likely they were carrying Rodney Bingenheimer who is the Ludlow/Davy stand-in for this episode. Bingenheimer auditioned to be a Monkee himself. He later became a successful and prominent DJ on the Los Angeles rock station, KROQ.

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Max approaches and offers to tell “Ludlow” information about treason for a bribe of $1,000. Davy doesn’t have that of course. Max’s “offer” confirms Davy’s suspicions that he’s in trouble. Mike and Davy head out of the throne room, and Davy says when he opens the door, he’ll be the Prince of “Peruvia” (which is a less funny, but more realistic sounding country name than “Royal Flush’s” fake kingdom, “Harmonica”). He opens a closet and everything falls on them, then looks at the camera to tell us, “wrong door.” As far as fourth-wall breaking jokes go, that one is too obvious to get a laugh from me.

At the Monkees pad, Peter and Micky entertain Gloria, who has a loud, squeaky voice. She’s there to give Ludlow a chance to practice talking to females. Mostly, he bores her with his genealogy while Micky and Peter worry about Davy.

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So far as I’ve been recapping this, I’ve been ignoring the creepy chemist character, played by Monkees stand-in David Price. He has intercepted a note from Wendy, written to express her love to Ludlow. The chemist gives the note to Max along with some poison so they can just kill Ludlow in case he actually succeeds at getting a girl to marry him. I don’t see the point of this guy. These plot-points could have been handled through dialog between Max and the Count. The Chemist is not interesting or funny, and he’s not a reference to anything in the Mark Twain novel.

I’m not slamming David Price (my irritation is with the writing). He was usually Davy Jones stand-in and also an extra in many of The Monkees episodes. My favorite bit of him is in “Too Many Girls.”  You can find a list with images of Price’s on-screen appearances at “Another Jumbled Monkees Archive.” 

Max poisons “Ludlow’s” saber, as Davy prepares to take Ludlow’s fencing lesson. Davy brags to Max that he’ll compose a poem, Cyrano de Bergerac style, as he duels with him. Max somehow doesn’t notice “Ludlow’s” much cockier personality. They duel and both drop their weapons. The chemist picks them up but Davy wants to trade swords. Max suddenly makes an excuse to leave. Davy wonders why and demonstrates “sticking” Max by poking a plant, which then dies from the poison. Max, by the way, breaks the usual Monkees stereotype of the villain having a clueless sidekick. He’s fairly sharp. (No pun intended.)

Back in the throne room, Mike points out how “uptight” Myron is. I’d say we’re seeing that more from Max than Myron. But all the same, Davy needs to move fast with Wendy. When the Courtier brings her in, Davy immediately asks her to marry him. Mike notes, “ooh, that’s fast!” Okay, Mike’s reaction was a little funny. She says yes. Wendy runs to the throne and she and Davy gaze at each other fondly.

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The Courtier brings Myron in. Davy tells him they’re getting married right away and orders him to see to the details. Wendy and Davy kiss and Mike wanders around embarrassed. He finds that early twentieth century-phone prop they always use and calls Micky, telling him to bring Ludlow back to get married. Pan over to Wendy and Davy, who are still making out.  [A bit weird and inappropriate – Editor]

Davy gets ready for Ludlow’s wedding. Mike does what he’s been doing for most of this episode; fussing over Davy and his clothes, prompting Davy to shout, “You’re not my real mom!” Davy’s upset that he might end up “marrying a beautiful girl and ruling a nation of millions.” Yeah, that would be terrible.

Myron enters with Ludlow, Peter, and Micky; they are clearly busted. Count Myron orders Ludlow put in the dungeon and tells the Monkees to leave. Mike and Micky try to stand up to him but he threatens to have them killed. If Myron were smart, he would have had The Monkees put in the dungeon as well.

Myron enters the throne room where guests have gathered for the wedding. He announces that the prince was called back to Peruvia on business. The Courtier breaks his cane, the fourth one he’s broken since the beginning of the show. Not a sight gag that’s working for me, sorry. Neither is the Count losing his monocle all the time, which had to be a tired gag, even in the 1960s. The Courtier is wearing the same jacket that Mike has been sporting. (By same, I mean the same style; during the wedding there’s a shot with both men in the jacket. It doesn’t look like trick photography to me.) Davy and Mike enter and announce that the wedding will take place. Davy whispers that Mike should stall until Micky and Peter can get Ludlow out of the dungeon. I guess Myron can’t kill them all in front of the embassy wedding guests.

Micky and Peter arrive in the dungeon and ask the jailer if he’s ever seen The Road to Morocco (1942). He hasn’t, so Micky and Peter play patty-cake and punch him, taking his keys. This is a reference to the road movies starring Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, where they would play patty-cake before throwing punches. (However, in The Road to Morocco the patty-cake trick didn’t succeed.) We don’t usually see the Monkees punching people. In “Monkees in the Ring,” sure, but it’s not their usual tactic. They tend to be tricksters, not fighters.

At the wedding, the cardinal gets to the point in the ceremony where they ask if anyone knows a reason these two “should not be joined…,” etc. Mike stands up and starts his established awkward shtick, which he usually does so well, but here it doesn’t get a giggle from me. He’s just meandering with no impact. Micky, Peter, and Ludlow burst into the scene and Ludlow and announces he’ll marry “the girl.”

Then, the best thing happens. Micky goes temporarily nuts. He jumps up and down excitedly, boxing the air, saying something unintelligible that sounds like, “Right, hey baby, come on mother, yeah!..” Peter’s reaction is also hysterically funny as he flinches away from him and tries not to laugh. Micky keeps this going as the romp to “Mary, Mary” (Michael Nesmith) begins. I wound that back and watched it several times. The little bit of unexpected and random craziness made my day.

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The romp itself is a brawl/food fight between the Monkees against Max and The Count. There’s some “cowboy” business where Micky and Peter tie up the baddies. Kind of a lame, unfocused romp, but the Monkees look like they’re having fun at least. At the end, Ludlow kisses the bride; the newly married King has the villains taken away (like in “Royal Flush” when Bettina turns 18 and orders her uncle arrested).

Davy wonders if Wendy is going to be all right. Good question, since she’s marrying someone doesn’t know instead of the person she’s actually into. Mike’s response to Davy is the other bit that makes me chortle with glee. The lines are helped tremendously by Mike’s folksy delivery and Davy’s rapt attention:

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Aftermath. Micky reads the newspaper story about Ludlow and Wendy’s honeymoon. Davy mopes because he has feelings for Wendy. Mike tries to make Davy feel better, and then they leave him alone to get over it.  A reporter from Teen Tale Magazine enters through the back door, looking for the Monkees. She looks exactly like Wendy! Davy invites her to sit down and they go right into making out.

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Overall, “Prince and the Paupers” has far too few laugh-out-loud moments and feels a little drab. Some of the usual elements seem forced to me, like they were put together with no enthusiasm (now it’s time to look at the camera, now it’s time for Peter to misunderstand, etc.). I’ll put up with anything from this show; plot holes, nonsensical dialog, bad lighting, film stock that doesn’t match, recycled gags, anything as long as it’s still funny. There’s also some missing piece: The Monkees never go into a shared fantasy in this one, and they’re split into two groups so we don’t get the pleasure of seeing them working together. The con they come up with isn’t even that much fun because it’s mostly perpetuated on poor Wendy, who doesn’t deserve it.  For me, this is a rare dud from the first season which was mostly pretty consistent.

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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.

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