Monkees vs. Macheen: “It’s a Nice Place to Visit”

“Just a Loudmouth Yankee, I went Down to Mexico”

I’m glad season two started with such a bang. “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” was shot May 30-June 2, 1967, except for the musical number, “What Am I Doing Hanging Around?,” which was shot August 2, 1967 as part of the Rainbow Room musical numbers. James Frawley directed this episode, which aired on September 11, 1967. Treva Silverman wrote it. She’s one of my favorite Monkees writers, and in my recap for “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” I mentioned some of her other credits. “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” spoofs the western film and television genre. Westerns were at their peak in popularity from the 1930s-1960s and shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke as well as the less traditional science-fiction fusion, Wild, Wild West were on the air at this time.

The story begins with the Monkees sitting on the broken-down Monkeemobile. They’re stranded on a very familiar set on the Columbia Ranch that was used in “Monkees in a Ghost Town” and other episodes that I mentioned in that recap. Mike reads a sign that says “Welcome to El Monotono, Mex.,” which translated means “monotonous.” Since this is a musical show, it could also be a pun on “monotone.” Despite the other sign that says, “Yankees, Go Home” the Monkees decide to enter the cantina. Either the town hates Americans, or they’re Mets fans.

Mike wears a new version of his green hat, with six buttons, mimicking the Monkees eight-button shirts. He also has a new deeper voice, which I like. On May 23, 1967 Mike went to the hospital for a tonsillectomy. Besides presumably improving his health, the other result was that when he recovered, as Davy Jones put it, “his vocal presentation changed.” (Thanks to the book The Monkees Day-By-Day by Andrew Sandoval for this info and date.)

A pretty waitress, Angelita, comes to the table and Davy instantly falls for her, despite the mockery and annoyed protests of the others. They exchange names and Davy shares that Angelita means “Little Angel.” She asks what David means and Mike snarks from the table, “David means business, baby.” Funny line and unexpected out of Mike’s mouth. Davy asks her out, but the bartender chases the Monkees away because Angelita is El Diablo’s “girl.”

There’s a bandit at the bar, complete with sombrero, poncho, and bandolier, who warns them that El Diablo says they must leave. When did El Diablo say that? The Imdb lists this character name as Jose (Nate Esformes,) and he is the only one of El Diablo’s men who has dialogue. He throws a knife at the Monkees to make them leave.

Season two launches the new opening sequence with different images of them fooling around. This is the opening I remember from syndication and it makes me feel at home. After the opening, there’s some incidental music that sounds like The Magnificent Seven theme. The show goes all out with the references in this one.

Lupe, the mechanic, tells the Monkees that their car will need a new motor. Lupe is played by Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, who performed in many westerns with John Wayne, including Rio Bravo and Wings of the Hawk, as well as western TV shows Laredo and The Texan. Peter Whitney (El Diablo) and Nacho Galindo (bartender) also had many western television and film credits under their belt. The clever casting was a nice touch.

The Monkees don’t have the money to fix their car so they go back and ask the bartender for a job. Despite what happened earlier with Davy and Angelita, he agrees. In the next scene, the Monkees play “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ’Round?” (Michael Martin Murphey, Owen Castleman) in matching blue Monkees shirts. The editors mix in the Rainbow Room performance with the cantina footage from the episode, and though they decorated the background to match the episode, it was clearly shot at a different time. I’ll go into the Rainbow Room in a later recap but here’s some basic info.

The cantina is packed and hopping and the bartender hands them their payment. The Monkees plan to take the money and leave town. But not so fast: Davy wants to say goodbye to Angelita and kisses her many times. An extra runs into the bar shouting, “El Diablo is coming!” There are more extras than usual, giving it a feature film vibe. El Diablo enters wearing the furry vest that we saw on Boris in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” and on Marco in “Son of a Gypsy.” Four gun-carrying bandits accompany El Diablo as he strides into the bar while Angelita and Davy are still making out.

Finding Davy with “his woman,” El Diablo makes him dance by shooting at his feet He wants Davy to beg for his life and the other three Monkees come down and join in. Angelita, on the other hand, boldly describes Davy’s finer points to El Diablo: his beautiful mouth and eyes, his “ tiny, tiny ears.” She’s really playing fast and loose with Davy’s life. El Diablo chooses to kidnap Davy instead of killing him.

I’m going to take a moment to mention how gorgeous this episode is. There’s a cinematic quality including some rare aerial shots, for instance when El Diablo enters. We see a lot more tight close-ups than usual, including cool shots of the ceiling fan shadow on the actor’s faces. Irving Lippman was the cinematographer for this; he shot 56 out of 58 Monkees episodes (the exceptions were “The Pilot” and “Monkees on Tour”). Making this resemble a feature film makes the comedy even tastier. If you haven’t seen this one in a while, go pop in that disc and watch it just to appreciate the cinematography.

Davy has now become the “damsel in distress,” and the episode switches from being about Davy’s love life, to a western pursuit and rescue mission. After Micky fails to get help from the townsfolk, they fret outside the cantina. Mike points out they have to sneak into the bandit camp so they instantly pop (Pop! Pop! Pop!) into bandito costumes, complete with mustaches. They look fantastic, but Mike has doubts, “Don’t you think we ought to take something else with us, like a club card or some badges?” 

The original line is from the western, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) starring Humphrey Bogart, and goes like this, “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!” Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles uses Micky’s version. Here’s a link to a video montage with variations on this line.

The Monkees get in the car and drive off. We don’t see them park anywhere; they run on foot into the bandit camp, firing their guns and shouting. El Diablo’s gang ignores them and continues to drink and poke the fire. The Monkees think they’ve intimidated them, but the bandits surround them, guns drawn. Jose (aka the bandit with all the dialogue) takes them to El Diablo. If you’ve ever seen the film Three Amigos (1986) I’m convinced that film took inspiration from this episode. Facing El Diablo, Mike fast-talks that his leader, Micky, “the greatest bandit in the world,” wants to join forces with El Diablo.

Funny dialogue as the Monkees create their “bandit” personas on the fly:

El Diablo: “They call me El Diablo. Also known as the bandit without a heart.”
Micky: “They call me El Dolenzio. Also known as the bandit without a soul.”
Mike: “And they call me El Nesmitho. Also known as the bandit without no…without any conscience.”
Peter: “And they call me El Torko. The bandit without a nickname.”

In an episode with many funny scenes to choose from, this is one of the best. The Monkees are bluffing as usual, and they are so spectacular and awkward at the same time. Of course they’ve done this kind of scene many times in the first season. Peter Whitney makes a funny and intimidating straight man and part of the humor for me is the notion that he’d buy the Monkees as bad-asses. The gorgeous close-ups are a nice touch also. As a topper, Mike and Micky try and fail to execute that cool gun twirling trick, but Peter Tork succeeds.

The Monkees must pass a series of tests for strength, skill, and bravery to join the bandit gang. My favorite part of this sequence is Peter’s mock-diabolical attitude and menace as he beats El Diablo at Go Fish, that game of “skill and determination.” After the Monkees miraculously survive the tests, El Diablo hosts a celebration for the new “bandits” at a long outdoor table. The Monkees don’t want to drink but El Diablo insists, so they toss their wine over their shoulders. When they go to make another toast, they crash cups which somehow still have wine in them. Peter sneaks off to locate Davy; Mike making the excuse to El Diablo that Peter got sick from the wine.

Peter finds Davy is tied up and guarded. He tries in many ways to tell the guard about the party over the hill, but to my tremendous amusement, the guard can’t understand until Peter says, “booze.” Peter needs to free Davy but doesn’t know how to untie a square knot. Repeating a gag used in “I Was a Teenage Monster,” Davy pulls out his supposedly tied-up hand to demonstrate a figure eight for Peter. Back at the party, Mike and Micky tell El Diablo that now they “need some air” and El Diablo is amused at the notion that they can’t handle their liquor.

Micky and Mike come rushing up to Davy and Peter. Micky unties Davy in nothing flat, and they dash for the Monkee mobile. There’s an amusing, surreal bit as they attempt to drive away: A parking lot attendant (played by comedian Godfrey Cambridge) appears out of nowhere and charges them 50 cents for parking. They accidentally run over his foot as they leave. In my mind, it’s a predecessor to the Blazing Saddles gag where the heroes stall the bad guys with a random toll bridge. “Anybody got a dime?”

El Diablo orders Jose to go after the Monkees, but Jose runs into a tree. There’s a lot of drinking and drunk humor. Also, most of the action of this episode takes place outside, a key feature of the western genre.

The Monkees are now back in El Monotono, because the car’s out of gas. Mike deals with Lupe while Davy kisses Angelita some more. Suddenly, Jose rides up and hands Micky a note, declaring that El Diablo wants to challenge him to a duel at high noon. It’s Micky he wants to challenge, even though Davy’s the one currently kissing “his woman.” When it’s a Hollywood spoof, Micky’s your man.

Micky and Mike immediately agree they’re going to “split” rather than fight. One of the sources of humor here is the opposition to real westerns where the hero is always impossibly tough and brave. (Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, etc.) The Monkees, while quick and clever, are not usually tough or brave. (Though pulling off con after con takes some nerve.) As it’s almost noon, they all rush for the car, but Angelita pleads with them.

That’s my favorite joke in the entire series. The line is clever, and Micky’s delivery kills me every time I watch it. He’s one of the all-time funniest television actors.

The Monkees are now all in western-style good-guy clothes with Micky in all white. Notice how handsome Micky is photographed here. He’s switched from bandito to brave western hero. The dialogue combines tough talk with fourth-wall breaking humor:

Peter: Are you scared?
Micky: No, I’m not scared; I’ll welcome this duel. The symbol of good against the symbol of evil, and I know I’m gonna be the victor.
Davy: Because the symbol of good always wins?
Micky: No, because the lead in a television series always wins.

The Monkees bring him all his lucky guns and holsters, and one of them is his lucky “Hobaseeba”–another sound-alike to the “No Time” song lyrics like Davy used in “Monkees in the Ring.” Micky collapses from the weight of so many guns and holsters and the others carry him off.

Now for the showdown, another important plot point in your classic western. Micky walks into the square while a “western” trumpet version of “The Monkees” theme plays. (According to IMDB trivia, the church bell rings only 11 times, not 12.) There’s a lot of witty lines, and then they duel. El Diablo fires about a dozen times and every bullet misses. Micky gets cartoony, mocking him, “You missed!” He runs off as El Rompo to “What am I Doing Hangin’ ‘’Round?” commences.

El Rompo is a gunfight between the two groups: the Monkees and El Diablo’s bandits. It’s a standard Monkees romp and the one weak point in the episode, lots of running around that resolves improbably with tying the bad guys up. Notable moments are when the Monkees are shooting on the same side as the bandits and we can see Davy with a copy of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. There are a couple of shots used in the second season opening such as the holster falling around Davy’s legs, and Mike’s hat getting shot off. The shows ends with credits and the lovely, “For Pete’s Sake” (Peter Tork, Joey Richards) replacing The Monkees theme song

Excellent Monkees comedy, heightened by adherence to western conventions such as: natural settings, good guys vs. bad guys, a chase or pursuit, and a final showdown. The cinematography, the casting, and the writing shows the huge effort put into making this half hour spoof resemble a real western. The production values heighten the comedy of the Monkees antics. The sight gags, dialogue, and the performances were all top notch. I realize this story isn’t profound or complex and I do have other favorite episodes, such as “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” which touches my heart and “Monkees à la Mode” which epitomizes the themes of The Monkees to me. However, “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” is my pick for funniest episode. It’s obvious the episode has had an influence on comedies that came after. Unfortunately, this set the bar high for season two, and many of the later episodes didn’t live up to this level of attention to detail and comic energy.

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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