Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes”

“I Don’t Want to be a Chicken” or “Eastern Promises”

“The Card Carrying Red Shoes” debuted November 6, 1967 and it’s another Cold War, spy-themed episode; along the same lines as “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” and “Monkees Chow Mein.” Of the three, this is my least favorite. Regarding the title, the phrase “card-carrying” can refer to membership in any organization, but it was used to describe members of the Communist party during the 1940s-50s McCarthy era. The second part of the title, “Red Shoes,” alludes to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, later loosely adapted into a film in 1948 about a ballet dancer. The title at least is clever, but they never explore or parody the notion of ballet, spies, or contrast of Eastern/Western ideas; it’s all just a weak device to put the Monkees in a situation.

Directed by James Frawley, the episode begins with a sign letting us know we’re at the Druvanian National Ballet. Inside the theater, Micky, Peter, and Davy stand around the rehearsal space with some odd instruments. Those are the only Monkees you will see this episode; Mike is absent from this one. The two lead dancers, Ivan and Natasha, enter arguing. Ivan keeps checking Natasha’s red ballet shoe and she’s tired of it. Ivan is played by Vincent Beck who was also in the episodes “Royal Flush” and “Son of a Gypsy,” playing similar characters: big dumb thugs with Eastern European accents.

Davy and Micky complain that they lugged their own instruments to the hall but have to play “weird” Druvanian instruments. Nicolai, who seems to be in charge of the ballet company, checks to see that they are ready. Micky can’t figure out which end to put in his mouth. Davy points out that it’s a string instrument, so naturally Micky puts his mouth to the string. Micky seems compelled to reply to Nicolai in imitation of his accent. He claims they’re ready but Nicolai points out that Peter is playing a lamp. I know this is all just to set up Natasha escaping in their instrument trunk, but the jokes could have been better. Especially since hiring the Monkees but not letting them play their own instruments doesn’t make sense. I want to see ballet dancers rock out to “Star Collector” Yeah, baby.

Ivan looks inside the red shoe to make sure the microfilm is still in the toe. Ivan and Nicolai discuss their plan to sneak microfilm out of the country. These spies are from a fictitious country known as Druvania instead of the U.S.S.R. Monkees writers do like making up fictitious nations; we’ve also seen Peruvia, Harmonica, and Nehudia.

The rehearsal begins and Ivan sends Natasha twirling into Peter. She looks up at him and notices, “What a face.” She sneaks into their trunk, which should still be full of instruments. Ivan and Nicolai notice Natasha is missing. The Monkees help look for her but Nicolai yells at them to get out. They leave like cartoon characters, bumping into Nicolai and Ivan on the way out and annoying them as much as possible.

Back at the pad, the Monkees note the increased weight of the trunk. Natasha pops out and threatens to shoot them with a finger gun but then makes a real gun materialize in her hand. She warns that she’ll shoot if they make a false move, except for Peter because of his face. She starts stroking Peter’s hair, kissing his cheek etc. Davy is puzzled since she’s going against the established premise that he always gets the girl. Peter meta-comments, “It can’t be you every week Davy.” Right on, Peter.

The music changes to a “very special episode” instrumental as Micky tries to gently teach Natasha and the audience a lesson on gun violence. “Now look miss, you know guns never really solved anything. They’re not the solution to the problem; they’re only a coward’s way out. Wouldn’t you rather talk it over instead of hiding behind a gun?” Shamed, she hands over the gun to Micky who immediately reverses his attitude, “All right, hands up! You’re taking orders from me!” Bravo, that was the funniest bit of the episode, mostly because of Micky’s acting.

Natasha dramatically poses on the lounge and declares that this was her last chance to stay in America. Peter promises to fight to the death to help her stay. Davy points out that she’s a big star and this could lead to an international incident, war, the whole world could be destroyed, etc. Peter, clearly puffed up by Natasha’s attention says, “Don’t worry, if the world is destroyed, I’ll take the responsibility.” Micky replies, “With a little more ego, he could be president.” [Poom! – Editor’s Note] Peter suggests that Micky and Davy go see the Druvanian ambassador. Wow, look at Peter with the ego and the smarts. I like it. The above scenes with Natasha at the Monkees pad were the best in the episode. It’s a shame because I think there was some wasted potential here; they could’ve developed a story about why she wants to stay in America instead of the MacGuffin microfilm.

Micky and Davy go to the Druvanian embassy and introduce themselves to ambassador Nyetovitch. They explain that they’re there about a ballerina. Nyetovitch describes Natasha to a tee, and then claims he never heard of her and throws them out. In the next scene, he’s on the phone with Ivan and Nicolai, establishing that they’re in on this microfilm-stealing plot together.

At the pad, Natasha chases Peter around, and he resists her affection. He leaps all over the furniture and hides behind a chair. Natasha is impressed: “Such agility, such grace. It makes me love you more!” Peter: “In that case, I take it back.” Editors reverse the film and he moves backwards and ends up in her arms. Peter continues to deny her. I don’t get it. Natasha is an adult woman who really likes him and is alone with him in his own apartment. But he was fine with letting fickle 15-year old Ella Mae kiss him back in Swineville. I like that all these females make the moves though.

They hear a knock. Natasha hides in the trunk while Peter answers the door. On the other side, Ivan decides to break it down and runs at it, just as Peter opens it. Oldest joke in the world. Peter gets bowled over by the two foreigners and hits his head. Ivan and Nicolai don’t look very hard for Natasha; they just resort to kidnapping Peter.

Next scene, Natasha updates Micky and Davy on the situation. Davy wants to go back to the theater but Micky thinks it’s “risky.” Natasha stands up on the furniture to give them a pep talk, bringing up American patriots like Paul Revere, Nathan Hale, and George Washington. Inspired, Micky and Davy march off chanting, “Together we will march, together we will fight, together we will win.” Cut to them marching into the theater, ending the chant with “…together we will find ourselves in places we don’t have any business being…” Just like every episode.

Nyetovitch catches them and Micky covers that they’re investigating the disappearance of Natasha. Nyetovitch asks if they’re from the MKBVD. Davy explains they’re investigators from the BVD. This is a joke reference to the underwear company, made in order to set up a punch line about “under where” from Micky. Even Micky didn’t look like he enjoyed saying it. Meanwhile, Ivan and Nicolai have Peter hostage in a dressing room. Ivan pets Peter’s hair and asks what he knows about the microfilm. The Druvanians really like to pet Peter. Ivan and Nicolai agree to “brainwash” Peter, leading to Peter performing a dish soap commercial and squirting Ivan in the eye for an unfunny sight gag.

Micky and Davy are now dressed in obligatory stereotype Ukrainian dancer costumes and looking for Peter. They talk to a dancer, expressing their worry that Peter might be in front of a firing squad. The dancer goes to a stage door and asks a young man, who is facing a firing squad, if he’s Peter. Finding that he isn’t, the dancer politely apologizes and shuts the door, and the audience hears gunshots. That’s the kind of dark and surreal humor I usually like, but when the episode is so weak there is no build up for it.

Ivan notices Davy and Micky, so Micky uses his Russian accent to explain that they’re “replacement dancers.” Ivan pulls them to the center and demands they dance. They start dancing like they’re at a discotheque. Ivan stops them and demands Russian dancing. They start kicking their legs and dance right out of the theater. Dumb Ivan slowly figures out that they are the musicians. At the pad, the Monkees read a letter warning that Peter will be killed unless Natasha returns to perform. Micky says they will all go to the theater, and he has a plan.

I don’t think he has a plan. It certainly never becomes clear. As I wrote in the recap for “Monkees Marooned,” I like to see the Monkees take over with some crazy scheme of their own and drive the plot. Watching them wander aimlessly backstage and get frightened off is boring. Mike’s absence doesn’t help. According to IMDB trivia, he had a part written but for “reasons unknown” does not appear. “I was a 99-lb Weakling” was still good without Mike, because the story was better. Mike might have helped this episode a bit. He brings a certain connection to the audience with his sarcasm, dry humor, and as the frequent straight man. Whenever things get ridiculous, he’s the one to break the fourth wall and let on that he’s aware of it. It makes it all more relatable and grounds the episode in some way.

In the dressing room, Natasha tells Ivan and Nyetovitch that she refuses to perform unless they let Peter go. Nyetovitch demands she dance her “Chicken Lake.” (Like Swan Lake, only stupid.) He asks about the shoes. Ivan picks up Natasha’s foot and assures Nyetovitch that they’re “really fine.” They carry on like this with lots of suggestive eyebrow wagging. If I were Natasha, I’d be thinking they were two men with a foot fetish, rather than two spies. (I have to supply my own entertainment in this episode.) I don’t think she knows or ever finds out that there is microfilm in her shoe. The microfilm is pointless and not even original since they also used this device in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.” They leave, and Micky and Davy sneak in. Davy produces a glass out of nowhere for Micky to eavesdrop on the spies.

In the next room, the three bad guys discuss the plan to shoot Peter on the cymbal crash after Ivan’s leap in the performance. Davy tells Natasha they’ll look for Peter but she needs to keep Ivan from leaping. She stands up and immediately sprains her ankle. Someone who knows the plan has to go on in her place, so Davy grabs a chicken costume for Micky, who starts muttering “I don’t want to be a chicken” He breaks the fourth wall to mention The Monkees recently deceased Associate Producer Ward Sylvester with the line “Ward, I don’t want to be a chicken.” Micky comes out in the chicken suit and Ivan arrives to take Micky out onto the stage, never noticing that Micky’s a lot taller than Natasha.

Classical music plays (Tchaikovsky according to Monkees Tripod site). I guess this is the romp as there is no dialog for these next sequences. Micky stops Ivan from leaping with various cartoon tricks: weights, a tire, nailing him down, and laying an egg. Meanwhile, Davy goes to the orchestra pit to distract the cymbal player. Peter is left with Nicolai backstage, where they perform Keystone Cops and Benny Hill type antics with each other, with a girl in a towel, and with girls in chicken outfits. With a little imagination, they could have had some fun parodying Swan Lake or ballet in general. Instead it’s a poor imitation of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Anyway, Natasha ties up Nyetovitch and they stop the naughty spies.

Aftermath: Natasha at the Monkees pad. They discuss that she’s allowed to stay in the country. Peter hopes to date Natasha, but she says she needs more than just a face; she needs someone she has something in common with. She introduces them to Alexa, who looks exactly like Peter in a Ukrainian dancer outfit. For the last few minutes, I get to see one of my favorite performances from the Rainbow Room, Davy singing “She Hangs Out” (Jeff Barry). This is a fun, upbeat song from the album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones with lyrics about underage lust (but harmlessly so). The lyrics remind me a bit of the song Elvis song “Little Sister,” written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

I didn’t mention the writer of the episode at the beginning like I usually do because it relates to my final thoughts. Treva Silverman was the writer, but IMDB trivia tells me Silverman didn’t like how script editors Dee Caruso and Gerald Gardner rewrote the script and decided to use the name Lee Sanford for her credit. In my opinion, Silverman wrote some of the best and wittiest Monkees episodes (“I’ve Got a Little Song Here,” “One Man Shy”) but this one is a dud so I can imagine why she didn’t want credit. I’m curious to know what she originally wrote. The villains in “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes” have little personality. I can’t believe they couldn’t get any comedy out of Leon Askin (Nicolai) from Hogan’s Heroes, for pity’s [Or Pete’s sake, you might say. – Editor’s Note] sake. Ondine Vaughn has a lot of energy but the writers might have done something more with Natasha. Peter could have shown her around America, or compared the life of a young adult in the Eastern block to a typical American youth, or something. I know it’s easy for me to shoot out ideas from 50 years in the future, but ultimately this turned out to be a boring episode that I don’t ever need to watch again.

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.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s