Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Wild Monkees”

“She told me to forget it nice; I should have taken her advice”

“The Wild Monkees” was directed by Jon C. Andersen, written by Stanley Ralph Ross and Corey Upton, and debuted November 13, 1967. Andersen also directed “The Christmas Show,” wrote the story for “I Was a 99-lb Weakling,” and co-wrote the story for “The Frodis Caper” with Micky Dolenz. I always figured this episode for a parody of The Wild One, the 1954 iconic film with Marlon Brando as Johnny Stabler, leader of the motorcycle gang, the Black Rebels. You know, the one with the famous line “What are you rebelling against, Johnny?” “Whaddaya got?” The Wild One is the original of the outlaw biker film genre that included films such as Russ Meyer’s Motorpsycho (1965), Hells Angels on Wheels (1967) with Jack Nicholson, and Raybert’s own Easy Rider (1969) though that film focuses more on social change and the hippie lifestyle.

“Wild Monkees” starts in an unusual way with Micky performing “Goin’ Down” (Dolenz, Jones, Tork, Nesmith, and Hildebrand) alone on a dark stage. Film editors show us multiple versions of Micky in different colored lights as he dances and sings. “Goin’ Down” is another song I really enjoy with the jazzy horn section (the song was arranged by jazz musician Shorty Rogers) and upbeat tempo, though the lyrics describe a man drowning himself after being rejected by a woman. Apparently Micky wasn’t super happy they used it in a Breaking Bad episode.

The story starts with the Monkees traveling for an out-of-town gig. They’re looking for the Henry Cabot Lodge (pun!) in that familiar dusty town that we’ve seen in “Hillbilly Honeymoon, “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” and so on. Motorcyclists drive by and spray dirt all over them. Mike starts coughing from the dust, so Peter goes to get him some water from the car. When Mike drinks, he has a full body reaction to it and performs a great bit of physical comedy, leaping around, gagging, and doubling over. It’s basically a Bugs Bunny from “Hare Remover” tribute (when Bugs drinks the Jekyll Hyde potion). Peter admits he got the water from the gas tank. The Monkees find this amusing sign, “Henry Cabot Lodge and Cemetery. If you’re dying to have a good time see us.” Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. was a United States Republican Senator from Massachusetts and later was the Ambassador to South Vietnam from 1963-1964 and 1965 and served as Ambassador-at-Large 1967–1968, around the time this episode aired.

They pull the Monkeemobile up to lodge. Micky is unimpressed when he sees nothing but bored old folks on the porch. Micky: “Oh a virtual Disneyland for shut ins.” Mike: “No it’s not man. They won’t let people with long hair at Disneyland.” The lodge manager, Blauner, assumes they must be the band. He comes out to greet them and assures them he’s expecting some young people – a “travel club” of lovely folks. Cut to the motorcycle gang outside, tearing the “Henry Cabot Lodge” sign down.

When the Monkees come down from putting their things in their room, they all fall down the steps. It’s a funny sight gag, aided by a shaky cam effect on the exterior of the lodge. Blauner makes it clear they’re not hired as a band; they’re here to be the waiter, bellhop, and gardener and if they happen to play music, great. Micky calls it the “old badger game” and starts to protest that he’s taking advantage of their need for money, but when he gets to the end of the sentence they’re all in uniforms for work (Mike gets a magically-appearing mandolin.).

“The badger game” actually has nothing to do with tricking musicians into manual labor; it’s actually getting a man into a sexually compromising position, like with an with underage girl or someone else’s wife, and then blackmailing him.

Blauner orders the poor Monkees to take care of the guests. Right on cue, the motorcycle gang drive their bikes into the lobby. They’re well covered, with helmets, jeans, leather jackets, scarves, and sunglasses over their faces. When Micky approaches one and ask to help with the luggage, a very tall biker stands up. Davy approaches another biker and offers something to eat, then freaks when the biker stands up and is about a foot taller than him. Peter starts dusting and vacuuming a biker, who stands up and break the vacuum hose. Mike serenades another biker, which is noteworthy since at this point they haven’t made the big reveal.

Davy starts to panic and begs his biker, “please don’t kill me.” The biker grabs Davy and kisses him instead. After the kiss, Davy wants to be killed until she reveals herself as a pretty blonde woman. She comments, “You’re cute” and kisses him some more. Davy’s reaction might now be considered homophobic but for the time was probably considered natural and they’re mining comedy out of that discomfort [Imagine that. What a concept! – Editor’s note]. All the women take off their helmets to reveal they are all indeed pretty women. Blauner orders the Monkees to make the guests “happy” so the Monkees walk them upstairs with their suitcases. Dude, Blauner’s pimping out the Monkees to these women. (I’m kidding, I’m totally joking.)

Next are short, intercut scenes of the Monkees trying to woo their respective motorcycle chicks, and failing miserably. Davy sits with Queenie at a table and struggles to open the wine for her. She grabs the cork with her teeth and spits it into Blauner’s mouth. The tall redhead, Ann, tells Michael that he reminds her of someone that she could cuddle with and go to whenever she felt sad. She reveals this to be a cocker-spaniel. That was more entertaining than it should have been, only because of Mike’s mock self confidence and then awkwardness. Peter recites to his tall blonde partner, Jan, “a jug of bread, a loaf of wine, and thou beside me in the wilderness.” She thinks his poetry is beautiful but turns down his request for a date because, “let’s face it man, you’re a sissy.” Micky’s girl, Nan , has taken to calling him Fuzzy. Micky wants to kiss her, but she makes it clear he’ll get punched if he does. Micky condescendingly says “don’t be silly, my pet” and kisses her neck anyway. She punches him across the room. Well, she warned him.

The Monkees confer in their “room” which looks like it’s behind the set. Peter suggests they’re not being rough enough with the girls and Micky agrees. Peter and Micky were coldly rejected in those scenes but on the other hand they’re drawing a line about how they think men and women should relate. In other words, they think boys should be the tougher ones, not the girls. Never mind that Queenie kissed Davy twice.

Cut to them in Wild One-style motorcycle gang outfits, leather jackets and caps, sitting on bikes and for some reason in a classroom. There’s a pig with crossbones on the blackboard and another funny sign that reads “School of Hard Knocks and Bruises.” The Monkees take a pledge from the script and there’s a few fourth-wall breaking back and forth jokes about whether it’s a script or handbook. The point of the scene is that they are taking a vow to be dirty, violent, and offensive. They’re parodying the characters in biker films and their outlaw, outside-of-polite-society lifestyle. The Monkees want to become tough bikers (or pretend to be) in order to get these particular girls, even though they don’t really believe in this lifestyle themselves. There’s an undercurrent in this scene – could be the actors, could be the characters – that all of this biker stuff is absurd.

Of course motorcycle clubs aren’t just fictional, they became a subculture after World War II and I’m sure we’ve all heard of the Hell’s Angel’s. They’re highly organized with presidents, treasurers, etc. According to Wikipedia these groups have “a set of ideals that celebrate freedom, nonconformity to mainstream culture, and loyalty to the biker group.” Nonconformity and freedom kinda sounds like hippie ideals to me. There’s a relationship there, but not a full on match as hippies stand for peace and the bikers as depicted here are violent. Just like the man/woman thing, the writers are taking a (comic) stand on what bikers are like.

Now it’s the girls turn to fall down the stairs to the lobby. They’re wearing dresses and they run into the Monkees who are in their biker gear. Micky goes into a Marlon Brando impression to explain their change. He tries to demonstrate his toughness by breaking a table with his bare hands, but he fails. Davy makes the nonsensical claim their club is so tough they kill their new members for initiation. The girls say they are too tough for them. That’s why they left their boyfriends, Big Frank, Big Neil, Big Bruce, and Big Butch, leader of the Black Angels. Uh-oh. They didn’t mention boyfriends before. The Monkees recognize the Black Angels name and they start quivering with fear. They start backing out the front door and run right into the real gang, who are four actual tough and dirty-looking men. The Monkees turn and fall on their faces.

The Black Angels back the Monkees into the front desk. They tell Butch the name of their club is the Chickens. Wait, in “The Card Carrying Red Shoes,” Micky didn’t want to be a chicken. According to the Chicken Club rules, they’re not allowed to fight. Davy, always ready to take on a bigger guy, nearly loses his temper but the others talk him down.

Queenie tells Butch to leave the Monkees alone. Butch accuses them of turning his woman against them. He wants to know which one of them is after Queenie. Micky squeals, “None of us, we don’t even like her!” The other Monkees jump on him for that faux pas. The girls are offended and Butch is offended, “My woman ain’t good enough for ya huh, punk?” Wow, they can’t win.

Queenie confronts Butch and he shouts at her to shut up. She melts, “Oh, I missed you babe.” That’s cringe-worthy for me, but I can find many articles online stating that the women are voluntary participants in this culture that considers them property and their expected role is subservience. This little moment is pretty mild in that light, and kind of contradicts what happens in the conclusion of the episode. It’s also nice to know that women aren’t restricted to this lifestyle if they want to be part of the biker life. They have their own biker clubs.

Butch says tomorrow they’re holding their annual best riders contest and, “Winner gets to destroy everything in sight.” And that includes the Monkees. It’s implied but not said that he expects the Chickens to participate in the contest. That night the Monkees hold a meeting in their pajamas. Nobody’s tough in pajamas like that. Peter wants to fight because, “they hurt my feelings.” Micky points out the arguments against it: As “chickens,” it’s unconstitutional, it’s fruitless in solving a problem and you can “really, really get hurt.” Mike decides the wisest idea is to leave, but they are blocked by Butch and gang as they head up the stairs.

Next day, the contest is set up outside in front of the lodge. Blauner sells peanuts and popcorn, etc. The Black Angels are lined up on bikes and they give their war cry, a sound like lions roaring. The Monkees give their war cry, which is more chicken clucking. Queenie announces the start of the contest. The Monkees scramble around comically to get on the bikes. Richard Klein, Micky Dolenz’ stand-in, is the racing official and fires the starting gun.

They drive off, the Black Angels are way ahead of the Monkees. This becomes the romp, set to the Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd, track “Star Collector” (Goffin/King), though the version in “Wild Monkees” has no Moog part. When the race starts, Peter never gets his bike started and stays at the starting line the entire time. The actors really ride the bikes so there is real footage of them riding through the dirt mixed with studio shots, such as Micky getting hit with newspapers and the stuffed chimp appearing on his back. David Price is a construction working eating lunch on the race route and Butch steals his sandwich. Micky ties Butch’s bike to a tree at a stop but Butch just pulls it out of the ground. David Pearl approaches Micky on his bike and dusts him with a feather duster, and steals his glasses. Black Angels win the race of course. The Monkees stand there with open arms expecting the girls to embrace them, but they all pass them and run to the Black Angels.

Butch wants to know who to destroy first but Queenie’s not having it. She tells Butch she’s tired of the open road. Queenie says, “Let’s settle down, we could build illegal motorcycles and raise little scooters.” Blauner suggests they could settle there and work for him. Interesting, that Butch agrees to go along with her and do what she wants, considering the stereotypical biker/biker’s woman relationship. He actually says, “My woman speaks for me.” It’s an unexpected feminist twist looking at it that way. Queenie and Butch kiss. As with “Hillbilly Honeymoon” and “Monkees Marooned,” we have yet another couple reunited by the Monkees.

I’ve always had a fondness for this episode. It’s great fun with the sight gags and many funny lines. I enjoy seeing the Monkees united in their fear and dislike for violence. I also like that they all get into this together; it’s not Peter or Davy dragging them into this with poor judgment, they’re all making the same mistake. It’s also a similar mistake they made in “The Monkees Get Out More Dirt,” pretending to be something they’re not in order to impress women. Speaking of women, there’s some notable dynamics going on between the sexes in this episode. A lot of the women on the show were delicate girls that Davy would rescue. There were plenty of dominant women, but this is a rare time that the dominant women are on the Monkees’ level age-wise. The biker women could take or leave the Monkees and the Monkees misunderstand their wishes completely. Of course this is a comedy so a lot of this is not meant to be taken seriously but I appreciate that the writers did something different. There’s a lot going on here: Feminism, pacifism, and male/female relationships.

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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