Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees Blow Their Minds”

The Monkees Blow Their Ending

“The Monkees Blow Their Minds” was directed by David Winters, written by Peter Meyerson, and aired March 11, 1968, second to the last Monkees episode in the original run. To my delight, this episode features James Frawley, director of 29 of the 58 Monkees episodes, as Rudy, dimwitted henchmen to Oraculo. When I saw this episode in the 1980s, I had no idea this actor was one of the directors, possibly the best director of the series. Knowing this makes it so much more fun. Thanks to MeTV, I’ve recently enjoyed Frawley’s performances in The Outer Limits episodes, “The Inheritors” Pt. 1 and 2 and various episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

“The Monkees Blow Their Minds” kicks off with a musical guest segment, like the one from “Some Like it Lukewarm” with Davy and Charlie Smalls. Frank Zappa (1940-1993), musician and founder of the band The Mothers of Invention, was Michael Nesmith’s pick. Zappa, who also appeared in Head, makes this episode memorable for me. (It certainly wasn’t the storyline.)

For this chat, Mike and Frank impersonate each other. Aren’t they tricky? Zappa wears a Monkees 8-button shirt and has his hair tucked up in one of Mike’s green wool hats. Mike wears a long, bushy wig and a rubber nose. “Mike” introduces “Frank” and pretends to interview him about the psychedelic music scene. Frank, as “Mike,” comments on the tricky editing style of The Monkees and overall, the conversation is full of the ironic self-parody that frequently characterized the second season. I wonder how much of the Monkees audience at the time were into Zappa, The Monkees being a popular show for kids and The Mothers of Invention being an experimental, underground phenomena. That’s more or less what Nesmith and Zappa were joking about in their conversation.

The best part is when Mike conducts Zappa as he musically destroys a car. This is set to the song, “Mother People” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention from the 1968 album We’re Only in it for the Money. I wish this part had gone on longer. By the way, you can also see Zappa playing a bicycle on this clip from The Steve Allen Show in 1963.

My first memory of Frank Zappa was the 1982 song “Valley Girl,” featuring his daughter Moon. (So shoot me, I’m a child of the ’80s.) He was in the news a lot in the mid-eighties for testifying before the United State Senate against the PMRC, a story that I followed closely. I would imagine that by the time this episode aired on MTV in the 1980s, a lot of people were as tickled as I was to see him on The Monkees. I even became a casual fan; intrigued enough to listen up for his songs on classic rock radio, sit through his surreal film 200 Motels, and buy a copy of the album Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch. That album has some hilarious cover art. Speaking of cover art, the cover for We’re Only in it for the Money is a parody of the Beatles album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Relevant because of the various Monkees references to that album, and because Mike was present at the recording of “A Day in the Life.” You can see Mike about 2/12 minutes into the promo clip.

Back to the recap. Peter arrives at a spooky shop, looking for the “World’s Leading Mentalist,” a.k.a. Oraculo– a scruffy looking magician played by Monte Landis. Oraculo’s dim-witted assistant Rudy (Frawley) greets him. I love the set decoration: weirdness and skulls everywhere, including Oraculo’s staff. Peter explains that he’s got writer’s block and hopes Oraculo can help him. He needs to write a song for the Monkees audition at the club Cassandra. Oraculo perks up at the mention of an “audition.” He tells Peter to look deeply in his eyes and tries to mesmerize him.

That failing, Oraculo pours him a cup of tea. Rudy distracts Peter with a full size skeleton while they sneak a potion into Peter’s beverage. This little bit of physical comedy was funny and I hope Frawley had a good time performing with the Monkees when he wasn’t directing them. The drug completely zones out Peter, which I interpret as a possible subversive statement about drug use.

Next scene: Mike, Micky, and Davy set up for their audition at the club. There are indications that this was filmed much earlier in the second season (April 1967, nearly a full year before it aired), such as the black velvet matching 8-button shirts and Mike wearing the wool hat as well as Micky’s merely wavy rather than full on curly hair. The black shirts were previously seen in “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes.” Peter walks in late, still zombified. Latham, the club manager, was played by Milton Frome, who appeared in The Monkees first season episode, “Monkees on the Line.” Peter can’t remember how to play his bass. He crows like a rooster, destroys Micky’s drum, and over-all wrecks their chance to impress Latham in the audition.

Oraculo summons Peter backstage. Peter’s now wearing an outfit that looks similar to Rudy’s fake Middle East-style costume (they resemble organ grinder’s monkey outfits). On stage, Oraculo auditions for Latham. His act is to levitate Peter four feet off the ground. We see that it’s a trick aided by Rudy who is off stage using ropes to pull him up and down. Latham hires Oraculo instead of the Monkees. Micky, Mike, and Peter suspect that Oraculo has “stolen” Peter’s mind.

The Monkees go back to their pad and plan one of their cons to distract Oraculo and free Peter. (There’s a rare voice-over from Davy setting this up, making me think scenes were dropped or missing.) Mike calls the mentalist, pretending be an amnesiac who has forgotten where he put his suitcase containing 50,000 dollars. Naturally, Oraculo is interested. Cut to Oraculo already at Monkee’s house. He tries to hypnotize Mike, but Mike sees the same, “Cowardice, and, um, dishonesty, and a general lack of scruples” that Peter saw.

Alone with Peter at Oraculo’s shop, Rudy looks at himself in the mirror in one of Oraculo’s capes and top hats, wishing to become his Master. Micky and Davy sneak in behind him. Micky impersonates Oraculo and gives Rudy commands, “Come to me Rudy.” Rudy realizes pretty quickly that it’s not Oraculo, (wrong accent, Micky) but Micky promises a great treasure to share with Rudy, and this lie is enough to get Rudy to go join Oraculo.

As Micky and Davy try to get Peter’s mind back, they launch a romp to “Valleri” (Boyce/Hart). The first moment with the skeleton driving the go-cart out the door is epic. In these romp shots you can see that the Oraculo set is the same as the Monkee’s pad. At one point, Davy and Micky even carry Mr. Schneider around. The shop scenes are cut in with scenes of Mike at the pad with Oraculo, who tricks him into drinking his hypno-potion. Mike has the same hilarious gagging, full-body reaction as he did in “Wild Monkees” when he drank gasoline. The romp has a few cute moments and some cool weirdness, but is generally pointless and doesn’t enhance the plot. Afterwards, Peter’s still in a trance so Davy just hits him on the head with a mallet.

Rudy shows up at the Monkees pad, seemingly through the wall the way it was edited. This tips off Oraculo that something is wrong, so he orders brain-dead Mike to spill the whole scheme. I’m going to stop and say how much I’m enjoying Monte Landis’ performance. This whole episode is a lesser version of “The Devil and Peter Tork,” with Peter losing something vital to a scheming villain. But Landis’ line delivery makes me laugh out loud. I’ve enjoyed every one of Monte Landis’ seven performances and they were varied enough that I honestly didn’t notice he was the same actor when I watched these episodes as a kid.

Later, Micky and Davy bring Peter back to the house, but he’s still spellbound. On top of that, Mike is missing. There’s a classic Monkees scramble to their usual fast-paced incidental music as Micky and Davy look for their friend in places where he wouldn’t fit: under tables, in jars, in the cupboards, etc. They chain Peter to the wall for safekeeping while they go look for Mike. Weird over-dub of Micky saying, “This overlapping chain link is perfect for both sport and formal attire.”

Micky and Davy burst into Oraculo’s shop to rescue Mike. Rudy knocks them out with the mallet, and Oraculo orders Rudy to give Micky and Davy the potion. He boasts about what a sensation he will be with his four psychic slaves. Clip from the show “Here Come the Monkees” (pilot) showing the four Monkees in the prison-break cutaway. Good times. He summons Peter, who breaks the chains out of the wall to obey his command.

At the club Cassandra, Latham introduces The Great Oraculo. Backstage, all four Monkees are now dressed like Peter. Burgess Meredith is in the audience as The Penguin who he played on Batman. His costume is slightly different however, black top hat instead of purple, so that Screen Gems wouldn’t get into legal trouble with 20th Century Fox, perhaps. It’s a random, pop-culture sight gag, memorable and well executed.

Oraculo works the crowd. Choosing a woman from the audience, he asks her to hold up one to thirteen fingers behind his back. (Thirteen fingers? Heh.) She holds up three. Rudy blatantly signals him the answer. Oraculo “guesses” right and the audience is dazzled. Next, Oraculo picks Davy, disguised in a suit and fake facial hair. He claims he’s a lawyer, and Oraculo offers to predict his future. “At the age of 29, you will be the youngest judge ever to sit on the Supreme Court.” Davy makes a fool of him. “But I’m already 35.” The audience boos. Next, he finds Micky in disguise and asks him to help demonstrate that he’s impervious to pain. Micky touches his palm with a lit cigar, instead of whatever prop Oraculo had planted, and Oraculo howls in agony. Once again the audience expresses disdain.

Backstage Oraculo checks on the “psychic slaves.” Foolishly, he smacks Micky instead of giving him another dose of potion. Micky is revived and quickly smacks the other three awake. HOLD IT, hold it. They should have shown this before the scene of the Monkees as audience plants. That would have made sense because then we would have understood that the Monkees were alert and executing a plan to make a fool of the bad guy. It’s completely plausible in the reality of the show that the Monkees could pop in and out of disguises that quickly. They did it all the time. With the scenes in this order, I have no idea what happened.

Rudy tries to save the day by calling the “psychic slaves” out on stage. They circle Oraculo, who commands them to go rigid. The Monkees defy him, falling limply to the stage floor. The audience boos. The Monkees turn this into a human dog act, barking and jumping through hoops and so on. They cut in the “I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog” romp with Monkees playing with the dogs from “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Lame. I don’t mind when they recycle footage for a fun effect, triggering the audience’s memory like they did earlier with the prison break scene, but this is just lazy filler. On stage the dog antics continue and Rudy ends up with the bone from “Some Like it Lukewarm” in his mouth.

That line was a nice nod to The Monkees recurring theme that everyone wants to be in show business. Then, alas, the episode abruptly ends and goes to the black and white performance clip of “Daily Nightly” (Nesmith). There are two things to note in the end credits. First, James Frawley does not get an acting credit as Rudy. I’m guessing Frawley was acting for fun and he didn’t need a credit. The second looks like an error, they misspell “Valleri” as “Valerie.”

“Monkees Blow Their Minds,” was not amazingly original, but was at least amusing before the sloppily-put-together scenes in the last act, and the production team’s general failure to wrap things up. I did enjoy Zappa, Frawley, and Monte Landis so it wasn’t all bad. It’s just one of those things like “Monkees in Texas” where I wonder if they lost a reel or just couldn’t come up with enough footage to make a more satisfying story. Well, that’s showbiz!

In two weeks, it’s the final episode: the delightfully weird “Frodis Caper.” See you then!

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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Monkees vs. Macheen: “Some Like It Lukewarm”

Girls, Girls, Girls!

The “Some Like it Lukewarm” story is set up with a sign for the “KXIW-TV Rockathon Contest, $500 First Prize.” I’m so happy that, since this is one of the last few episodes, it’s about their struggles to make it as a band. Mike, Micky, and Davy are in line at the station with other bands, waiting to sign up. Peter is absent for some reason. Mike gives Davy and Micky a pep talk: Since they desperately need the money, the best thing to do is to act like they don’t need it. Got that? Davy tests out the suave, casual attitude, claiming “We don’t need it.” This confuses Micky, who wigs out because of course they do. The director (James Frawley) must have given Peter’s lines to Micky for that scene.

The Master of Ceremonies was played by real-life Philadelphia D.J., Jerry Blavat, who is still going strong today. The Monkees approach him and presumptuously request the prize money. Of course Blavat treats them like they’re crazy, so they sing for him, going into a doo-wop bit. Mike performs an excellent D.J. patter routine, possibly an imitation of Blavat himself. When they demand the money again, Blavat informs them that the contest is for mixed groups only: without a girl in the group they can’t even compete. He leaves shouting about how he digs “Girls, girls, girls!” Micky helpfully explains for our benefit that one of them is going to have to be “a chick.”

“Some Like it Lukewarm” was a tribute to the 1959 film, Some Like it Hot, starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, and Tony Curtis. In the film, Lemmon and Curtis play two broke 1920’s musicians, who are in trouble with the mob because they witnessed a gangster execution, and so they pose as women and join an all female band. Sounds like a Monkees plot to me. The BFI lists it as one of the films you should see before age 14 [Why that specific age? – Editor’s Question], and it is considered one of the best films of all time. “Some Like it Lukewarm, “ which debuted March 4, 1968, was written by Joel Kane, who also wrote for The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis and Wild, Wild West, and Stanley Z. Cherry who worked on Gilligan’s Island and The Addams Family.

Back at the pad, the Monkees choose which lucky guy will become a lucky girl. The editors treat us to a montage of the Monkees impersonating women: Micky as Mrs. Arcadia in “The Chaperone,” Mike as Princess Gwen in “Fairy Tale,” Peter as the mom from “Monkees vs. Machine,” and Davy as Little Red Riding Hood also from “Fairy Tale.” I think the only episode they left out was “Dance, Monkee, Dance” where they pretended to be female dance students. In my recap for “The Chaperone” I talked a little bit about comedies that have men dress as women. You can read about that here. Mike, Micky, and Peter all nominate Davy to play the girl. Reluctant, he backs himself into the closet and comes out with a mop on his head that looks like a long wig. To Davy’s disbelief, a janitor approaches and tries to pick him up.

Back at their pad, Davy stands behind one of those old-fashioned dressing screens and questions how they’re going to turn him into a woman. Micky explains that a woman is a “rag, a bone, and a hank of hair.” I tried to find out about this rag, bone, and hair nonsense; it seems that it’s from a poem called “The Vampire” by Rudyard Kipling (1897).

“A FOOL there was and he made his prayer
(Even as you and I!)
To a rag and a bone and a hank of hair
(We called her the woman who did not care)
But the fool he called her his lady fair—
(Even as you and I!)”

First, they hand Davy a scarf (rag). Then, they hand him an actual bone. He looks at the camera and says “Woo!” Was that supposed to be suggestive? I think it was. Last, they hand him a wig (hank of hair). Davy comes out in the wig and dress and asks how he looks. Micky: “Kind of like a raggy, hairy bone.” Davy complains that he doesn’t know what to do with the bone (fill in your own dirty joke here), and that he doesn’t know how to act like a woman.

Peter pulls out a book, How to Act Like a Feminine Female in Three Easy Lessons. This episode is so weird. I can only imagine why Peter has that book. It would be hilarious if this was the overdue library book from “The Picture Frame.”

He reads off the lessons. Lesson One: “All feminine females must learn to walk with small delicate steps.” Davy walks around with this feet tied together and falls. Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman. The notion that women have to walk and act a certain way is absurdly funny, even 50 years later. What I’m getting at (and maybe the show was too) is that when men are trying imitate women they seem to choose the superficial, exaggerated characteristics. For a comedy that would be the obvious choice.

Lesson Two: “When a feminine female walks from north to south her hips must move from east to west. A small loud bell in each direction will help to teach this technique.” Davy tries this out, with pots and pans tied to his hips, feet still tied with a small rope. Mike gives directions to Micky who shouts them to Davy. “Faster. Slower. East. West.” Davy spins around in circles. Some of us females have never had these lessons. My husband tells me I walk like Redd Foxx, the Sanford and Son years.

Lesson Three: “The feminine female must glide like a swan when she walks with her head high, erect and motionless. The best way to teach this is to place a book on top the head.” Mike and Micky place an enormous book, perhaps The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, on Davy’s head. He sinks into the ground. From the floor he asks, “Isn’t this fun?” Well, it is for me, Davy.

The Monkees return to the television station to show Blavat that they have a girl in the group. Davy tries to leave but the other three hold him back. Blavat checks “her” out and tells them they are now officially entered in the Rockathon contest. All the above happened in the first five minutes. We’ve gone entire episodes where far less happened. Blavat tells Davy he’s cute, which makes Davy all growly. Micky reminds him, “Money, money. Anything for money.” That does seem to be the name of the game.

Back at their pad, Davy expresses doubts about their plan. Cut to a parallel all-girl band in a similar dilemma. They’ve dressed one of their female members in a suit of armor (that we’ve seen in other episodes) and goatee/mustache. Daphne pulls off her facial hair and frets that they’re bound to find out she’s not a boy. I would have loved a scene where they taught Daphne to walk like a Masculine Male. Hey Daphne, can you walk like you’ve got a pair?

Cut to the contest. Blavat introduces the girl band as the Westminster Abbeys. They play a sped up version of “Last Train to Clarksville.” To make them sound like very tiny girls I guess. Also the “boy” is the lead singer, so shouldn’t they be trying to hide his/her ‘girly’ voice since he’s supposed to be a dude?

The Monkees admire the band musically and visually. The drummer is the lovely Valerie Kairys. They show a clip of the Monkees playing “Clarksville” back in the old days, sped up to match the tempo. Davy accuses the one in the beard of being a bit “effeminate.” I feel like the reveal of the “boy” in the band should have come after we see them play. It would have been obvious, sure, but funnier to have the Monkees seeing them first on stage at the same time the audience does. Then they could reveal Daphne removing her facial hair.

As they leave the stage, Blavat introduces the members as Harmony, Melody, Cacophony, and William the Conqueror. Clever reference alert: Westminster Abbey is a Gothic abbey church in England where all the monarchs had their coronations, starting with William the Conqueror in 1066. The band did well; scoring a 98.6, which is the top rating on the applause meter/thermometer that Blavat is using to judge the contest.

The Monkees force Davy on stage; Blavat ogles “her” some more. They do a half-assed job of lip-synching “The Door into Summer” (Chip Douglas, Bill Martin) while Micky, Mike, and Peter physically keep Davy from fleeing the stage. This is most ridiculous for Micky because he’s supposed to be behind the drums. The Monkees also score a 98.6 on the applause meter, putting them in a first place tie with The Westminster Abbeys. Blavat announces that both bands will have to come back tomorrow for a tie-breaking “battle of the sounds.”

Once they get home, Davy immediately wants to remove this disguise, but the others are worried someone from the show might stop by. Right on cue, Blavat knocks on the door. He has a big bouquet of flowers and wants to see “Miss” Jones. The other three hide, so I guess this is only supposed to be her address. He keeps calling himself, “The Geator with the Heater” and “The Boss with the Hot Sauce,” real life nicknames that he used when he hosted a dance/variety television show called The Discophonic Scene. In the context of him chasing “Miss Jones” however, the nicknames sound positively lecherous.

Blavat comes in and declares his love for Davy and sexually harasses him with the promise that if “she plays her cards right” the Monkees could win the contest. Blavat pursues Davy, forcing him to back away nervously. Davy says he’ll have to think about it; Blavat gives him until tomorrow. Watching this in the days after the big Weinstein scandal is absolutely surreal. I have to hand it to Jerry Blavat for fearlessly playing this sleazy part, especially since they used his real name.

When Blavat leaves, Peter, Micky and Mike tease Davy. Peter says all he has to do is go out with him, and they’re a cinch to win. Mike says if Davy lets Blavat kiss him, he might own a television station. They’re kidding of course, but Davy’s rightfully pissed, “One more remark like that, and I’ll hit you with me purse.”

Later, Davy declines to go out to eat with the others and asks them to bring back a tuna fish sandwich. Cut to the Westminster Abbeys having the same conversation with Daphne: If she has to go out as a boy, she won’t go. Cross-cut of Davy and Daphne going stir crazy. They each decide to go to “Some Little Out of the Way Place That Nobody Goes.” Thanks to this sight gag, this turns out to be a literal location:

Davy sneaks in, wearing a huge coat and sunglasses and asks for a secluded booth. The waiter can help him, “I have a booth which is so secluded, that last week three of our best waiters disappeared while trying to find it.” He takes Davy to a booth that’s already occupied by Daphne. Davy apologizes, and they both take off their sunglasses and immediately fall in love.

Daphne was played by Deana Martin, daughter of singer, actor, and Rat-Packer, Dean Martin. According to IMDB trivia, Deana got the opportunity to play Davy Jones’ love interest after Davy escorted her to her brother Dino’s 16th birthday party. There’s a nice article here where Deana Martin talks about her friendship with Davy.

They are in the middle of making vows of love to each other when Mike, Micky, and Peter noisily enter the restaurant. Okay, I guess they got pulled over by the cops for having long hair, otherwise Davy wouldn’t have arrived first. I assume Davy took the bus since they must have had the Monkeemobile. Yeah, it moves the plot along, but it isn’t logical. Also, for some reason Davy was carrying his girl boots in a large bag with him, because he panics when he hears the other Monkees, and as he leaves, he drops one of the boots. Daphne picks it up, “Wait my darling, you forgot your… high heels?” How very reverse-Cinderella. Davy goes home and hides under his covers just in time for the others to come home and give him his sandwich. Davy realizes he’s lost a shoe.

The next day at the contest backstage area, Davy sees Blavat coming and dives into Daphne’s dressing room to avoid him. Since he’s dressed as a girl, Daphne doesn’t recognize him at first. When she sees he only has one shoe, she realizes she has the other one, and Davy’s game is up. Davy takes off the wig and admits he’s been fooling everyone. He explains that he didn’t tell her because a girl as nice as her wouldn’t go for someone that wasn’t honest. She outs herself as William the Conqueror by holding up the little mustache and goatee. They admit they did this for the same reason: to enter the contest. Davy feels it was terribly wrong.

After all the different cons the Monkees perpetuated over the course of the previous 55 episodes, I sort of wonder why he feels guilty now. On the other hand, most of the time when they dressed up and assumed other identities they were trying to help some innocent person or foil some villain. Here, the con was strictly about winning money.

Cut to Davy having presumably just confessed to Blavat, who must be so embarrassed. Blavat yells at him for deceiving him and disqualifies him because the contest called for mixed groups. Davy tells him that’s what they are, and both groups perform “She Hangs Out” (Jeff Barry) all together. Unfortunately, this relegates the girls to go-go dancers on the sides of the stage. Really, they couldn’t let a couple of them have instruments? Let’s assume they won and split the $500 between both bands.

Next is a segment with Davy Jones hanging out with Charlie Smalls (1943-1987). This was supposedly a sample of the “variety show” style the Monkees wanted, where they would chat with musical guests after the comedy. Charlie plays the piano while Davy explains that they’re writing songs together. Davy asks why he (Davy) doesn’t have soul. Charlie says he has to explain rhythmically. “Your soul would emanate on the accented beats one and three. Where my soul emanates on the accented beats two and four.” He uses the Beatles as an example, claiming they play “hard and funky” on one and three. They demonstrate with some clapping. I don’t know if I buy this scientifically, but they end with a positive message, “Everybody’s got soul.” They sing more of the song “Girl Named Love,” which appeared on the album, The Birds The Bees & The Monkees.

Sharon Cintron, 1963 Playmate of the Month, is listed as “Maxine” in the end credits, but the band girls were named Harmony, Melody, and Cacophony in the dialogue.

Overall, I really enjoyed this episode. Unlike the previous few, there were many hilarious moments and funny lines. The plot moved along and tied up neatly with charming performances from Davy Jones and Deana Martin. This was admittedly a Davy-centric episode. One of the complaints I’ve read about The Monkees was that too many of the plots revolved around Davy’s love life. Since I’m almost at the end of the series, I decided to take a count (yes, I went full-on nerdy with a spreadsheet) and see how many episodes used this plot device (these choices were my opinion; there were some episodes with female characters, but the plot didn’t revolve around them) and decided that there were eleven (18%) out of the 58. That’s not so bad. However, I would also double-count this particular episode as one that is about their struggles as a band (six episodes or 12%). There were far too few of those for my taste.

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.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees in Paris”

“The summer of love meets the city of love.”

“The Monkees in Paris” was shot in two parts: the main action in June of 1967 in Paris and the wrap-around segments with James Frawley on December 24, 1967. These were the last bits of any Monkees episode filmed. Bob Rafelson wrote and directed this one, which is really more like an extended romp. There’s not a lot for me to recap here, even less than I had to work with for “Monkees on Tour.” The Imdb technical specs state that it was filmed on 35mm like the other episodes but I wonder if that is correct; this one looks like it was shot on 16mm with an outdoor film stock, even the indoor scenes shot later with James Frawley. The episode has a cinema vérité feeling, similar to the extra footage that was shot and used in the first season romps (The Monkees on the beach in the red swimsuits, the Monkees riding the unicycles). It is also similar in feel to the Mardi Gras/New Orleans/Acid trip sequences in Easy Rider (1969), which was produced by Bert Schneider and Bob Rafelson.

To start things off, Mike, Micky, and Davy have a friendly game of checkers. Peter rushes in with a threatening letter. Something about getting off the ranch and returning the microfilm, in other words a mishmash of old episode plots. The Monkees ignore the “bad guy” who sneaks up behind them. He has a mustache, a foreign accent, and the usual television clichés.

James Frawley enters the scene and breaks the fourth wall to direct them to do the “Monkees scare.” He’s playing himself as the director even though he didn’t direct this episode. The Monkees are bored and complain they’ve been doing the same thing over and over, which is a valid argument. Davy mentions that there’s always a tall heavy and a small heavy. He doesn’t mention a smart and a dumb one but that would also be accurate. Frawley tries to convince them that it’s all great and to keep going. They rebel; they’re going on vacation while he works out the show’s problems. They head for Paris and leave him in the lurch.

This does reflect the behind the scenes feelings the Monkees had about the repetitive nature of the show’s plots. In the Micky Dolenz autobiography, I’m a Believer, he wrote “Quite frankly, we were getting a little jaded with the show as it existed, Every week Davy [Jones] would fall in love with some girl or Peter [Tork] would be kidnapped by some bad guy, or some guy spy would hide microfilm in somebody’s something or other.” That is a fair statement, after looking at over 50 of these episodes, I can relate.

They were more interested in getting on with their first and only feature film, Head, which began shooting the same day this episode aired, February 19, 1968. The next day, February 20, NBC announced their fall line-up and The Monkees was notably absent. The Monkees didn’t want to continue the show in the same way; they wanted a variety show with musical guests every week, an idea that was sort of tested by the episodes towards the end of the run where Davy, Micky, and Mike got to have musical guests of their choice included. The network wanted them to continue on with the sitcom format, so there was disagreement on how the show would have continued.

After the titles, the Monkees arrive in Paris and drive scooters around until some young women catch sight of them and start chasing them. There’s no dialogue, just action and music. The very 1960’s score gives way to “Love is Only Sleeping” (Chip Douglas, Bill Martin). The streets are wet and rainy and the Monkees run through an outdoor market on foot. The young ladies chasing after them were hired models, and the Imdb doesn’t list their names. The website monkees.coolcherrycream.com however has screen captures that identify them as Carine (Davy’s girl), Véronique Duval (Micky’s girl), Françoise Dorléac (Peter’s girl), and Carole André (Mike’s girl).

In reality, the Monkees were not famous in Paris, so they were able to film scenes without any fans bothering them. They hired the girls to pretend to be crazed fans. This contrasts with their popularity in Great Britain. According to The Monkees Day-by-Day by Andrew Sandoval, they had to cancel shooting part of the series in Manchester because, according to Rafelson, “They are just too well known here.” In Paris, the Monkees were even able to take a day off and do some sight-seeing.

Back at the pad, James Frawley is on the phone with Bob (Rafelson), complaining that the Monkees left. It’s cute that they’re pretending that red phone is connected to a real phone line. Frawley suggests they put on half an hour of commercials like The Johnny Carson Show. Burn.

I wish I knew Paris but I’ve never had the good fortune to go, so there’s not a lot of meaning for most of these locations for me. The four models corner the Monkees at a drawbridge. Then suddenly, they’re at an amusement park where they ride some little tricycles. There’s no attempt at continuity or a story. They go on some more rides and now each Monkee is paired up with a girl. They ride different styles of toy cars around. The Monkees are at a flower garden, walking around holding hands canoodling with their girls. “Don’t Call on Me” (Michael Nesmith, John London) is the music.

This entire episode has a very 1960’s vibe. I mean yes, I know this was all from the 1960s but I’d give this episode the prize for most dated feeling. I don’t have objective facts for this, it’s just the atmosphere created by the way this was put together with the music and the ’60s fashions are the only element to focus on. In the episodes with plot and dialog there’s a more timeless feel because they rarely got topical. They were youthful and rebelled against authority and the status quo, and those are timeless concepts, not restricted to a particular decade. In Monkeemania by Glen A. Baker, Mike Nesmith talks about Raybert and their progressive-for-the-time ideas about how to make The Monkees innovative. “What they really wanted was a show that mirrored the times without actually being part of it.” It’s funny that Rafelson directed this one because it’s very much part of the times. [He probably did it for the free trip to Paris – Editor’s Note] Most of the time the show made fun of hippies, if anything. But in “Monkees in Paris” all these lovely shots of them walking around in nature, arm-in-arm, seem like manufactured “love and peace.” They don’t seem organic, nor does it seem that they were intended to be humorous or ironic.

“Star Collector” (Goffin/King) plays as the Monkees do some clowning around, falling face forward out of a truck trailer. They’re back on the scooters at some kind of street fair. The girls chase them around again. Davy fools around at a clothing stand. Micky gropes his girl on a stack of mattresses. Peter tries to impress his girl with his violin playing. My only real laugh-out-loud at this episode comes from his facial expressions as he strives to get her attention. Next, they’re all at typewriters. Whatever they typed and show to the girls gets them slapped. They try again and get hugs. How many Monkees would it take to accidentally type Hamlet?

Next song is “Goin’ Down” (Dolenz, Jones, Tork, Nesmith, Hildebrand). A bigger group of fans chases the Monkees through cobblestone streets with cops–or gedarmes following behind. Mike looks like he’s having a great time. The fans catch Micky at some point and try to tear his shirt off until the gedarmes break it up, two of whom are David Pearl and Ric Klein. There’s an abrupt tone change where they walk around a cemetery with organ music in the background. The music goes back to “Goin Down” and groups of females continue to chase them through the streets. Mike drives some kind of three-wheeled truck type vehicle and the other three ride in the back. Micky, Peter, and Davy scare the girls and the police by taking their shirts off. Sure, that makes sense. The four girls from before join them on the little truck. The Monkees take a boat ride with their girls and the soundtrack plays a banjo instrumental of that often-used “Where the Old Folks at Home” (Foster) tune. There’s a sequence with Peter and Davy in old-timey swimsuits with their girls by a pool. It would have been clever if they’d switched to black and white film for that.

The Monkees and the girls ride through the city in a jeep as the music switches back to “Don’t Call on Me.” They manage to break the hood off their vehicle and cause a traffic jam. The French must have loved them. About the song, Michael Nesmith wrote it with his friend John London in their folk singing days, before the Monkees. The version of the song on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. has an intro and fadeout that invokes a performance in a piano lounge somewhere. Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, Davy Jones, and Bob Rafelson all participated in the ambiance recording. Mike’s vocal performance is different than usual on this song; instead of having his customary country-rock sound; he sounds like a smooth ballad singer. When I first heard the song I didn’t even recognize it as him. The four models chase the boys around and up the Eiffel tower while an instrumental “Alouette” plays. They climb all over it, making me dizzy. They all squeeze into a tiny box at one point. Cozy!

Back at the pad, the Monkees play checkers again. The scene begins the same way with Peter and the threatening letter. The Monkees aren’t having it. Mike complains to “Jim.” Frawley justifies that the actor has no mustache or accent and is asking for “the secret apple.” Mike and Micky promise to see us next week with something better.

Back to Paris, there’s a final montage of shots of the Monkees kissing and hugging the models. Micky puts a fur hood on two girls heads and pushes them together, then grins as though they were kissing. If I’m interpreting that correctly, I can’t believe that got past the censors. He also affectionately hugs an old lady, which is very sweet. There you have it, naughty Micky and nice Micky. There’s a random shot of Micky with Samantha Juste, his future wife [You are tearing me apart, Lisa! – Editor’s Note], holding him as he sleeps on a bus.

I have to admit when I used to catch the run of episodes on MTV and Nickelodeon back in the mid-eighties, I wasn’t too excited when this one came up in the rotation. I tuned into the Monkees for the funny dialogue and weird plots, to see the Monkees talk to me by breaking the fourth wall, etc. This episode is cute but it’s never going to be a favorite. As a teen I admit I did enjoy seeing them run around with the pretty girls. There is a fun romance element to it. Unfortunately the film stock they used was awfully washed out so any beautiful or interesting scenery is not getting the appreciation it deserves. My DVD’s are no improvement on how it looked on television. They did restore it on the Blu Ray box set apparently, according to the Monkees YT channel. Here’s a sample of the restoration. As I said in my intro, “Monkees in Paris” is an extended romp; it’s pretty and fun but ultimately pointless.

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.

 

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees Race Again”

“You Flew All the Way to Hollywood for This Part?”

Buckle up your seatbelts because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. “The Monkees Race Again” was the last full episode filmed, wrapping on December 20, 1967. After the previous two terrific episodes, “The Monkee’s Paw” and “The Devil and Peter Tork,” this one is a bummer because the Monkees appear to have zero enthusiasm. It seems as though they had a case of “senioritis” and weren’t interested in making these types of episodes any more.

Directed by James Frawley, “The Monkees Race Again” first aired on February 12, 1968. The writers were Dave Evans and Elias Davis & David Pollock. Davis and Pollock worked together on many television shows such as The Carol Burnett Show, Frasier, and M*A*S*H. This episode was their first writing credit. Dave Evans wrote nine Monkees episodes, including the excellent “Find the Monkees” and “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers.” The “a.k.a. Leave the Driving to Us” portion of the title is an allusion to the iconic Greyhound Bus slogan “Go Greyhound and Leave the Driving to Us!”

The Monkees are in their driveway fixing the Monkeemobile when Davy gets a phone call. The audio sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher, but the caller is actually Davy’s grandfather’s friend, T.N. Crumpets, an auto racer who’s been “winning all the major races lately.” He needs the Monkees help. They try to start the car but instead the red phone starts up and drives back into the house. That cute sight gag was my favorite moment of the episode.

Peter, Davy, and Mike arrive at Crumpet’s garage and go bananas admiring his race car. Where the [cuckoo’s] Micky? The Butler startles them by… standing still and staring. They should be used to people staring by now. He introduces his boss, T.N. Crumpets, who is terribly British. There are Union Jack flags decorating the garage in case his nationality wasn’t clear. Crumpets tells the Monkees that some “absolute rotter” has been sabotaging his car.

Peter and Mike take a look at the engine and cause a small explosion. Micky, whom they’ve established as the group mechanic, wanders in. I guess he took the Greyhound bus or was out parking the Monkeemobile. Imdb trivia states that Micky Dolenz was a mechanic in real life in between acting jobs. I know little about car racing, but I assume this story is meant to mimic (very loosely) Formula One. Some legal races do take place on temporarily closed off public roads, making the finale of this episode not so unbelievable. The British dominated the Formula One Racing world from 1962-1973, connecting Davy’s line about Crumpets winning all the major races to reality.

The next scene takes place at the garage of Baron von Klutz, foreign-accented villain, who is having trouble with his own car, the Klutzmobile. He and his toady, Wolfgang, struggle to get the engine started. Both the Baron and Wolfgang are in World War I military dress and have a periscope installed in their garage, which they use to view black and white footage of a U-boat battle. They also use it to spy on Crumpets’ garage. They watch the Monkees do nonsensical things to “fix” Crumpets’ car: using a saw, hammering a nail into it, filing a piece of wood. Wolfgang wonders, “Who would be so stupid as to treat a machine this way?” The Monkees all look up and bow as though they heard him.

This periscope joke could have been weirder or more imaginative. They could have taken a hint from the episode “The Chaperone” where they had party guests looking at Alcatraz through a telescope. The execution of that gag was unexpected and funny. I realize that most of the jokes on The Monkees were corny or silly, but the difference is in how they are executed. Most episodes were very funny. With this and “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes” however, the humor falls flat due to the lack of joy and imagination. For that matter, the “Klutz” name isn’t that funny either because they never make use of the pun.

Baron von Klutz is a loose parody of Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the “Red Baron.” He was a World War I airplane fighter pilot who destroyed 80 of the allied forces aircraft between 1916 and 1918 until he was shot down and killed himself. Baron von Klutz has the Iron Cross on his car, which was used on German WWI airplanes and was first a Prussian and then German military decoration. These World War allusions were a missed opportunity. They could have added a fantasy sequence where the Monkees become WWI pilots, or created some other historical parody, like Peanuts with Snoopy as the WWI Flying Ace. I’ve read in multiple sources that Frawley used to work with the Monkees in rehearsal of the episodes to re-work or add quick funny bits. I’m guessing no one felt up to it this time.

The Baron and Wolfgang march over to Crumpet’s garage counting, “Eins zwei drei vier.” The Baron approaches Crumpet to gloat over his car trouble. The Monkees cover that everything is fine; the engine was taken apart to “make it lighter.” Micky tells the Baron that the car is in perfect tune, and he proves it by smacking him on the helmet with a tuning fork. Baron laughs evilly and says he will see them at the race. I’m so glad someone is having a good time.

The Baron and Wolfgang repeat the same “I can’t move/ you’re standing on my foot” gag three times between this scene and the last and it’s not funny. David Hurst and Stubby Kaye are two great actors and I wish they’d gotten a better episode. After they go, the Monkees manage to get the engine working. Crumpets decides they should celebrate with tea. What a party animal!

The Baron and Wolfgang’s next plot is to capture Crumpets and Micky. Meanwhile, the Monkees have tea with Crumpets. (Heh.) For atmosphere, the Butler sprays the air with “London mist.” Stu Phillips has an adorable instrumental version of “London Bridge is Falling Down” scoring the scene. Baron and Wolfgang sneak up behind in plain sight and spray knockout gas. No one notices. Come on, the Monkees aren’t this dumb. Davy cracks that it smells like Liverpool (in a spot-on Beatles accent). After they pass out, the villains grab Micky and Crumpets and drag them out.

Micky and Crumpets are tied to chairs in the Klutz garage. Baron starts in with the villain cliché of revealing his plot. Micky guesses “You’re going to award me the Blue Max?.” This is a reference to the 1966 film The Blue Max, which was about a World War I German air force pilot striving to win the highest military order awarded by the kingdom of Prussia. It could also be Micky’s clever way of pointing out how anachronistic the Baron and Wolfgang are; like many Monkees villains, they seem to have stepped out of a time bubble. Speaking of history-related jokes , as the Baron discusses his plans to win the race and make the Klutzmobile famous, his speech comes to a Hitler-type shouting climax and there’s a “Seig heil!” chant from somewhere in the background. Between this and Wolfgang’s Hitler mustache, the required mocking of Nazis is present. Crumpets protests that Micky is not a mechanic and the Baron decides this is reason to gag him.

Knowing how The Monkees loved to spoof popular television shows of their day, this episode is also a parody of Hogan’s Heroes, with Baron as a stand-in for Colonel Klink and Wolfgang substituting for Sergeant Schultz. It’s not a great parody though. There’s no unique take on the topic. Compare this to the much funnier “Hillbilly Honeymoon” where they parodied “The Beverly Hillbillies” but made the episode guest characters dark parallel versions of the ones from the original show.

Mike, Peter, and Davy wake up and give a half-hearted “They’re gone!” when they realize Crumpets and Micky are missing. They rush over to the Klutz garage, where Peter finds Micky’s tuning fork on the ground. Wolfgang approaches to block their entry and fibs that it’s his tuning fork, an “a.” Wolfgang and the Monkees take turns hitting themselves in the head with the tuning fork, arguing over whether it’s Micky’s “b flat” or the Wolfgang’s “a.” Peter notices that Wolfgang has a good voice and asks if he’d like to join the group if they don’t find Micky. Cute line referring to the fact that Stubby Kaye was a star of musical comedies. He performed one of my favorite numbers in Guys and Dolls.

Wolfgang pulls a gun on them and tells them to go. Mike and Peter break the fourth wall to bust Wolfgang’s balls about having a gun on television. They must be joking, because the Monkees have had guns in their hands themselves many times. “The Monkees in Texas,” “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” “The Picture Frame,” not to mention the crazy amount of gunfire in “Monkees à la Carte” and “Hillbilly Honeymoon.” I know they were probably making a statement against violence, but it was vague and chaotic as it played out. The Baron approaches and he intimidates the Monkees into leaving.

Mike, Peter, and Davy finish fixing up Crumpet’s car. Mike remarks they have no one to drive it, but Davy points out that as a British subject, the Racing Commission may allow him to drive the car. Yes, but why is it so important that they have representation in the race? There’s nothing at stake here that anyone cares about. All the same, they go to see the Official, (played by Don Kennedy, the policeman from Monkees à la Cart) who agrees to let Davy race. He has only one concern, “I don’t think he’ll be able to see over the wheel.” Punch him in the knees, Davy!

They go back to the garage where Mike and Peter put Davy in the car with a phone book (remember those?) under his butt to boost him up. He says he’s “a little high” so they rip out a few pages. No, Davy you’re not a little high. That was in “The Monkee’s Paw.” Davy takes a joy ride and it seems he’s also familiar with Peanuts.

The Baron spots Davy through the periscope and realizes the British car isn’t out of it yet. Wolfgang un-gags Crumpets, allowing him to breathe. Crumpets proclaims, “You’ll never get away with this!” and gets gagged again. Micky meta-comments to him, “Boy, you sure got a lousy part.” You said it, Micky. In order to steal Crumpets’ car, the Baron makes an announcement on the loudspeaker, calling the Monkees to the reviewing stand. Despite his heavy accent, the Monkees buy this and go running. This is even sloppier than the knockout gas bit; Peter is naive enough to fall for this, but Mike is not. These are all gaffes I’d happily ignore if the episode was funnier. Team Klutz takes Crumpets’ car back to their garage. They take parts from it and put them in the Klutzmobile. Un-gagged Crumpets helpfully comments that they’re putting the part in backwards. I don’t know why he’s helping them, but he gets gagged again for his trouble.

Mike, Peter, and Davy go back to the Official’s office where they try to convince him they can race without a car. The Official refuses, because you’ve got to have some standards. Davy remembers that the Monkeemobile exists, and they run off. Out on the track, Davy gets ready to race the Monkeemobile and Mike discusses their plan: during the race he and Peter will go to the von Klutz garage and find Micky and Crumpets. (The voice announcing, “ladies and gentlemen, cars and drivers are now on the starting grid” sounds a lot like Mike.) Davy wonders about the other contestants. The Baron pulls up and declares there are no other contestants. So, these dummkopfs managed to fool, sabotage, or murder all the other racers teams. I do like that they switched the Baron’s helmet for goggles and an aviation cap.

A girl walks by with a racing flag for her skirt. To her dismay, the Marshall tears her flag-skirt off so he can signal the start of the race. As he gives the signal to start, his pants come down. With these two gags, I suspect some absolute rotter sabotaged my DVD and swapped it for an episode of The Benny Hill Show. Mike and Peter burst into the garage as Wolfgang was about to shoot the prisoners. Wolfgang has the gun, but he runs away from Peter and Mike instead of shooting them. Yeah, they are two intimidating guys.

The Klutzmobile and the Monkeemobile race on real roads, mixed with superimposed footage of the actors in the cars. The Baron forces Davy off the road and leaves him hanging off a cliff. He gets going again and the Baron sends tires rolling at him. Davy swerves to avoid them and they roll in front of the Baron, causing him to crash into a tree. Davy wins. The girl in the checkered skirt (now intact) gives him the trophy, a flower wreath, and a kiss. The IMDB says this is Valerie Kairys but there’s no clear shot of her. I’m sure the Imdb would never lie to me.

It’s nice that Davy won, but in other episodes where the Monkees participated in races, “Wild Monkees” and “Don’t Look a Gift Horse,” there was something on the line. In “Wild Monkees” they would have been torn to pieces by bikers if they didn’t join the motorcycle race. Not to mention risking their manly reputation in front of the girls. In “Don’t Look a Gift Horse,” Davy raced a horse to help the broken-hearted little kid who wanted to keep it. With “Monkees Race Again,” I suppose Davy’s defending Crumpets’ reputation and the British and American honor against their World War I and II former enemies, but neither of these was worth rooting for as they played out.

Since the race is over, the romp to “What am I Doing Hangin’ ’Round?” (Michael Martin Murphey/Owen Castleman) ) is completely pointless. The actors do some goose-stepping and “heil” arms. German characters were used often as the stock villains for mid-to-late twentieth century pop culture and this episode is only 23 years after the end of WW II. I think that the British pop culture has done the best job at making dark comedy out of Nazi’s, etc. The funniest thing I’ve seen using the post world war tensions as humor was the Fawlty Towers episode, “The Germans.” It’s worth checking out if you’ve somehow missed it.

I wouldn’t have nitpicked so many little details in this episode, if the Monkees had given more enthusiastic performances. When they’re into it, it’s so entertaining that I don’t really care if it makes sense. Unfortunately, the actors playing the Monkees were interested in other things at this point in the series. Micky and Peter directed episodes around this time (Micky co-wrote his), Mike recorded The Wichita Train Whistle Sings sessions just before this, Davy opened a boutique called Zilch, and they were all getting ready to shoot Head. These are just a few of the things I found in The Monkees Day by Day book by Andrew Sandoval. I’m sure there were other distractions. They didn’t seem to care about performing for the show by this time. I watch these episodes to see the Monkees’ friendship, to watch them solve problems together in funny ways, and to see their interactions. I got none of that in “The Monkees Race Again.” There was none of the usual warmth or interest in entertaining and connecting with the audience.

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.

 

 

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Devil and Peter Tork”

“The Devil Went Down to Hollywood, Looking for a Soul to Steal.”

“The Devil and Peter Tork” is a classic episode, a fan favorite that receives a lot of well-deserved praise. Like the previous episode, “The Monkees’ Paw,” “The Devil and Peter Tork” was inspired by a short story: “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” by Steven Vincent Benét, about a farmer who enters into a contract with “The Stranger” and is in danger of losing his soul. The mythical litigator, Daniel Webster, sets up a court case on behalf of the farmer and wins his soul back for him.

“The Devil and Peter Tork” first aired on February 5, 1968, but was shot nearly a year earlier, in April, 1967. The episode has a first season/early second season feel, due to both the Monkee’s hair and clothing styles and the more innocent (relatively speaking) tone. The reason for the delay, per IMDB trivia, came from the network reacting to the “Hell” lines that mocked NBC’s Standards & Practices division. A alternate rumor about the reason for the delay was that the network objected to the sly drug references in the song “Salesman.”

Story writing credits for this episode go to Robert Kaufman (1931-1991), with the teleplay by Robert Kaufman and Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso. This was Kaufman’s first and only Monkees episode. He also wrote the story for Divorce, American Style, screenplay for Freebie and the Bean, and Love at First Bite as well as many other film screenplays and television episodes. Episode director was James Frawley.

The episode begins with Peter visiting a pawn shop, admiring the many instruments. It appears to be the same music shop from “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool,” only the set is lit in this episode to appear ominous and shady. Peter calls out to see if anyone is in. Mr. Zero startles Peter, touches his shirt, and smoke rolls off from his touch! It’s not the creepiest thing that ever happened on this show, but it’s pretty scary! Zero explains that the instruments belong to musicians who have fallen on bad times.

Zero invites Peter to look around. Peter immediately notices the harp and approaches it to look more closely. He tells Zero he’s always loved the harp. Zero-the-cynical says he’s sure Peter means “need or desire, no one loves things anymore.” But Peter knows how he feels; he loves the harp. Of course he doesn’t have any money. No problem, Zero simply snaps his fingers and a contract appears, “play now, pay later.” Peter signs it and carries the harp out the door (magically opened for him by Zero). Zero calls someone on a red phone and requests a reservation for one; he’s just purchased the soul of Mr. Peter Tork. Meanwhile, Peter carries the harp down the street on foot.

Back at the pad, Mike patiently explains to Peter that, though the harp is beautiful, he doesn’t know how to play it. Micky and Davy agree that Peter should take it back and they leave him to it. Zero appears in a puff of smoke and asks Peter why he needs Mike now that he has his harp? Zero wants Peter to believe that material possessions are more important than people. Mike wisecracks that he does the sweeping up, etc. Zero disregards his sarcasm by magically popping a broom into Mike’s hand. He goes after his quarry, telling Peter to play his harp. Peter tries it out, and it seems Zero has given him supernatural knowledge of how to play it perfectly. Zero promises to make Peter famous, but Peter is not interested in fame; he’s simply entranced with the beautiful music. Zero puffs away. Monte Landis is appropriately menacing as Zero in this episode. This is my favorite of all of his seven performances on the show. Born in Glasgow, he plays Zero with a British accent. This is a fitting choice, as American movies and television shows love to cast Brits as “evil” characters.

Mike, Micky, and Davy re-enter the scene when they hear Peter playing, curious about how he learned so fast. Peter explains that Mr. Zero taught him. He asks if they could add it to the act, and Micky turns into a newspaper salesman, “Extra, extra, group earns fame and fortune by adding harp into act” Skeptical Mike points out that, “no one was ever an overnight success” as he goes to answer the ringing phone. It’s Harry’s Booking Agency, calling to tell them that with the harp, they’re going to be an overnight success. Ha! Mike is bemused.

The story of their climb to fame and fortune is told with a montage. There are shots of a train, kids screaming from “Monkees on Tour,” and newspaper headlines: “Monkees Intro Harp” “Monkees Harp a Hit!,” and “Monkees Harp Happening.” More Monkees on tour footage with a transparent image of Peter playing “Pleasant Valley Sunday” on the harp superimposed.

Back at the Monkees house, Peter’s still playing. (I’ve got blisters on my fingers!) Micky, Mike and Davy look through the hundreds of offers from the mail. Zero pops in with a puff of smoke. The Monkees are not amazed. I guess when you can materialize props and costumes yourself, nothing surprises you. Zero asks Peter if he’s pleased and likes all the money he’s making. All Peter cares about is making people happy with the music. He is of course the perfect character for Zero to target, because he was always the least likely to look for a catch in any bargain.

It’s time to pay up though, as Zero pulls out his contract. Mike, the type who always looks for the downside, grabs the contract and looks it over. (Peter Tork wise-cracks in the DVD commentary that Mike was always looking at contracts.) He quickly discovers that Peter has sold his soul to the Devil. Peter innocently says he doesn’t believe in devils. Zero says this makes Peter’s soul more interesting because innocence is “at a premium.”

This is an interesting thought. Can the Devil take your soul, if you don’t believe in him/it? Or is it like the film The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” [“And like that … he’s gone.” – Editor’s Note] Does disbelief of evil give it great power? Or are you still innocent if you don’t acknowledge the existence of good and evil? As Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Humans give those concepts power, they aren’t inherently true and don’t come from anyone but us. These are all possibilities to think over anyway.

Micky thinks Zero’s joking, as I would. Zero proves his power by snapping his fingers, shattering the chair that Micky tried to sit on, making Davy’s shirt vanish, and giving Mike that damn broom again. They all are convinced, yep, he’s the devil. That’s their proof? The Monkees themselves have made many a prop and costume appear out of nothing. Come on, impress me Mr. Zero.

According to the contract Zero gets Peter’s soul by midnight. (Shouldn’t it be on Peter’s death?) Mike points out that it’s only 8 p.m., and Peter wants his other four hours thanks. Zero agrees, undoes his mischief, and vanishes. The other three Monkees huddle around Peter, who admits he’s scared. He starts to say, “I don’t want to go to h—” but is cut off by a flash of hell-red lightning and a romp to the song “Salesman” (Craig Vincent Smith).

Woo hoo! I love this song and this romp. Zero sits on a throne with sexy female devils at his feet. The lady devils bring Peter to Zero and jab at the Monkees with devil forks. This is all mixed in with footage of Mike singing the song in the Rainbow Room. The Monkees get their own devil costumes, and they run around and dance etc. This is one of the better romps of the later part of the season. There’s a colorful, cheesy-yet-creepy vibe to it and great editing. I don’t know how this played to people in the 1960s. I’ve seen plenty of Vincent Price movies from that time with this same look.

After the romp is the classic dialogue:
Mike: So that’s uh, that’s what [cuckoo] is all about.
Davy: Yeah, [cuckoo] is pretty scary.
Micky: You know what’s even more scary?
Peter: What?
Micky: You can’t say [cuckoo] on television.

I love Micky’s cocky expression as he delivers the stinger. “Salesman” is on the album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. The riff always reminded me of the Beatles’ “Taxman” and that was probably by design. The lyrics describe the life of a door-to-door salesman in cynical terms. The line that might have scandalized standards and practices is, “There goes salesman and he’s sailing high again /He’s sailing so high, high, sailing so high.” Considering the drug references that got by in episodes like “The Monkees Paw” and “A Coffin Too Frequent,” I doubt this was an issue. The joke above about not being allowed to say “hell” seems the more likely reason for the network delay of the episode.

Apparently “hell” had been said around this time on Star Trek. Captain Kirk said, “Let’s get the hell out of here” in the 1967 episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” It’s listed here on TV firsts. I’m guessing it was still considered pretty outrageous at the time. Wow, racy!

As the Monkees discuss what to do, Zero returns. The boys try to stall for time but Zero isn’t having it. He pulls Peter to the door, telling him he’ll like it “down there.” Then comes the most sweetly selfless moment ever on The Monkees:

Every time I see that scene, it gets to me. Davy Jones does it so sincerely. Zero turns him down of course, so Micky and Davy grab Peter and have a tug-of-war with Zero. Mike on the other hand, stands back and uses his brain. He tells Zero that if the contract is valid, there’s nothing the Monkees can do. But, he wants to take that contract to court to test it. Mike is taking more of the Daniel Webster role in this, despite the way the episode is named; he asks for the trial and makes the compelling argument toward the end.

Zero claps his hand and materializes a hellish, red-curtained, fire-lit court. Presided over by Judge Roy Bean, the jury consists of “twelve condemned men from Devil’s Island.” Yeah, I’m sure that’ll be fair. [Don’t they get a voir dire? – Editor’s Question] Roy Bean, if you were wondering, was a famous judge in late 19th Century Texas. He was known for his “unusual rulings” and was portrayed after his death as a “hanging judge” although he only ever sentenced two men to hang.

Zero calls old west gunfighter Billy the Kid as his first witness. Billy agrees that Zero kept his bargain and made him the most famous gunfighter in the West. Mike loses the “choosing fingers” contest with the other Monkees and has to take the first defense. He steps up to question “Mr. Kid” but is easily intimidated and backs off.

Zero wants to wrap it up, but Micky insists they call another witness on the fourth-wall-breaking-grounds that, “the television show’s not over.” Zero swaps out Billy for the renowned pirate, Blackbeard, who recites, “Yo ho ho and a bottle o’ rum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” Davy takes that as his cue and stands up to question him. Blackbeard sways his rum bottle back and forth until Davy gets seasick.

Zero smugly calls infamous warmonger Attila the Hun. Micky steps up to the challenge, promising to be like Spencer Tracy from Inherit the Wind. (Never without a show-biz reference, that guy.) Attila doesn’t speak English so they start a conversation in faux “foreign” language. Attila backs Micky to the table with his sword until Mike stands up and shouts gibberish that makes Attila back off.

Micky: “What’d you say?”
Mike: “I don’t know!”

The judge is ready to pass sentence, but Mike’s not through. He calls the defense’s first witness: Zero himself. Zero materializes the contract for evidence. He claims in exchange for fame and fortune, Peter gave up his soul. Mike argues that Zero didn’t give Peter anything in exchange for his soul. Peter didn’t want fame and fortune; he just wanted to play the harp. Zero argues, “I gave him the ability to play the harp… in return for his soul.”

Poor Peter. He’s always the most sympathetic Monkee and I really feel for him here. This episode scared me a bit when I was a kid. I was raised Catholic so Hell was a real concept. I’d say this episode and “Son of a Gypsy” (thanks to the hot poker) were the two Monkees episodes that disturbed me the most. But I don’t mind; I like being scared. An episode with any kind of emotional impact is going to stick with me much longer. I was really worried for Peter. But never fear; Mike is here. He argues that Peter’s love of the harp and music gave him the power to play, not Zero. Micky and Davy listen thoughtfully and attentively while Zero laughs at his ideas.

Here’s where Zero makes his mistake. He takes the supernatural power away from Peter and materializes the harp. Mike tells Peter to go play. Peter is frightened, but Mike insists that no one can give Peter the power or take it away. Peter sits down and plays a beautiful instrumental arrangement of “I Wanna Be Free.” Of course, it’s not that simple. You can’t just do something because you love to do it. BUT, for the sake of this being a 30 minute show, let’s say for Peter, “love” equals many, many hours of practice, therefore what Mike says is meaningful and credible.

The jurors and the witnesses are touched; they’re even moved to tears. Zero is no longer laughing. This bit does parallel the original story, if we compare Peter’s playing of the harp to Daniel Webster’s way with words as described here:

“For his voice could search the heart, and that was his gift and his strength. And to one, his voice was like the forest and its secrecy, and to another like the sea and the storms of the sea; and one heard the cry of his lost nation in it, and another saw a little harmless scene he hadn’t remembered for years. But each saw something. And when Dan’l Webster finished he didn’t know whether or not he’d saved Jabez Stone. But he knew he’d done a miracle. For the glitter was gone from the eyes of judge and jury, and, for the moment, they were men again, and knew they were men.”Steven Vincent Benét, “The Devil and Daniel Webster”

Just like Webster, Peter has performed a miracle of restoring the humanity of the judge and these hard, bitter, hell-bound men. With his playing, Peter makes an argument in his own defense, and earns his name in the story title. He finishes playing and the judge declares him “not guilty!” Defeated, Zero snaps himself back to hell. The Monkees hug and celebrate.

This is a truly wonderful episode. Not so many laugh-out-loud moments as I normally expect, but a well done story, sensitively acted. I know it’s not perfect, but I like it so much I don’t feel like picking nits. This is one of the most emotionally engaging stories for me, included with “One Man Shy” and “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” These are also the episodes that revolve around the non-actor characters, Mike and Peter. Not a coincidence I’m sure; there’s something about their less practiced acting style that makes them relatable, easy to empathize with. Or maybe they just lucked into better stories being written around them.

The last bit of the episode is the bouncy, energetic Rainbow Room performance of “No Time” (Hank Cicalo). This tune has a gospel feel and is therefore a great way to end this particular episode. Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you all have a wonderful 2018 and don’t have to make any deals with the Devil.

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.

Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkee’s Paw”

“You’ll never work in show business again!”

“The Monkees Paw” was directed by James Frawley, written by Coslough Johnson, and first aired January 29, 1968. I enjoy this episode; it’s good old fashioned storytelling, based loosely on the short story, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs. In that story, a married couple comes into possession of a mummified monkey’s paw that was cursed by a “holy man.” The couple tempts fate when they make an innocent wish that leads to a tragedy. The point being, I suppose, “don’t mess with fate.” There have been many adaptations of this story, including films and stage plays, an opera, an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, a radio play with Christopher Lee, and the short segment on The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror II.”

The Monkees version begins at an empty nightclub where the band audition with “Goin’ Down.” The Manager of the club (played by Henry Beckman, the D.A. from “The Picture Frame”) rocks out awkwardly in appreciation. Davy plays drums and Micky sings up front, playing tambourine and maracas. Yeah, they should have set the band up that way the entire series. The nightclub’s current act, Mendrek the Magician, watches from the side, sensing that he’s about to be replaced.

After the song ends, the Manager immediately hires the Monkees. When Mendrek inquires about his own fate, the Manager calls him a has-been and fires him. The two older men argue. Mike intervenes, standing up for Mendrek and asking the Manager not to just “throw him out.” Mendrek thanks Mike by stomping on his foot. Mendrek is a sympathetic character, yet he’s also unsympathetic because, let’s face it, he’s kind of a jerk.

Now for a tangent about clothing styles. For the episodes filmed after the summer of 1967 tour, the Monkees everyday costumes changed from the interchangeable mix-and-match shirts to variations on tunics, mandarin collars, and love beads. Except Mike. Beginning with “Monkees on the Wheel” he wore a tucked in shirt and tie, which I suppose suits his on-screen personality. I suspect at this point the actors were choosing their own clothes and they all look terrific, but sometimes Mike looks like their older brother, chaperoning the band around town [Your pot-smoking accountant brother-in-law – Editor’s Note].

Mendrek assumes the Monkees are going to mock him. Instead they instead offer condolences. They are always supporters of the underdogs. Mendrek says, “Oh don’t be sorry. People don’t want to see Magicians anymore. They want to see reality. As it’s shown to them on television.” Wow. Replace “television” with “YouTube” and that line still works today! This theme of older entertainers threatened by young rock-n-rollers was also in “Monkees at the Circus” and “Captain Crocodile.” Micky finds the Monkey’s Paw in Mendrek’s things; he’s grossed-out, but curious. Mendrek tells the story of how he acquired it from a Lama while looking for “secrets of the unknown” in Tibet.

As told in flashback, Micky plays Young Mendrek, who has climbed a snowy mountain in a magician’s tux to see the High Lama. Instead, he finds the regular lama, known as “Reg.” Mike plays Reg with as broad a Texas accent as possible, comically smashing the expectations about how a lama would speak. Young Mendrek wants to see the High Lama, but Reg explains that he’s out back “sleeping it off.” That’s how he got his name. Nice subversive joke. Young Mendrek tells Reg he’s looking for “Tibetan Unknown Secrets.” Reg is resistant at first and even serves Mendrek papers for trespassing. Eventually, he gives Young Mendrek the Monkey’s Paw, claiming it will grant him three wishes.

Back in the present, Mendrek offers Micky the “priceless” Monkey’s Paw for a quarter. This is pretty nasty of Mendrek. Going by the source story, we can assume that he’s had misfortune because of it, and now he’s wishing this on Micky. I don’t think Micky’s after “mystic power” the way that Young Mendrek was. As Mendrek is leaving, Micky gives Mendrek the quarter, officially purchasing the paw out of pity so that Mendrek won’t be a “vagrant” as the manager calls him. After the Manager kicks Mendrek out, Mike, Davy and Peter look at the camera to tell us, “Well, that’s show business!” with a musical flourish. Recycled joke from “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” but it still works here.

Back at the Monkees pad, bad luck kicks in. Micky’s on the phone with the never-on-this-show-before mentioned “Musicians Union” asking how they can pay their dues if they don’t work? But they can’t work unless they pay their dues. Of course they haven’t worked for a long time. Peter gets in some deliberately out-of-character political commentary with a tongue-in-cheek delivery to the camera:

Micky wanders off holding the paw and distractedly wishes for a way they could get that money. I don’t think he intended to use Monkey’s Paw. (Although he knew about the wishes from Mendrek’s story.) There’s been nothing in Micky’s characterization to suggest he’s superstitious, but throughout every scene in the episode, he continues to hold on to the Monkey’s Paw. Out of the blue, the Manager walks in and says he’ll pay their dues and take it out of their salary, for a kickback of 142%. Later, Micky defends the Monkey’s Paw to Mike, Peter and Davy, as it got them their dues paid, despite the ridiculous interest rate.

Davy is starving and wonders if the Monkey’s Paw could get them some food. Micky wishes for a spaghetti dinner “big enough to feed all four of us.” Spaghetti noodles drop on his head. The others rush up and eat it right off of him. Notice that the Monkees are relatively innocent and don’t make any “Make us as popular as the Beatles” wishes. That’s true to the story where the poor couple involved only wishes for enough to pay their mortgage off, no more.

At his home, Mendrek’s daughter expresses her sympathies about his recent unemployment. He tells her he sold the Monkey’s Paw to one of those “long-haired weirdos.” Daughter worries, “Don’t you remember The Book of Mysteries said it was cursed?” The Book of Mysteries? Would that be Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? Mendrek says if that were the case, his luck would change immediately. Just then, he gets a call informing him that he won a million dollars. I can’t help but be a little happy for him. He looked so down and out in the earlier scene, and Hans Conried is so likable.

At the nightclub gig, Micky obsesses over the Monkey’s Paw and his final wish. The others tell him to let it go already. Peter complains that Micky hasn’t talked about anything else since he got the Monkey’s Paw. Micky starts to say, “I wish I could stop talking about it.” but only gets to “I wish I could stop talking…” before his voice vanishes. Someone announces the Monkees and they start playing “Goin’ Down.” It seems a little unfair that this happens to him, since he didn’t have any selfish intentions with his wishes.

Micky’s screwed since he can’t talk or sing. He stands on stage and mouths the words. The crowd boos them off the stage and the Manager demands an explanation. Mike bluffs that Micky’s singing with his feet, “Haven’t you ever heard of “A Young Man with a Corn,” which is a joke-reference to the 1950 movie, A Young Man with a Horn. Playing along, Peter suggests it’s like the jazz song, “Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy-Floy.” Davy makes the pun, “Sock it to me, baby.” Micky does some fast foot-work, but the Manager is unimpressed. He warns them that if Micky can’t sing by tomorrow the Monkees are, “Outta show business!” as he puts it. Does he have that kind of power?

At the pad, the Monkees huddle around Micky, who tries to say “Four Score and Seven Years ago.” Poor Micky. This is really hitting him in the worst place, his wonderful voice. Davy suggests that the Monkey’s Paw has no power, and the problem is all in his head. Did Davy forget the spaghetti ex machina? Mike reasons that the problem began with Mendrek. Well, duh.

The Monkees arrive at Mendrek’s house, where he has bags on his desk with dollar signs on them, as you do when you’re rich [Gene Simmons cashes another check! – Editor’s Note]. Mendrek is busy on the telephone. The Monkees, always eager to answer other people’s phones (See “Too Many Girls” and “Monkees in the Ring”),  answer some of Mendrek’s lines. There’s a Tonight Show reference when Peter tells a caller, “No, no Mr. Carson. Mendrek wants you on his show.” Mendrek pauses to give them his attention, and Mike brings up the Monkey’s Paw. Mendrek quickly brushes him off, claiming he’s too busy. Mendrek knows darn well the paw caused Micky’s problems.

I’m curious about Mendrek’s name. I wonder if it was inspired by the comic strip, Mandrake the Magician, which ran from 1934 to 2013. Mandrake was a hypnotist who used his powers to fight all kinds of villains and spies. It had a pulp-adventure feel, which is right up The Monkees’ writer’s alley.

Back home, the Monkees kid themselves that there’s some other cause for Micky’s sound of silence. They attempt to cure his “illness” with a cutaway gag, putting him in a boiling pot of chicken soup. Later, Micky silently chatters with Mr. Schneider, still holding the Monkey’s Paw. Mike, Peter, and Davy talk about him around the totem pole. Mike suggests that they need to re-teach Micky to talk. Davy makes a bad pun based on the totem pole, asking, “How?” With visibly red, stoned-looking eyes, he giggles uncontrollably at his own joke. I guess Davy Jones decided to play the “High Lama” himself in that scene.

Peter, Mike, and Davy dress in academic robes and give Micky lessons on talking. They use a blackboard that has a few inside jokes such as: “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken,” “Frodis,” and “legalize.” Mike wants to teach Micky to say “pencil,” but Micky still can’t speak. Peter tries to prompt him, using his p-popping trick. They give up, Mike holding the writing implement in question and pondering, “Do you suppose it has anything to do with the fact that this is a crayon?”

The Monkees hope that this is just a mental block. In a hilarious and memorable scene, they take Micky to a psychiatrist, played by Severn Darden (Guggins from “Monkee Vs. Machine.” They also use the same office set they used for Guggins. He gives Micky the ink-blot test, but the others keep piping in with their interpretations. Missing the point of the test, the shrink becomes furious, insisting that the only right answer is:

At the nightclub, Davy tells the Manager they’ve incorporated Micky’s silence into the act. By which he means, they’ve decided to imitate the Marx Brothers. Out on the stage comes Mike as Groucho, Micky as Harpo, and Peter as Chico. I guess Davy’s the Zeppo. Mike does bits from Groucho’s game show, You Bet Your Life. “Say the Magic Word, you get a hundred dollars.” There are other You Bet Your Life/Monkees connections. Joy Harmon, from the episodes “The Picture Frame” and “Monkees on the Wheel” and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez from “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” were both discovered on You Bet Your Life. Doodles Weaver from “Monkees Manhattan Style” appeared on the show as a comedian.

The Manager fires the Monkees and promises, “You’ll never work in show business again!” (Again, I doubt he has that power.) Back at the Monkees house, Mick-o mopes. Davy doesn’t blame the manager; he agrees an act like the Marx Brothers would never sell.

They wind up back at Mendrek’s. To his credit, he is now helping “the less fortunate.” That would include the Monkees. Davy and Mendrek’s cute daughter look through “The Book of Mysteries” to see if they can find a solution. Unfortunately she never gets a name; she’s listed on the IMDB as “Daughter.”

Mendrek hits the gong from “Monkees Chow Mein” to jumpstart Micky’s power of speech but only succeeds in freaking Peter out. Fortunately, Davy discovered that the solution is to sell the Monkey’s Paw to someone else. Mike suggests they only sell it to someone deserving and, with perfect timing, the Manager enters to re-hire Mendrek. They all get to work on selling the paw to the Manager. The Manager finds a quarter a bit steep and wants to know more about the “special powers.”

They demonstrate via the montage of magician’s tricks to “Words” (Boyce/Hart). Micky and Mendrek are the magicians who make the others vanish and reappear with “pop” sound effects. There’s also recycled footage of the Astonishing Pietro footage from “Too Many Girls.” Mendrek puts Micky in a giant cup of coffee, perhaps to accompany the giant phone from “Monkees on the Line.” Five Monkee points to whoever gets the reference in this picture:

After the romp, the Manager demands they sell him the Monkey’s Paw. They happily comply, and Mike suggests he go ahead and make a wish (with a look to the camera, inviting us in on the joke). The Manager wishes for a million dollars, which rains on him from above. Immediately the IRS shows up and arrests him for tax evasion.

Back at the Monkees pad, Micky talks a mile a minute to make up for lost time. The Monkees are once again right back where they started, no better or worse off, despite their ill-advised fling with the supernatural. They say goodbye, borrowing each other’s names, and sing the theme a capella. Overall, this was a fun adaptation of the original story. Lots of funny scenes and lines and I’m always happy when the plot revolves around them as musicians. The guest cast was terrific as usual, with the talented and engaging Hans Conried as Mendrek, walking the line between friend and foe to the Monkees.

There’s an interview clip, in which Peter talks about the death of the Hippie Movement, but more interesting is the outtake from the episode that follows. The Monkees are at Mendrek’s desk and do a brief Three Stooges “Hello, hello, hello.” Hans Conried breaks character and curses, “(whistle), I hate these kids.” According to this article on Something Else Review,  the actors playing the Monkees were encouraged by the producers to be energetic and goofy all the time, creating a spontaneous mood where “their madcap sensibilities could be captured with first-take efficiency.” Conried did not enjoy this environment. His expressed frustration was a moment that embarrassed Micky Dolenz because he was a fan of the older actor. Dolenz talks about this on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast.

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.

Monkees vs Macheen: “Monkees in Texas”

“Welcome to Videoranch!”

“The Monkees in Texas” places the boys in familiar territory : The Western. The earlier season two episode, “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” was an excellent parody of film Westerns. “Monkees in Texas,” written by Jack Winter, is aimed at the television Western, and parodies popular shows such as Bonanza and The Lone Ranger. This episode uses anachronisms for the story and comedy – the costumes on the guest cast especially, but also the set and the storyline, are designed as though the Monkees somehow drove back in time to the late 19th century, while they themselves maintain their psychedelic 1960’s style. This is in service of the parody, as TV shows like Gunsmoke  (which aired against The Monkees on the CBS Television Network) took place in the old west. This device also puts the Monkees in a situation where they’re out of place once again.

The Monkees pull up to a house in a desert setting, driving a golf cart instead of the Monkeemobile. For the most part, the sets used in this episode were on the Columbia Ranch. Zilch, A Monkees Podcast recently had an episode packed with information about The Monkees use of these Columbia Ranch sets in various episodes. This particular episode used a part of Columbia Ranch know as” the Berm.” More information can be found here.

Once they get out of the cart, Mike explains to Peter, and the audience, that they’re in Texas at his Aunt Kate’s house. (Michael Nesmith was born in Houston, Texas.) The Monkees hear gunfire and duck for cover. Two women in 19th-century Western costume ride up on horses, and Mike identifies one of them as his aunt. Three masked men in black arrive and shoot at the women while the Monkees run inside to help Mike’s aunt.

The women shoot rifles out the window at the bandits as the Monkees enter the little green house. Aunt Kate greets Mike briefly and tells the Monkees to “grab a rifle.” Of course they all try to grab the same rifle. Aunt Kate clarifies that there’s one for each of them on the rack. There’s a Marx-brothers type scramble when Peter keeps putting the guns back on the rack as the others try to hand them out. The Monkees wind up cocking invisible guns. The younger woman, Lucy, gives them one of those “funniest looks from everyone we meet.” They try again, and each shows off their weapon: Micky, “Winchester seventy-three,” Davy, “Colt forty-five,” Mike, “Smith and Wesson, thirty-eight.” It’s all very faux-manly, except Peter who takes an anti-violence stance with a bottle of champagne, “Vintage sixty-six.”

The Monkees help defend the house, except Peter uses a finger gun and “fires” by saying “bang-bang-bang!” Peter explains to Davy, “Well, I hate violence. Besides I have more shells than you.” (Peter also used a finger-gun in “Monkee See, Monkee Die.”) The lead bandit asks, “Have you had enough, nesters?” Mike corrects them, “The name is Nesmith!,” a callback gag to the times Mike’s name has been mispronounced (“I’ve Got a Little Song Here,” “Monkee Mayor”). Aunt Kate corrects Mike that “nester” means farmer, so Mike politely allows the bandit to go on.

The bandits open fire at the house and Micky comments, “they’re throwing everything at us but the kitchen sink,” setting up the site gag when the bandits roll a flaming sink at the house. After the opening titles, Davy solves the problem by turning on the faucet and letting the water put the flames out. They all cheer Davy. It is pretty amazing since the sink’s not connected to any pipes. The sexist bandits realize, “that ain’t just women” firing at them, and they retreat. The Monkees celebrate and the women stare at them incredulously.

This is the first of two Emmy jokes in the episode. The Emmy’s were given out on June 4, 1967, so by the time this was shot in October of 1967, James Frawley, who directed this episode, had already won the Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Comedy for “Royal Flush” and The Monkees won for outstanding comedy series.

Lucy halts their celebration, “I wouldn’t be too happy about that, they’ll be back.” (Lucy is played by Bonnie Dewberry, who was also Dr. Mendoza’s daughter in “I Was a Teenage Monster.”) Micky, Peter, and Davy are eager to leave Aunt Kate’s now that the gunfight is over. Mike insists that they stay for family loyalty and bravery etc. but mostly because the bandits “killed our golf cart.” They cut to a shot of the golf cart, turned over on its side. Maybe that’s why they didn’t use the Monkeemobile. Micky and Peter go to get some help. Kate advises them to look more “Western” so they’ll fit in better. They don’t like strangers here, and the young Monkees are pretty strange.

Kate explains that Black Bart and his men have been trying to drive her off her land for about a year. The name Black Bart is an allusion to a real life outlaw, who robbed stagecoaches in the late 19th-century. Mike introduces Kate to Davy and then realizes he doesn’t know Lucy, the younger woman. She takes off her bonnet and flusters Mike with a shake of her long blonde hair, giving Mike the setup to be comically awkward.

Mike: “I’m afraid I don’t know this lady here… oh my…”
Aunt Kate: “Don’t you remember your baby cousin Lucy?”
Mike: “Huh? Lu—Lucy! Are you Lu—well, what, well, whatever happened to the buck teeth, the knobby kneed, uh, stringy haired, bad complexion, little girl that I used to hang around with?”
Aunt Kate: “That’s your other cousin, Clara. She still looks the same.”

Micky and Peter’s idea of looking “Western” is a Lone Ranger and Tonto look, parodying the popular Texas Ranger and his Native American friend characters of radio, television, comic books, and films. Micky and Peter are “The Lone Stranger” and “Pronto.” (Looney Tunes also did a Lone Ranger parody, “The Lone Stranger and Porky” in 1939). Peter is unsure of his outfit, as he should be since they both look like they’re wearing little kid’s Halloween costumes. But Micky reassures Peter that he looks very “psychedelic” because of the peace symbol and beads. [“Dirty hippies!” – Editor’s Note]

Micky and Peter enter the Marshall’s office and explain the trouble at Nesmith’s ranch. The Marshall (played by actor James Griffith who appeared in many Western television shows) is unavailable to help because he’s shooting his own TV show, and then has an Emmy dinner—for Emmy reference #2. He suggests they go to a saloon and hire outlaws.

Back at the ranch, Davy spots three men riding towards the house and warns the others. However, Kate identifies the men as friends: The Cartwheels, Ben and his two sons, Mule and Little Moe. This is a parody of the Western TV show Bonanza and the main characters Ben Cartwright and his sons (“Hoss” and “Little Joe”). Cartwheel insists Kate should sell her ranch to him for her “protection” of course. Kate politely turns him down.

Fun dialog moment:

Ben Cartwheel (to Davy): “Hey, uh, water my horse, will you, son?”
Davy: “Water your horse? I’m not a stable boy!”
Ben Cartwheel: “I don’t care about your mental condition; water my horse!”

Micky and Peter enter the saloon as a Western-style version of “The Old Folks at Home” (Stephen Foster) plays. (Davy performed this song in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool,” and “The Case of the Missing Monkee.”) They get another of those “funny” looks, this time from the bartender. Micky bumps into a mustachioed cowboy at the bar, who is clearly Davy. A saloon girl grabs Micky, who protests with, “Not now, this is a family show!” The bartender is skeptical of this, “Family show?” When Micky and Peter look for hired guns to fight Black Bart, they meet Sneak and Red. There’s a misunderstanding, and Red ends up recruiting Micky and Peter into Black Bart’s gang. (Red is played by Len Lesser, who played George in the Western/gangster-flavored episode “Monkees in a Ghost Town.”)

I’ve seen it noted that the “bubble gum” joke was meant to be a reference to the Monkees “bubble gum” image. Could be, but I’m going to take it a different way. The “family show” joke suggests that the writers/producers make many of the jokes subversive and aimed at adults. With the bubble gum vs. tobacco, Peter ordering milk from the bar, and Micky’s line about the “family show,” and all of the gun violence and the Monkees playing around with the guns pretty much consequence free, they’re making fun of the idea of what a kid’s show is supposed to be. Most recent kid’s shows I’ve watched with my daughter are sanitized and full of “lessons.” No thanks. (Please, no morals.) At the same time, the Monkees act like kids most of the time, and they put kid’s jokes in an adult context, such as real Westerns which tend to be violent and aimed at adults, etc. The contrast makes The Monkees an unusual show. Other shows that pull this off successfully tend to be cartoons like Looney Tunes or Animaniacs.

I’ve been really enjoying this episode so far. These scenes in the saloon are my favorite because of the parody of Western clichés, funny dialog and sight gags, and a brilliant “tough cowboy” performance from Micky. High points include Micky missing the whisky bottle the bartender slings at him, the men with “prices on their heads,” Micky proving that he’s “fast on the draw,” and the excellent straight men: Sneak, Red, and the Bartender.

Peter and Micky hang out in Black Bart’s shack, where Micky plays cards with Red. Sneak busts in and declares that now’s a good time to attack Nesmith’s ranch. Peter sneaks out of the hideout and rides a horse right into the front door of Aunt Kate’s house to announce that Black Bart and his men are coming. When Davy rushes to get help, he accidentally falls on the horse the wrong way and rides it backward. He finds Ben Cartwheel, who instructs Davy to tell Kate he’s coming with his men. Davy makes the return trip backwards too; cool trick on Davy Jones’s part.

Mike digs up a jar of dirt from Kate’s ranch and takes it to the saloon. He asks for the Assayer’s office. The bartender replies, “This is it” and a sign identifying him magically appears. The Assayer/Bartender looks in Mike’s jar with that oft-used giant magnifying glass and tells Mike that the gook in the jar is “crude.” Mike misunderstands and leans in, “Oh. That’s okay, go ahead and tell me anyway.” The Assayer explains that “crude” is oil. Before Mike can leave, the Assayer asks for payment, so Mike puts some of the oil on his hand. Mike was very much like Jimmy Stewart (who, among other films, was in many Westerns) with his polite, unassuming demeanor in that scene.

Black Bart walks into his hideout without his mask, and if the audience didn’t catch on before, he is Ben Cartwheel. Bart wants to know who betrayed them to Kate. Red identifies the “Injun” as the one who went to the ranch. Ignoring the pejorative term for moment, clearly the joke is that Peter looks nothing like a Native American. Micky pretends not to know Peter, but when Bart orders Micky to kill Peter, he admits Peter’s his best friend. Red and Sneak draw guns on Peter and Micky.

A narrator’s voice employs the cliché, “Meanwhile, back at the ranch…” Mike tells Kate she’s going to be rich because of the oil on her property. They wait for the Cartwheels to save the day, but in case they don’t arrive, Mike tries to get John Wayne on the phone, yelling at the operator because, as in “The Prince and the Paupers,” he has trouble working these antiquated phones. It’s also a callback gag to “Monkees in a Ghost Town” when Davy tried to call Marshall Dillon from Gunsmoke. Kate hands rifles to Mike and Davy.

Black Bart and his men arrive at Kate’s ranch. They have Micky and Peter tied up and dressed like part of the gang. Their hands are tied, but they ride the horses away from the bad guys anyway. Bart lets them escape, figuring they can simply “kill them on the other side.” That doesn’t make any sense, but whatever facilitates their escape, I suppose.

Micky and Peter ride up to the ranch and tell Kate and the others that Cartwheel and Black Bart are one in the same. She doesn’t believe it:

Aunt Kate: “Ben Cartwheel’s the kindest millionaire in the whole valley. He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Micky: “Flies, no, but if you’re a human, he’ll kill ya!”

Between not catching on to Black Bart’s true identity, and not noticing that she had oil on her ranch, Aunt Kate is not the sharpest Nesmith. It seems the cycle had been going on for a year before the Monkee arrived: Black Bart and the bandits shoot at the women, and then Ben Cartwheel comes by and offers to buy the ranch. However, Kate wasn’t scared off; she was shooting right back and determined to hold onto her property. The Monkees contribution to moving the story along was brains (and comedy), not tough-guy gun slinging; Mike discovered the oil, and Micky and Peter discovered Black Bart’s true identity.

The good guys run inside, Micky giving Bart a saucy British “two-fingered salute” gesture before he shuts the door. I doubt he meant that as a peace sign, though maybe it passed that way to the censors. The gunfight launches a romp to “Words” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart). It’s a very cartoonish romp, with lots of knocking bad guys on the head. The somber song is pretty, but doesn’t suit the action. Other notable elements are: Davy kisses Lucy for no reason, there’s a cameo shot of photographer Nurit Wilde, and the gun with the “Bang” flag reappears. Once again, despite all the gunfire, the romp allows the Monkees to save the day without anyone getting hurt. Black Bart and his men retreat at the end of the song, riding away from the ranch in defeat.

Oddly, after the romp, the editors stick in the same shot from the beginning of Lucy saying, “I wouldn’t be too happy about that, they’ll be back.” After which, they immediately go into the performance clip of “Goin’ Down” (Dolenz, Jones, Tork, Nesmith, and Hildebrand). This creates an unsatisfying ending. The romp wrapped the story up when the bad guys left; we don’t really need a tag sequence. But it would have been nice if they had done some quick scene instead of repeating Lucy’s line. I wonder if some footage got lost or was unusable.

This is still mostly a fine episode though. The plot was tight and moved along nicely and the writers/producers knew their source material well enough to make it fun. It would almost fit in well with the first season; it’s relatively innocent compared to other Season two episodes as far as all four of the Monkees really committing to the episode. They each had a part to play in the story and they all engage with the plot and don’t mock what they’re doing. The guest cast plays it straight and lets the Monkees be the joke-makers. If it wasn’t for the lack of narrative closure, this might have been one of my favorites.

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.