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.

 

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bronwyn Knox

Every couple of weeks, “Monkees vs. Macheen” examines the crazy, spirited, Ben Franks-type world of the Pre-Fab Four: David Jones, Micky Dolenz, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork alias The Monkees.

 

Monkees vs Macheen: “Monkees Marooned”

“Just sit right back, and you’ll hear a tale”

“Monkees Marooned” debuted October 30, 1967 and begins as many episodes do, with Peter getting into trouble. He walks around town and plays his acoustic guitar. An unseen man summons him, offering to show him some “good pictures.” Peter agrees, “I’d love to. I haven’t seen a good picture since Carnival in Costa Rica with Dick Haymes and Vera-Ellen.” That’s the first of MANY Hollywood mentions in this episode. Leonard Sheldon shows him the baby picture from “The Picture Frame.” He wants Peter to buy a map of Blackbeard’s treasure. I wondered why they were so specific to mention Leonard Sheldon’s name since it’s such a small part. According to Monkees Tripod site, it’s in homage to Sheldon Leonard, producer of television shows such as The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I Spy. (Possibly Big Bang Theory main character names Leonard and Sheldon are also paying homage.) Peter doesn’t have any money so Leonard offers to trade him for the guitar. Peter isn’t suspicious at all when Leonard hides from a cop walking by. He makes the trade and leaves with the map. A moment later, Mike walks by and Leonard tries and fails to sell him the guitar. Monkees stand-in David Price is in the background of that scene.

At the dock, Mike, Micky, and Davy pick on Peter for his gullibility. Mike tries to move on, “it’s no use in crying over spilt milk.” Micky and Davy mock Mike for his Fatherly proverb use: “A stitch in time saves nine” and “A watched pot never boils.” Mike announces that they’re going to go find the treasure. Cut to Davy already in the row boat, fantasizing that he’s in the Revolutionary War. Davy doesn’t believe it when the others tell him he’s got too much stuff on the boat, but when they “launch the ship,” at his command, he sinks.

The Monkees row the boat ashore on a deserted island, check the treasure map, and go off in some direction that they hope is north. On the same island, Monte Landis as Major Pshaw sleeps on a wicker chair. Thursday, his right hand man, lazily fans him while watching “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” “The Chaperone,” and “Captain Crocodile” on a television. “Who writes that stuff?” he asks. The writer of this episode was Stanley Ralph Ross, who also wrote the episode “Wild Monkees.”

The Monkees wander the island and accidentally hit a trip wire, which alerts Major Pshaw to their presence. At the hut, Pshaw jumps up from his chair, shouting “Sound the alarm!” Thursday plays the “Charge!” cavalry bugle call on a trumpet. In the chaos, Pshaw accidentally fires his rifle.

As Pshaw and Thursday hunt for the Monkees, Pshaw explains that he’s been on the island for ten years looking for the treasure and he’s not going to let anyone steal it. Thursday is an admittedly politically incorrect stereotype of a “native” islander, but his costume includes some unexpected touches, such as a kilt and black boots. The relationship between Pshaw and Thursday is a parody of the 18th century fantasy story, Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe. Crusoe is shipwrecked on the “Island of Despair,[It’s not going to show up in any tourist brochures – Editor’s Note]” and in one of his adventures he rescues and befriends a native islander and names him “Friday.” Well, Friday is Crusoe’s friend and servant. It’s a complicated relationship. In “Monkees Marooned,” Thursday is clearly at least twice as smart as Pshaw, and I imagine that he’s really from Los Angeles and hangs around Pshaw for some scheme of his own.

As the Monkees swat at insects, Mike casually sings the theme to a 1950s’ television show called Jungle Jim. Monkees director of photography, Irving Lippman, was director of photography for Jungle Jim as well as cinematographer for a couple of Tarzan movies in 1966-67. Micky uses his insect spray and discovers it attracts insects. The editors treat us to footage of a stop-motion Pterodactyl, just to make it more ridiculous. Distracted, the Monkees step right into Pshaw’s net and Pshaw pulls them up with a crane.

At Pshaw’s hut, he announces to the Monkees that it’s his practice to shoot all trespassers. Davy pleads, as a fellow Englishman, for a head start. (Landis plays Pshaw with a British accent.) Thursday has a cringe-worthy line: “White man speaks with straight tongue.” But his words convince Pshaw, who agrees to be “it.” Pshaw starts counting as though it were a game of hide and seek. The Monkees run off and hide on the island. This bit is a parody of the “The Most Dangerous Game” [Let’s not forget Deadly Prey! – Editor’s Note] short story by Richard Connell (1924). The main character, Samuel Rainsford, is stranded on a deserted island and hunted by General Zaroff and his servant, Ivan. Too bad Pshaw is only a Major.

The Monkees rush for the shore but find their boat is missing, “It’s gone!” Peter starts to cry and Mike advises that crying won’t get him anywhere. Micky points out (showbiz-reference style), “I don’t know, look what it did for Barbara Stanwyck.” Speaking of references, this episode is also a parody of Gilligan’s Island, the popular 1960’s television show about seven stranded castaways. (You know, in case you never heard of it.) Honestly, I would have appreciated fewer Hollywood/literary references and more actual story.

Next, the Monkees come across episode director James Frawley, dressed in white safari garb. Mike inquires, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” For the record, Dr. Livingstone was an 18th-Century British missionary, explorer, anti-slavery crusader, scientific investigator, and national hero. (Geez, now I feel like an underachiever.) While in Africa, Dr. David Livingstone lost contact with the outside world and journalist Henry Morton Stanley was sent to look for him. Finding him in Ujiji, Tanzania, Stanley’s legendary first words to him were “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Frawley, dressed more like Stanley than Livingstone, introduces himself as Dr. Schwarzkopf and tries to sell his services to the uninterested Monkees.

Pshaw and Thursday stop to ask a stock-footage snake where the Monkees went; the snake “points” with his tail. Thursday is unimpressed with his morals, calling him a “dirty snake in the grass.” Meanwhile, Mike suggests the Monkees split up. The other three misinterpret that the band is over and Micky starts singing The Monkees theme. Mike clarifies they have a better shot at hiding individually, and they head off in different directions. As usual, Mike’s job in this episode is to be the voice of reason while the others act like children.

At this point, it would have been nice if the Monkees had used some creativity. Maybe they could have come up with a plan to stop Pshaw from killing them or trick him into giving them a boat or other way off the island; in other words take over the situation as they have been known to do. Instead, they meet another wacky character/walking literary reference. A Tarzan-like jungle call scares the Monkees back into a huddle. Kimba, a senior-citizen version of Tarzan, the iconic jungle hero of novels, comics, films, and much more, comes swinging in on a vine and crashes in the trees.

Kimba of the Jungle speaks a long sentence in a “strange” tongue, but Peter understands him. He asks Kimba to repeat himself; Kimba just says “Kretch.” Peter translates an entire back-story: Kimba was left behind by a movie company, and the actress who played his wife ran off with a casting director. Mike points out “All he said was Kretch!” Peter, “Well, it’s not the word, it’s the way he said it.” Kimba agrees to hide them. They hear gunshots, and there’s a funny sight gag as the sound turns out to be Thursday playing the noise on a tape recorder.

After pulling Kimba out of quicksand, Mike explains that Pshaw’s trying to kill them. Kimba agrees to use his Tarzan-like powers to call the animals for help, “Apes, lions, elephants.” He calls but they get no help from these stock footage animals: a sleeping lion, an ape making an exasperated gesture, and an elephant heading away. The Monkees are left holding cute little animals: a chicken, rabbit, cat, and a puppy. It’s quite a made-for-Tiger Beat moment. (Well, maybe not the chicken.) Micky notices their footprints and freaks that they’ve been going in circles. The others break the fourth wall to explain that it’s just a small set. They mention The Lone Ranger and how he always rides by the same rock, and so on.

Thursday and Pshaw split up in order to search better. Fortunately, the Monkees run into Thursday first. Davy bounces off Thursday’s impressive torso and asks, “Didn’t I see you in a Stewart Granger movie?,” referring to shipwreck movie, The Little Hut. Davy asks if he left “Major P-shaw,” and setting up a running gag, Mike corrects him, “Shaw!” Thursday knows where the boat is and decides they can all escape when the Major goes to sleep. He wants to join them. Yeah! Though I wish the Monkees were the ones coming up with ideas, it being their show and all.

I really enjoy Rupert Crosse, the charming and funny actor who played Thursday. Sadly, he died in 1973. Interesting Monkees-related trivia, Rupert Crosse later co-starred on the television show The Partners as Detective George Robinson. Another Monkees guest cast actor, Godfrey Cambridge (the parking lot attendant from “It’s a Nice Place to Visit”), was originally cast in that role but he didn’t get along with the star and show creator – none other than Get Smart’s Don Adams. Crosse was also a good friend of actor and Head co-writer Jack Nicholson and was one of the actors Nicholson mentioned in his Oscar speech for As Good as It Gets.

Thursday hides the Monkees in the Major’s hut, figuring it’s the one place Pshaw won’t look. But Pshaw comes in firing his gun and asks if they have any last words. They all start muttering different things: “Mary had a little lamb,” “Four scores and seven years ago” etc. Thursday says, “Sock it to me” over and over, a phrase used in the Monkees tune “Goin’ Down” and of course in “Respect” by Aretha Franklin. (Phrase popularized by Laugh-in after this episode aired.)

Pshaw suggests his methods of killing them, inviting quick cut-away fantasies. Hurray, fantasies! They didn’t do these as much in season two. Pshaw’s first suggestion, boiling in polyunsaturated oil, leads to a shot of Davy bathing in a pot on the beach. Peter gets a manicure at Pshaw’s suggestion of “bamboo under the fingernails.” Pshaw’s threat to “expose you to the ants” results in a scene Mike politely-awkwardly greeting a small group of “aunts.” No one is better at politely awkward than Mike. The most absurd suggestion is the “tongue lashing” the Pshaw gives Micky.

Peter realizes Pshaw is looking for the treasure without a map, so he offers his. Pshaw quotes Looney Tunes character Sylvester the Cat with his shout of, “Suffering Succotash!” The treasure was right under the hut. After two seconds of digging with bare hands, Davy declares he’s found it and they bring out a wooden chest. Pshaw dreams of gold but when he opens it, an old woman in a Jane costume pops out and hits Pshaw with an umbrella. Jane, played by Georgia Schmidt, is Kimba’s leading lady. Kimba and Jane have a romantic reunion and the Monkees happily look on. A romp to “Daydream Believer” (John Stewart) begins. This is the second episode in a row that ended with the Monkees reuniting a couple. How sweet.

In the romp, various characters come out of the trunk, including Peter Tork’s stand-in David Pearl as a photographer. They also bring back the guy in the gorilla suit, previously seen in “Monkees on the Line” and “Monkees Chow Mein.” The romp itself is pointless; the story already wrapped up. There’s a shot of Micky crossing the wooden bridge edited with shot of traffic below from the “Case of the Missing Monkee.” We also see our old friend, Reptilicus.

In the tag sequence, Peter runs into Leonard Sheldon on the street again, who offers to sell him Liverpool. Peter has learned something and he summons the cop from the beginning. The cop turns around and tries to sell him Cleveland. Peter walks off in disgust. Yeah Peter! Next, is the Rainbow Room performance of “What am I Doing Hangin’ ‘Round” (Murphey/Castleman) with the Mexican cantina décor from “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” in the background.

“Monkees Marooned” has a lot of good lines and sight gags as well as funny performances from the guest cast. It’s still watchable, but my complaint is that the Monkees are so passive in “Monkees Marooned.” Everything just happens to them once they get to the island. They spend a lot of time reacting to the weirdness of Pshaw, Kimba, and the delightful Thursday. There’s no point where they ever try to fool or thwart Pshaw; their own brand of craziness never gets the chance to come out and play. Even when the Monkees are innocent victims of some villain, at some point in an episode I expect them to execute a scheme of their own; it’s a bummer that it never happened in this one. Literary and Hollywood references aren’t enough to make an episode work.

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.