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.

 

Monkees vs Macheen: “I Was A 99-lb. Weakling” (a.k.a. “Physical Culture”)

“Yes, she’s my sunny girlfriend, she doesn’t really care.”

“I Was A 99-lb. Weakling” premiered October 16, 1967. Alex Singer directs a teleplay by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso, and Neil Burstyn, from a story by Jon C. Andersen. The title and the plot are both allusions to Charles Atlas and his famous bodybuilding program and advertising campaign, marketed to the “97-pound weakling.” The ad featured a cartoon of a skinny young man who gets sand kicked in his face, goes off and builds up his body, and then comes back to take revenge on the bully. Unlike the character Shah-ku in this episode however, Charles Atlas actually practiced the fitness lifestyle that he taught to others. (Rocky Horror fans will appreciate that I now have the “Charles Atlas” song stuck in my head).

The story begins with Micky on the beach, his head in the lap of a pretty young woman named Brenda. He makes the comment that “Physical beauty isn’t enough. I guess that’s why I fell in love with you, Brenda. I wanted a girl with some intelligence.” Brenda’s response is to look blank and echo, “Yeah, intelligence.” Ironic since this entire episode is about being influenced by physical appearance. Also it sets up Brenda’s standard “yeah, (whatever word was just said)” response that becomes a running gag in the episode. To Venita Wolf’s credit, she hits that vacuous note just right, and manages to be funny with very little dialog. A big, blond, muscular guy comes up and kicks sand on Micky (copying the Charles Atlas ad). Then he shows off his biceps to Brenda and asks if they’ve met somewhere before. Brenda confirms, “Yeah, before.” They never mention the bodybuilder’s name in the episode, but the IMDb refers to the character as “Bulk,” so that’s what I’ll call him.

Micky politely asserts himself with Bulk, trying to claim Brenda as his territory. Bulk tosses him over the sand hill, right next to Shah-ku (Monte Landis), who offers Micky a card advertising “Health and Strength” services. He’s dressed in a tunic and sandals, signifying in a vague way that he’s supposed to be some type of yogi or spiritual leader. Micky scoffs and goes back to Brenda. Bulk continues showing off to Brenda (who watches politely but doesn’t exactly look dazzled by him). Micky tries to beat Bulk back with kicks and karate chops but the big guys just holds Micky back by the head and tosses him back to Sha-ku. Micky tries to tear up Shah-ku’s business card, but can’t.

After the opening titles, Shah-ku shows Micky around his exercise studio. There, Micky takes a bunch of physical strength tests that Shah-ku has rigged to fail. Sha-ku keeps calling Micky skinny and weak, making him feel less than a man and Micky keeps trying to prove himself to Sha-ku. Micky is skinny of course but that certainly wouldn’t make him unattractive or unhealthy. Ideal body types may change over the decades, but I do believe that in any era young men were just as susceptible to this type of pressure about their bodies as young women. Shah-Ku’s complete health program is $150. When Micky explains he’s an unemployed drummer, Shah-Ku orders him to sell his drums for the money and sign the contract. This is a “Dance, Monkee, Dance” type situation, where the goal is to con someone into a contract. In this case, Sha-ku’s playing on Micky’s insecurities about Brenda and Bulk.

Micky packs up his drums at the pad while Peter and Davy try to talk him out of it. They wonder if Brenda’s worth it. Micky describes Brenda as beautiful, brilliant, and intelligent. Peter chimes in, “Yeah, intelligent.” It’s clear that Micky is blinded by Brenda’s itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dot bikini. Peter and Davy claim they can get Micky in shape themselves. We get some scenes of their efforts to train Micky. Peter accidentally hits himself in the head with the resistance pulleys and says, “I wish Mike were here.” Davy impressively pulls off the “crow” pose from Yoga, balancing his entire lower half on his arms. When he gets stuck, he needs Micky and Peter’s help to get out of it. Davy also wishes Mike were there.

I wish Mike were here too. I hate it when any of the Monkees are missing; It throws the whole dynamic off. Since Mike’s my favorite, it bums me out that he missed the most episodes. He’s also missing from “The Card Carrying Red Shoes,” and only briefly appears in “Hitting the High Seas,” and “The Monkees Watch Their Feet” This episode was shot May 5, and 8-11, 1967, before he went in for his tonsillectomy on May 23. Possibly he was already not feeling well. The Monkees tripod website says he stayed out of this episode due to “artistic differences.” I can’t find any further information on what those “differences” were though.

Peter and Davy bring Brenda over to the pad as a reward/surprise to Micky for working so hard on his training. The score is the little sexy music theme that they always use for a pretty girl walking. Micky collapses trying to greet her. He tells her he’s stronger and has her feel his arms. She responds, “Yeah, stronger.” She really doesn’t care either way.

Next morning, Micky talks about going to the beach and beating up his rival, but the more reasonable and pacifist Peter and Davy talk him out of it. They claim they can get the guy out of the way so Micky can see Brenda. So it’s cons, tricks, and manipulation instead of violence. That’s in keeping with the Monkees style and much more entertaining.

On the beach, Davy challenges Bulk to “step over that line,” distracting him while Peter sprays red dots on Bulk’s back. Hilariously, after Bulk steps over a few lines in the sand, Davy taunts, “Just as I thought, you’re always taking orders.” Davy and Peter scramble away in fear of being pummeled. Brenda wanders up, eating an ice cream cone. Bulk calls her “Chick.” I don’t think he knows her name; that’s okay, we don’t know his. Peter runs back onto the beach impersonating a doctor.

I love Brenda’s indifferent yet grossed out reaction when Peter points out the dots on Bulk’s back, “Ew. Help.” Peter “diagnoses” Bulk with a disease that will sap his strength, tries to charge him $10 for it, and runs off. Peter was conveniently sharper than usual in this scene and I suppose it’s because Mike was absent and he had to pick up the slack. This contrasts with what we usually see; Peter is typically the one messing up. (Taking a picture of the wrong thing in “Monkee Mayor” or being manipulated by two dim museum guards in “Art for Monkees Sake.”) Mike seems more likely to have performed the doctor con; it had a Groucho Marx vibe and that’s his style.

To prove Doctor Peter’s point about Bulk losing his strength, Davy sends a volley ball down to Bulk. Bulk is unable to toss it back to him and Davy explains to the camera, “Shouldn’t think he could. Lead you know.” Bulk freaks out, “without my strength I’m nothing.” Brenda agrees, “Yeah, nothing.” Next, Davy pretends to be a kid, asking Bulk to hold his kite. Bulk grabs the string and is abruptly pulled up into the sky. We see black and white stock footage of a blimp to emphasize the joke. Peter tells Davy the blimp is taking Bulk to Bayonne, New Jersey. In a cute conversation that seems ad-libbed, Davy says, “You know I used to have girlfriend named Bayonne, NJ.” Peter, “Anything like the Secaucus girl?” The Secaucus thing seemed random, but it turns out David Draper, who plays Bulk, was born in Secaucus, N.J., so that was maybe an in-joke. I love this entire sequence of Peter and Davy messing with Bulk; they seem to be having a great time together.

Peter and Davy go back to the pad to update Micky on Bulk’s fate. This doesn’t make Micky any more confident; he still doesn’t have muscles. Davy and Peter solve this with a wacky costume. They dress him in football shoulder pads disguised with one of those down-filled winter coats. He practices a new “manly” voice.

Micky goes to the beach with his new outfit and voice and talks to Brenda. Bulk is somehow back from Bayonne and hangs around Shah-ku in his spot on the sand dune. They don’t have any dialog but Bulk must be in on the con with Shah-ku; he’s not really interested in Brenda at all. I guess Shah-ku’s paying Bulk a kickback. Bulk walks up to Brenda and Micky and tells Brenda there’s nothing wrong with his health. Micky stands up to challenge Bulk. When he shakes his hand, Bulk tosses him to Shah-ku again.

At the Monkees pad, Davy and Peter talk about Micky doing Shah-ku’s program on a week-to-week basis. Micky collapses from fasting to “purify his tissues.” With an unusually take-charge attitude (another example of something Mike would’ve done), Peter decides to call Shah-ku. He makes the red phone materialize in his hand and tells Shah-ku he’s very worried about Micky. Shah-ku tells Peter to move Micky to “stage two.” There’s also some amusing Monkees writer logic as Shah-ku takes another jab at the Monkees masculinity:

Micky makes dinner for Peter and Davy. To their extreme annoyance, he threw out their steak and made them some green cottage cheese and a wilted salad. [Since when can the Monkees afford steak? – Editor’s note] After dinner, Davy has a chat with Mr. Schneider about whether or not hunger justifies murder. Mr. Schneider has Davy’s voice instead of the usual James Frawley voice. Or, maybe Davy is delirious with hunger and just thinks Schneider’s talking to him. Shah-ku comes in and drags Micky out. He offers Davy a chance to get healthy too, “If you stand up you may join us.” Davy gives the expected response, “I am standing up.” Micky and Shah-ku pass Peter on the way out. Peter tells Davy he saw Shah-ku buying a hot dog, soda, and chili. They look shocked at each other and then at the camera. So much for Shah-ku’s health and purity.

At the Weaklings Anonymous meeting, a bunch of young men in matching gray tracksuits sit in Shah-ku’s gym. While Shah-ku speaks, Davy and Peter sneak in and disguise themselves in the gray tracksuits. They have a full-on physical comedy struggle to put on the tracksuits, combined with an amusing argument about Peter taking a quarter to buy a hot dog. Meanwhile, Micky sits at the desk and looks confused, as do the other meeting attendees, with Shah-ku’s chant of “The weak are strong, the strong are weak.” Shah-ku pressures Micky to sign the contract. Two musclemen loom behind him.

Shah-ku requests group members to come up and offer testimonials. Peter and Davy are dressed by now, so of course they volunteer. Micky recognizes them and knows what’s up. He keeps trying to stand up but is pushed back down by Shah-ku’s brawny assistants. Peter comes up and tells a story about being bullied by a cab driver, then Davy comes up and says, “Before I came to Shah-ku’s, I used to be 6 foot 2.” In other words, things that don’t fit with Shah-ku’s agenda. Musclemen chase them off stage but they keep popping back up; this devolves into chaos. Finally, Shah-ku decides to prove his own strength; he wrestles one of the big guys to the ground in a staged maneuver. Davy exposes Shah-ku–literally– by rushing up and knocking him over, displaying Shah-ku’s polka dot boxer shorts. Ha ha! Micky tries to escape and there’s more chaos leading into the romp.

The romp is set to “Sunny Girlfriend” (Nesmith) and has footage from the physical therapy room from “The Case of the Missing Monkee” with Mike. There’s also footage from “Monkees Marooned,” and “Monkees at the Circus.” The Monkeemen make an appearance. There’s a wink to Popeye as Davy’s able to knock down Bulk after eating some spinach. Brenda appears and rides the exercise bike with Micky. She’s gone from bored to happy and friendly and looks to be having fun with Micky. The romp ends with the Monkeemen capturing Shah-ku and Bulk in a net back at the Monkee pad.

Tag sequence as Micky hangs out with Brenda on the beach again. A scholarly looking man with glasses and reading Proust comes walking past. Brenda declares, “Ooh, I just love a man with a mind!” Venita Wolf lights up so much that I believe Brenda really does love a man with a mind. She never looked that excited about Bulk, or Micky for that matter. Micky is left floundering and alone again. The episode ends with the Rainbow Room performance of “Love is Only Sleeping” (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil), a song from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd. that Mike sang. In the case of Micky and Brenda, love is D.O.A.

What’s interesting about the story to me is that Micky’s projecting all of this onto Brenda. She never showed any real interest in Bulk. Micky just assumed and took a trip down insecurity lane. Shah-ku and Bulk were easily able to manipulate that. If Brenda were such a great catch she would see in Micky all his great qualities: talent, wit, charm, sense of humor, creativity, etc. It’s also interesting to watch this in retrospect; what’s considered a healthy and attractive body today is different than it was in 1966, but the issues haven’t changed; we can still be influenced into hating our bodies by the media and each other.

I really enjoy this episode, but Mike’s absence is notable. A few times in past recaps I’ve mentioned the fabulous “Script-to Screen” project on the Monkee Magic Facebook group page. If you take a look there, you can find one for this script, and it confirms my guesses that some of the business that Peter performed in this episode was written for Mike. Mike or Micky typically come up with the plans to get the Monkees out of trouble. It’s a stretch a bit to believe Davy and Peter could do this without them. It’s a fun stretch though; Peter Tork has a unique charm to him when allowed to play a bit savvier. Still, I’m glad for the upcoming episode with all four of them working together.

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: “Art for Monkees’ Sake”

“Monkees Imitate Art” aka “I WANNA LOOK AT LIBERACE!”

“Art for Monkees’ Sake” was directed by Alex Singer and written by Coslough Johnson. It debuted October 9, 1967. The episode title is a play on the French slogan, “Art for Art’s Sake” (l’art pour l’art) which means art for reasons of self-expression and not for any instructional, moral, or other useful purpose. The Monkees are most often comedy for comedy’s sake, and I love it.

Peter is at the Monkees pad, painting a very realistic picture of the bathroom door. Micky walks right into it and hits his head, aided by a little shaky-camera action. Mike suggests that Peter go to the art museum and check out the great painters instead. Peter takes his advice and goes to the museum where he paints copies of museum doors. Of course he does. Monkees guest cast actor Vic Tayback is back for the third time as Chuche, the museum guard. He makes the same mistake that Micky did, walking into Peter’s painting. He wants to thank Peter with a punch in the face but his partner-in-crime and fellow museum guard, Duce (Monte Landis) suggests they use Peter’s talent to help them steal a painting instead.

They set Peter up to copy “The Laughing Cavalier,” painted in 1624 by Dutch Golden Age painter Franz Hals. Chuche and Duce whisper their plan to steal the real painting and put Peter’s in its place. Meanwhile, Mike, Micky, and Davy worry about Peter. Mike considers the idea that he may have insulted Peter, but Micky says, “Well to insult somebody, they have to understand you.” Which is a slight to Peter’s intelligence, but on the other hand going through life never being offended would be a beautiful thing. Maybe not so dumb after all. At the museum, Peter has completed his copy, but he’s dressed the Cavalier in Mike’s green wool hat. Duce chides him, “I know it’s knitted, but it’s not needed.” They move Peter to the basement to fix the painting because the museum’s about to close.

Next morning at the Monkees pad, Mike, Micky, and Davy have breakfast with Mr. Schneider because Peter’s not back yet. (Mr. Schneider wears Peter’s pajamas.) They deduce that he’s in trouble. Peter, meanwhile, is reluctant to finish the painting, declaring, “I just don’t feel it.” Chuche wants to solve the problem with violence. Duce is more diplomatic; he explains, with his over-the-top fake Italian accent, that the Cavalier has lot of class, a lot of style etc.

Micky, Mike, and Davy are in the museum corridor. They decide to split up and check the various studios but head into each other instead of around each other, and there’s physical comedy as they try to get by each other. Silly and childish, but still funny. Also a meta-comment on the episode as the shape they make is a human sculpture. Mike redistributes the studio assignments and the three head away from each other.

Here comes one of my favorite bits. Micky finds a bearded artist at work in one of the studios. Before he can even ask about Peter, the artist interrupts to tell him, “You could never be an artist. You have no beard!” He scoffs at Micky’s suggestion that he use brushes, “A true artist must feel the painting in the canvas! In his soul!” Cut to a shot of the soles of his feet each doing a separate painting on the floor. Micky asks if he’s seen Peter, describing him as blonde, “weird looking.” The artist takes this personally and grabs Micky by the shirt with paint-covered hands. “You come in here to insult me! It’s because I’m a high school dropout.” He throws Micky out. The character beautifully and hilariously ran through all the stereotypes about artists: Egotistical, pretentious, hypersensitive, dramatic, emotional, and vain [Not to mention – under-educated. – Editor]. The artist does a little flamenco dance in front of the canvas. Fabulous scene with a funny actor playing the artist.

And considering how much I enjoyed that, the next scene gets even better. Mike enters another studio and finds formally dressed patrons waiting for a performance. They shush Mike who looks comically embarrassed and then surprised when Liberace walks in with a gold mallet and proceeds to smash the piano. Mike collapses on the ground and makes dismayed and incredulous faces while the rest of Liberace’s audience intensely and seriously watches. Mike tiptoes out and leaves them to it. Funny scene that has no plot purpose and is, dare I say, weird for weird’s sake. Liberace! For crying out loud.

I always figured that scene was a parody of rock-n-roll instrument-smashing. 1950’s rocker Jerry Lee Lewis was rumored to have destroyed and burned pianos. Pete Townshend had smashed his guitar at the Railway Tavern in Harrow and Wealdstone in September of 1964. The film, Blowup, featured The Yardbirds’ guitarist Jeff Beck destroying his guitar (after being told to emulate Townshend by director Michelangelo Antonioni). Jimi Hendrix famously set fire to his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival in June of 1967. There may be more to this than destruction for destruction’s sake. Pete Townshend was inspired by artist and activist Gustav Metzger. Metzger, who died this past March, was responsible for the Auto-Destructive Art movement, an art form where artists would destroy objects in protest against the capitalist system and the threat of technology. Metzger organized the Destruction in Art Symposium that happened in London from September 9–11, 1966. The Symposium events included several piano destruction concerts, performed by artist Raphael Montañez Ortiz, which could be what these Liberace scenes are satirizing. It’s an interesting idea since these are counterculture ideas, but the audience watching Liberace has a “high society” look in their furs, diamonds, and tuxes.

The museum is about to close, so Duce and Chuche tie up Peter, Duce explaining the most important thing for an artist is “to suffer.” (Another artist stereotype.) On the museum main floor, the Curator chews out the guards, telling them to “be more punctual.” Out in the same museum corridor from the earlier scene, Mike, Micky, and Davy have failed to find Peter. Interesting shot composition, they stand in height order with Davy in the foreground. Davy asks if anyone checked the basement. Mike says “Nobody but a fool would paint in the basement.” You can see his mouth say “idiot” but they overdubbed “fool.” According to the Monkees Tripod site, this was Peter Tork’s request.

The thieving guards hang Peter’s fake in the museum. Micky, Mike, and Davy finally find Peter tied up and gagged in the museum basement. They compliment his “copy” of “The Laughing Cavalier” but Peter explains, “The man who painted that was brilliant.” Monkees in unison say: “That means they’ve switched the paintings.” Cut to a shot of Peter’s copy in the museum with Peter’s rather obvious signature in white paint.

Up on the main floor, the Monkees try to tell the Curator and the guards that the paintings have been switched. The Curator doesn’t believe them and, as Peter points out, the guards are the thieves. The Curator explains it’s impossible to steal the painting. He explains that by day two guards watch it, by night he turns on the alarm, which triggers a cage if anyone disrupts the invisible beams. He goes to demonstrate and springs the mechanism. As Micky says, “Caught like a rat in his own trap.” The Curator’s hysterical performance as he sobs on the floor is delightful insanity. The actor, Arthur Malet has a quirky/manic line delivery, like someone on the verge of a comedic nervous breakdown. He played a role with a similar effect on The Man from U.N.C.L.E. in the infamous episode, “The My Friend the Gorilla Affair.”

The Monkees decide to switch back the paintings themselves. This leads to the “Mission: Ridiculous” sequence. Mike does overdubbed narration to introduce the team members as they each make a physical-comedy-laden entrance: The Manchester Marauder, (Davy) The Connecticut Counterspy (Peter), The Towering Texan (Mike), and the Los Angeles Leopard (Micky). The high point is Mike absent-mindedly electrocuting himself for several seconds on the rooftop antenna. This sequence is clearly meant to parody the Mission: Impossible weekly series, a show about secret agents using elaborate schemes to solve international crimes, which ran from 1966-1973. The Monkees begin their mission and sneak in through the museum roof on a rope ladder, while Chuche sleeps.

Davy wears goggles that allow him to see the invisible beams and nothing else. He stumbles around and knocks over a sculpture. He slips out the painting copy but Peter forgot the real painting up on the roof so he goes to retrieve it. Their noise alerts Chuche who comes out to see what’s happening. The Monkees imitate statues in order to fool him, and Chuche steals their cheese sandwiches. Peter and Micky tiptoe around the museum floor, following Chuche while Mike and Davy finish the switch.

They make their escape up the ladder but not in time, as Duce is now coming down the ladder towards them. I love Mike’s polite but still irritated response, “This is our ladder sir, we were going to escape.” Duce gets to the museum floor and pulls a gun on them. Everyone scrambles around and this launches a romp to “Randy Scouse Git.”

About the song, this was written by Micky Dolenz and inspired by the Monkees trip to England. The verses describe a party Micky attended that was thrown by the Beatles while the chorus “Why don’t you cut your hair, etc.” reflects bigoted remarks aimed at a fictional long-haired youth. The last part relates to the title, “Randy Scouse Git” which is taken from a British television show, Till Death Do Us Part which was the U.K. version of the American television show, All in the Family. The loud, narrow-minded father character, Alf Garnett, would insult his son-in-law calling him a “randy scouse git.” [American translation: “Meathead” – Editor] The Monkees record label in the U.K., RCA records, would not release the song unless Micky gave it an alternate title, so he named it literally “Alternate Title.” It became a #2 hit in the U.K. All four Monkees play on this one, Micky singing and playing drums and timpani, Mike on guitar, Peter on piano and organ, and Davy on backing vocals.

The romp is well edited; mixing Rainbow room footage with the Monkees and bad guys running around the museum. The song’s frantic energy suits the romp nicely. Chuche finally gets to punch someone behind a curtain, unfortunately revealed to be his partner Duce. Best moments include more Liberace piano smashing, a funny shot of Mike, Micky, and Davy holding up a frame around themselves, and Micky and the bearded artist fighting each other. At the end, the cage of crazy falls down on the Monkees and the guards and they fall asleep on top of each other.

In the morning, the curator is giving a tour to museum visitors and sees the cage filled with Monkees and crooks. With confusion and embarrassment, he describes them as “a new exhibit; an assemblage of iron and human beings.” Next is a tag sequence at the Monkees pad. Micky frames his painted shirt and Mike sings a little of “Papa Gene’s Blues.” Peter has given up painting and taken up carpentry. Micky sits on one of Peter’s new projects and collapses onto the ground. This is followed by the “Daydream Believer” (John Stewart) Rainbow Room performance clip. I love Davy dancing in front of the rainbow stripes, doing the “Davy Jones” where he leads his body with his ribs instead of his hips. I also enjoy the Monkees around the piano together, and the finale when they ham it up and step in front of each other. Just for fun, here’s a “literal” version of “Daydream Believer.” After the tune, we’re treated to a little more piano smashing as Liberace happily finishes his performance, and the society audience politely claps.

That was one of those episodes that I had thought of as funny but maybe not a standout. The more I look at it, the more I like it though, so I guess it’s a “grower.” The story itself is nothing special; silly to be sure, but no more so than the bulk of the other episodes. Fortunately there are extra touches in this episode that blend well with the comedy. The best two scenes have little to do with the story. Micky with the artist is side-splitting and a rare chance for him to be the straight man, reacting to someone else’s craziness. The surreal bit with Liberace, besides a great bit of stunt-casting, is The Monkees at its off-the-wall and satirical best. I also enjoy all the moments where people become art: The shot composition of the Monkees in the corridor, the tangle of bodies at various times, the “framed” Monkees and the finale with all the characters in the cage. Director Alex Singer has a knack for that. He posed them cleverly in the fashion-oriented “Monkees à la Mode” as well. Once again it seems in these early season 2 episodes the show creators were still invested in making an entertaining show.

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: “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik”

“Strangeways, Here We Come”

“Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,”  was directed by Alex Singer, written by Jack Winter, and aired September 25, 1967. Filming dates were April 25-27, the same week the Monkees began working on their fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. The episode is unfortunately, a recycled plot of a recycled plot. As with “The Prince and the Paupers” the Monkees are helping a young royal who is duty-bound to get married, and as with both that and “Royal Flush,” the Monkees are up against ambitious, evil adults in a fictional kingdom. The title tells us this Kingdom is modeled on a fictional Middle Eastern culture. I assumed the title was meant to rhyme with the line “everywhere a sheep, sheep” from the nursery rhyme “Old Macdonald Had a Farm,” which would mean they are using the obsolete pronunciation of “sheik.”

The story starts out with the Nehoudian King informing his daughter, Colette, that “the stars” say she must marry. His companion, Vidaru, tells her “the stars never fail.” [“The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” – Editor] The King and Vidaru are both dressed as made-for-television sheiks, complete with the headdress known as the keffiyeh. Vidaru is all in black, telegraphing that he must be the bad guy. Colette rolls her eyes at Viradu and protests to her father. I like Donna Loren as Colette; with her expressive face and playful line delivery, she gives a little spark to an otherwise boring role as another Davy girlfriend. The King is played by Monte Landis (then credited as Monty Landis) and this marks the first of his seven appearances on The Monkees.

The King is afraid he’ll die and no one will inherit the throne and he suggests she marry Vidaru. Colette is visibly repulsed at Vidaru, who turns to reveal he only has a beard on half of his chin. The King points out Colette has already turned down all the most eligible bachelors. She counters by selecting Davy Jones from a picture in a magazine.

Two of the King’s servants, Abdul the Strongman and Shazar, are at the Monkees pad, weighing Davy against bars of gold while the other Monkees make jokes. Abdul puts Davy in a bag and carries him off while Micky, Mike, and Peter passively allow this. Shazar hands Mike an invitation to the wedding of Colette and David Jones. Micky doesn’t have sunglasses on when they read the card in the close-up but for some reason he’s wearing them on the reaction shot when they all look at the camera in shock.

After the credits, Davy has arrived at the Nehoudian hotel. Shazar tells Davy that Colette wants to marry him. Davy wants to know why, and his reaction shots here are the ones used in the opening theme sequence. Shazar gives Davy a non-answer, “Do not question the strange ways of our people.” Because it’s an “exotic culture”, get it? Shazar implies the danger of rejecting Colette; she puts a wreath on the grave of the last boy that did so.

The three non-betrothed Monkees arrive in the classic individually styled gray suits. I like the way they choreographed their entrance: They march in a line in step with each other, and then Mike and Davy lean out from behind Micky as they ask the guard if they can see Davy. Abdul stops them by simply pushing back on Micky’s chest, knocking them all back like dominoes.

Davy is decked out in his own Nehoudian wardrobe when he meets the King and Viradu. Davy and the King do an awkward bumping bow. While the King goes to get his daughter, Viradu puts a dirty smock on Davy, again giving him the “Do not question the strange ways of our people.” He leaves Davy alone. Colette arrives wearing an outfit that resembles a bedlah, which is a belly dance costume, not hanging-around-the-hotel clothing. But unlike the other women in this episode, she has a westernized touch to her costume:

Davy and Colette look at each other and are instantly smitten. Middle Eastern-style string music plays as they begin complimenting each other’s features, cut together with dreamy footage of them dancing and almost kissing. So cheesy it actually becomes campy fun. Davy halts everything to tell her he’s not ready for marriage. She insists that it’s him or Vidaru. Speak of the devil, Vidaru comes in and drags Davy away, “our ancient laws do not permit further contact at the first meeting.” Oh boy, with the strange ways and ancient laws. [That’s a micro-aggression! I need a safe space! – Editor]

Now, for some real comedy. Mike, Micky, and Peter are back in the corridor. Mike and Micky have formal military dress costumes with fancy hats and Peter is dressed as a scientist and carries a Geiger counter. Micky has an over-the-top German accent and keeps knocking Mike’s hat off when he salutes. Their “con” is that they’re looking for a bomb, and they convince Abdul there’s one in the room where Davy is staying.

They do the three stooges gag where they all try to get through the door at once and get stuck. Davy pulls them in and updates them. The King walks in and the Monkees introduce themselves with a Three Stooges “Hello” harmony. Monte Landis gestures to cut them off; he’s good at playing off the Monkees. Davy confesses to the King that the marriage is “a little sudden.” The King tempts Davy with a fabulous mansion and his weight in diamonds. (They’re really into weighing people against precious gems and metals.) Davy confers with the others and they are still opposed to the marriage. The King lures them with the idea that his friends could all become cabinet ministers and each would have his choice of a dozen wives. He claps his hands and summons a group of pretty young women in belly dance outfits. The Monkees eagerly check them out, and naughty Micky makes me laugh with his air-humping gesture. Davy considers all this and decides marriage is better than being killed.

The Monkees are now all in sheik headdress and hanging out with the Harem of Hotties. Davy makes Micky Secretary of Defense. Peter snaps his fingers in disappointment. (This footage is used in the opening.) Mike is to be Secretary of State. Davy wants to make Peter Director of Forests, to which Peter (uncharacteristically) sarcastically, “you would.” Meanwhile, Viradu and his toady Curad plan to kill all the Monkees, but separately so no one will connect the murders. Hmm…I think there’s a hole in his theory. Also, the Curad character seems to have come out of nowhere.

Mike works out the wording for a peace treaty while a girl flirts with him and fondles his hair and his ears. He looks at the camera in disbelief. He decides he needs a paperweight. From above, Curad obliges him by dropping cement block on him. It misses and puts a hole through the apparently very thin table. Mike asks the audience, “What is this number with the concrete block?”

Peter is relaxing with his girl when Shazar brings them some food. Shazar insists he must taste the food first, to make sure it’s not poisoned. He takes a bite and collapses. Peter politely asks, “How is it?” Shazar gasps his last: “It’s poisoned! And a little rare.” Bye-bye Shazar, at least you got to go out on a funny line.

Micky discusses his military plans with his blonde date, going mad with power and a Napoleon impression. Between this and the earlier bomb scare, they are taking an subversive crack at the military and military leaders. They also do so in a way that’s not dated; the military is always a classic target for parody. These jokes aren’t specific to what was going on at the time, the cold war and Vietnam War and so on. Curad is terrible at murder; he throws a knife at Micky and misses.

Colette and Davy nearly kiss some more. Davy frets he’s not cut out to be a prince, just like he did in “Prince and the Paupers.” Colette sweetly gives him a large necklace for luck. Curad sends a blow dart at Davy, and the necklace blocks it. Colette figures out that someone’s trying to kill him.

The Monkees have reunited in the same room and rightly decide they need to split. Mike wants to create an escape plan but Micky thinks they can just walk right out. He hits Abdul on the head with a lamp. Abdul doesn’t feel it so Micky agrees they need a plan. Mike huddles them together for a plan that is never mentioned again. That certainly went nowhere.

Viradu’s new plan is to kill them at the banquet with wine glasses rigged to explode when they toast. He’s overheard by one of the harem girls, who in turn tells it to Colette. Colette’s not allowed to attend the banquet so she asks the girl to tell them, “Golden Grecian goblets guarantee graves,” which is a funnier way to say the glasses are booby-trapped.

At the banquet, the Monkees are seated at the table. There’s humorous stage business in which Micky keeps handing Peter banana peels and Peter hides them. The girl gives Peter the “Grecian Goblets” message before she is pulled off by a guard. Peter passes the message to Micky who thinks it’s a tongue twister: “rubber baby buggy bumpers.” Peter tries the message on Mike and Davy but they don’t pick up on it either. The King stands up to make his toast. Several false starts where the Monkees are about to clink glasses but the King keeps talking and talking. Finally just before they toast, Peter accidentally tosses his at the wall and it explodes. Davy catches on and asks Viradu to clink glasses with him. Viradu refuses. The King figures out that Viradu tried to kill his future son-in-law. In a pretty darn funny reveal, Viradu change his accent to Southwestern American and confesses he’s not a “Nehoudian”; he’s from Oklahoma and came to get their oil.

This launches the romp to “Love is Only Sleeping” (Mann/Weil). Scenes of the Monkees and the guards fighting are mixed with Rainbow Room footage. This one features Mike in his Paul Revere and the Raiders sleeves and blue jacket. I love the song. It’s the sexiest Monkees song; the arrangement and the lyrics. There’s also some of the Foreign Legion footage of the Monkees shot in the first season. The high-point of the mayhem is when the Monkees take turns sword fighting and cut in on each other to make out with the same girl. It gives the whole thing a weird orgy vibe, “wrong” but kinda sexy. The Monkees do that switcheroo thing again where Viradu somehow ends up huddling with them instead of his guards. There’s an explosion and the Monkees are sitting on Abdul.

In the aftermath, the King tells the Monkees he’s eternally grateful and he grants freedom for them all. Davy apologizes to Colette that he’s too young to get married, he’s sure she’ll find somebody else, etc. Donna Loren’s facial expressions are adorable as she explains that she already has found someone new: Peter! Abdul puts Peter on the scale. Peter doesn’t look too happy and I don’t blame him; there’s no reason for him to be second choice to Davy.

There’s a final performance to “Cuddly Toy” (Nilsson.) The songwriter, Harry Nilsson, was working at a bank and writing songs at night when he met the Monkees and played this song for them. Because it was a hit, he was able to quit the bank and become a singer. Nilsson’s career peaked in the 1970s, and he died in 1994. The title track of the Monkees newest record, Good Times! was also written by Nilsson, and a 1960s demo of him singing the song was used to create a “duet” with him and Micky Dolenz on the album.

The Monkees are on stage in Vaudeville-style striped jackets, canes and straw hats. Micky has the purple-tinted sunglasses that we see Mike wearing throughout the second season quite a bit. Micky and Davy compete to see who will dance with Anita Mann, but Davy settles it with a fake punch to Micky’s face. Good thing since Davy can really dance. The other three bounce gamely and goof around with their canes off to the side while Davy and Anita perform the dance she choreographed. Mann has many credits as a choreographer; the IMDB lists her as uncredited choreographer for all 58 Monkees episodes, and choreographer for 47 episodes of Solid Gold, as well as some Muppets TV specials and the film Mystery Men.

The episode closes with an interview from the Rainbow Room shoot on August 2. Micky, Peter, and Davy are in their psychedelic clothes while Mike wears the dull but timeless shirt and tie and red pants with the purple sunglasses. The best part of the interview is the mention of a girl who mailed herself to Davy with the punch line, “We shipped her to the Beatles.”

It’s hard for me to criticize this episode as much as I should. It’s a re-hashed and thin plot with yet another fictional kingdom. Compared to the previous two episodes, which were clearly well thought-out and put together, this one is sloppy. It’s in the same territory as “Prince and the Paupers,” but unlike that one, which I found really dull and drab, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” has some entertaining comedy. The Monkees are funny in every scene they’re in, and for the most part they’re working together and playing off each other well. Some of the bits that didn’t feel scripted added some cheeky laughs, especially from Micky. The guest cast seems to have fun with their parts, which always helps the quality of the episode.

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.