Monkees vs. Macheen: “Hitting the High Seas”

“We’ll scuttle the story and run her a-ground!”

“Hitting the High Seas” was directed by James Frawley and written by Jack Winter, who wrote four other episodes that I listed in my recap for “The Picture Frame.”  Fun note about the title: the book, Monkee Magic by Melanie Mitchell, notes that it’s a pun on hitting the high “C’s,” as in the musical note. This episode is included in The Monkees DVD/VHS “Our Favorite Episodes” as Davy Jones’ favorite. Though the Amazon description of that box set notes this may not be entirely the case as he states “Royal Flush” is his favorite on the DVD box set commentary. Jones gives commentary for this episode as well.

Micky, Davy, and Peter sit in a bar discussing their recent firing from a failed gig. They overhear two sailors, Frank and Harry, discuss an available job. Noam Pitlik, who we saw in an earlier episode, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” as Shazer, plays Harry. The old sailors describe the perfect men needed for the job, while the Monkees counter with demonstrations of their qualifications. “They’ve got to be strong.” Micky destroys furniture. (Yet he wasn’t able to do so in “Wild Monkees.”) “They’ve got to be able to use their hands.” Davy juggles. “They’ve got to have knowledge of the seven seas.” Peter names random bodies of water. The sailors wonder where to find “hard drinkin’ guys like that.” The Monkees heartily drink their milk. (Yes, milk – it does a body good.) One of the sailors asks, “what about these kids here?” The Monkees magically pop into sailor costumes. Frank and Harry tell the Monkees where and when to meet them if they want the job.

Cut to the sailors on the phone discussing their success in finding the “dumbest suckers” they could. This makes no sense at all because from what we see later, they don’t need the Monkees to execute their plan. Davy Jones mentions on the commentary track that many of the Monkees adventures were about playing the kinds of fantasies kids would have. Pirates would naturally be among kid’s fantasies (I know it was one of mine), so I guess whatever contrivance it takes to get them on the ship will do.

The background music by Stu Phillips is a cheerful sailor cartoon theme. Frank meets all four Monkees on the deck of the ship. Davy Jones mentioned on the commentary that this was a beautiful boat that the four of them actually considered purchasing. The Monkees have no idea how to sail. Frank tosses a million directions at them, and Mike tries to follow along with a book of instructions. Fortunately, someone has labeled the main sail and the ropes needed to adjust it, but they mess it up anyway. Micky, Peter, and Davy get seasick and take pills to cure it. Mike takes one, but like Micky’s bug-attracting insect spray from “Monkees Marooned,” the pill makes him seasick. He goes below deck, never to be seen again.

The Monkees that are still standing meet the Captain, played by Chips Rafferty who, I’m sure was not coincidentally cast as he was in the films The Wackiest Ship in the Army and Mutiny on the Bounty. During roll call he orders them to cut their hair, but they refuse. In response, the Captain plans to have them “keel-hauled and lashed” until Micky identifies Davy as the great-great grandson and heir to Davy Jones’ locker. The Captain is awed to have a Jones on his ship. He lightens the punishment “swabbing the deck” and makes Davy his cabin boy. [“These pipes are CLEEEANN!” – Editor’s note]

Inside the ship, Davy tries to deliver food to the Captain but keeps running into various other fictional captains. First up is Micky, dressed as Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. He also finds Peter as an 18th-century pirate, getting slapped for forcing a kiss on a girl. Micky re-appears as Captain Hornblower and blows a little horn, “groovy, sock it to me, yeah.” Captain Horatio Hornblower was a fictional captain in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and was the subject of novels, films, and radio. According to his characteristics listed on Wikipedia, Hornblower was tone deaf, so he probably didn’t play the horn or anything else. Also, like Mike, he tended to get seasick.

Davy finally finds the right Captain, who’s now in conference with his parrot, Horace. He overhears the Captain and the parrot discuss a plan to steal gold. In the commentary, Davy Jones mentions that Micky was the actual voice of the parrot. Davy thinks they’re “crackers.” Nice pun. Hanging out in their bunks, Peter and Micky play and sing a little bit of “Tear the Top Right Off My Head” (Peter Tork) on acoustic guitar. Davy rushes in and tells them his fears about the Captain. On the spot, Davy comes up with an idea for them to sneak into the Captain’s room at night. Micky will imitate the parrot so they can find out more about the Captain’s plan.

Cut to the execution of Davy’s plan. Peter tapes the real parrot’s mouth shut and Micky engages the Captain, pretending to be Horace. The Captain used to be captain of a ship called the Queen Anne, and he wants to rob it in revenge for being kicked off the ship. Next day on deck, Micky tries to brush this off as just a fantasy the Captain has created to compensate in his mind for his childhood frustrations. Davy mentions in the commentary that Micky made those lines up. The script just said they should be “talking” so they improvised their own dialogue [Now that’s some solid professional television writing! – Editor’s Note]. The Captain appears on deck in a Jolly Roger hat and pirate costume, and the rest of the crew are suddenly dressed as Hollywood pirates. They hoist the Jolly Roger and reveal the canons. Micky tries to convince himself that the Monkees are now the ones trapped in a fantasy.

Maybe there’s something in that. What if the entire series was just a fantasy in the four Monkees minds, created to compensate for their failure to make it as a band? All the crazy things never really happened; they just imagined being chased by space aliens, international spies, and bank robbers and tangling with corrupt royalty, con-men, and mad scientists. Not to mention the Devil himself. Now that’s a trip!

The Captain shares his plan to rob the Queen Anne of Gold bullion. The Monkees are now in their own version of pirate costumes. My daughter pointed out that they look like Halloween costumes for little kids. (She keeps going on in adoration of Davy’s hat.) There is something very Peter Pan and the Lost Boys about this whole story. The Captain proclaims that anyone afraid to go through with his scheme should step forward; of course the Monkees do, but quickly retreat when told they’ll be dropped off in the middle of the ocean. I still don’t see why Frank and Harry needed to trap the boys into joining the crew for this. They didn’t really need inexperienced extra crewmen to rob the Queen Anne, did they?

The Monkees go back to their bunks to figure out how to stop the Captain from his crazy plan. Micky decides they should follow the Hollywood examples of Munity on the Bounty and Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny. Peter goes off to incite mutiny among the rest of the crew. Davy’s still skeptical so Micky convinces him with more references to the 1935 and 1962 versions of Mutiny on the Bounty, “How about, if Clark Gable and Marlon Brando can do it, we can do it?” The look that passes between them is pretty funny, looks like that line was made up too.

Peter whispers to everyone on deck, and you can see David Price and David Pearl are among the crew members. Micky gets up in front of the crew and calls the Captain out on deck. He asks the Captain to turn over his sword, and when he refuses, Micky orders the men to “seize him.” No one moves. Micky asks what Peter said to the men? Turns out it was a general “mrm mrmmmr mer” Davy and Peter deny being part of any mutiny, but Frank identifies them as being with Micky. The Captain orders them all to walk the plank. Horace sits on the Captain’s arm during this bit and he does his own thing, chewing something off the captain’s jacket.

Standing on the plank, quick-thinking Micky stalls by warning that if they jump in, the Captain will never know “the secret.” The Captain almost bites, but Peter ruins it by asking, “Hey guys, what is the secret?” The crew is distracted from drowning the Monkees when the Queen Anne approaches. They turn away from the Monkees and prepare the cannons to attack the other ship. Harry and the Captain crack me up with their little argument about when to fire.

The Monkees decide to save the Queen Anne. This action forms the romp to “Daydream Believer” (Stewart). The Monkees steal the cannons and there’s sword fighting, rope swinging, and pistols. A couple of fun moments include Micky and Peter’s mirror-image eye patch, and Peter driving pirates away with his guitar playing. In the end, the Monkees finally drop a net on the Captain and his men. After the fight, the Captain of the Queen Anne congratulates the Monkees for saving the ship, the gold, and the passengers. A bell keeps ringing and Davy comments on it. Davy Jones mentions in the commentary that the bell wasn’t part of the episode it was actually ringing on some other ship. The captain ignores him and announces they are all First Mates of the ship. Who’s the Captain? It’s Horace the parrot, of course.

Last up is a lip-sync performance of “Star Collector” (Goffin/King), the version of the song that utilizes a Moog synthesizer. Davy Jones mentions the Moog in the commentary and states that Micky owned one of the first existing models. The inventor of the machine, Robert Moog, brought it to the recording session and they played it for this song. In the clip, the Monkees are all in white turtleneck sweaters. It looks like someone made Mike a matching hat, but he never wears it, it just sits on a stand in the front. It’s all very psychedelic with trippy lights, colors, and fast editing. Micky has giant drumsticks and at one point, Mike grabs one to mimic his guitar playing.

This was never a favorite of mine but, paying closer attention for this recap, I discovered some things to appreciate. There are some laugh-out-loud bits, and there’s a storyline that works on that “good clean fun” level. The rugged sailors, Captain, Harry, and Frank, add a believable touch to the fantasy. The episode moves along quickly and is fun and entertaining. On the downside, there’s not as much subversive or Monkees-like humor. It’s almost as though any comic actors from any situation comedy of the time could have made the same episode. It was fun to play the episode with commentary, hearing Davy Jones point out various moments. Clearly he remembered it fondly and had some fun working on the show overall. The three Monkees that are in the episode look like they had a good time, which is always nice. As Davy Jones said, it’s still “bright and light and kind of fun.”

by Bronwyn Knox

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

Advertisements

Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Wild Monkees”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bronwyn Knox

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