Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monkees à la Carte”

header_text

“If You Can’t Beat ’em, Confuse ’em.”

I’m really relieved to be past the pilot. For some reason, I found that to be a daunting task. Now we’re on to more fun episodes, like this one where they run into the mafia. Honestly, I always forget about this episode. It blends together with some of the other gangster-related stories. They do run into gun-toting crooks quite a bit: “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers,” “Alias, Micky Dolenz,” “Monkees on the Wheel,” and “The Picture Frame” all have those types of antagonists. The Monkees live in a violent world, and they (mostly) don’t have any guns.

“Monkees à La Carte” was written by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Bernie Orenstein, directed by James Frawley and aired for the first time on November 21, 1966. At the start of the story, the Monkees are in an Italian restaurant, sharing a large cliché submarine sandwich. A nice old guy, Pop, is encouraging them to eat. That’s sweet; he hired them to play and he’s also feeding them. The actor playing Pop has an accent that’s hard to understand. A couple of unpleasant-looking men in suits come in and threaten and intimidate Pop into selling the place. Peter helpfully asks, for the benefit of the audience, if they are “hoods.”

The hoods do some very familiar shtick. Fuselli, the leader, throws a coin up, and Rocco, the henchmen tosses him a new one when he drops it. This echoes the entrance of Micky and Peter in “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” when they were pretending to be Big Man and Spider, and Spider hands the Big Man a coin to toss up. I was aware this was a homage to classic Hollywood gangster films, but wasn’t sure of any specific one. The pop culture-savvy group members of the Monkee Magic group suggested George Raft as the coin-tossing Guino Rinaldo in Scarface (1932).

Gangster-Coin-tossing

The new owners fire the Monkees, and Davy confronts the larger one, Rocco, telling him to pick on someone his own size. Rocco’s about a foot taller than Davy, and he points out there is no one his size. I’m already impressed with Davy for standing up to this giant, and then he gets even braver: When Rocco pulls a gun, Davy brushes it aside and tells him, “You’re pretty tough with a gun in your hand.” Rocco punches him and knocks Davy and all the other Monkees back.

Fist-in-your-hand

Since Pop is an underdog and a rare older adult that is kind to them, the Monkees have to help him out. Back at the pad, they have a meeting to discuss that. Mike has his gavel and wants suggestions from the “floor” about dealing with Fuselli, leading to a gag where Peter listens to the floor, the wall, and the ceiling. Davy, I guess dizzy from being hit (see the cute band-aid?), has lost his earlier bravery and thinks the gangsters are too tough. Mike’s already decided that they’re going to help Pop and ignores Davy’s protests that there wasn’t a vote. I love that they end the meeting by throwing papers all over the place. I wish we could end meetings like this at work.

The Monkees go back to Pop’s former restaurant and ask Rocco for their jobs back. Rocco hires them to wait tables since they “work cheap.” The other Monkees stick this job on Peter. This sets up the main theme in this episode: sticking Peter with everything. Peter auditions, successfully carrying large stacks of plates across the restaurant. In the kitchen, Peter lets go of the tray, which hovers (if you look close, you can see wires) for a few seconds, and then falls.

The Monkees are all in waiter’s uniforms, lined up for inspection. Fuselli shows them how they deal with people they don’t like by cuing Rocco to slap Peter. Micky gets in Fuselli’s face to show him how the Monkees treat people they don’t like, After an intimidating glare from Fuselli, Micky also slaps Peter. Peter wants to know what he did to deserve that.

Don't-do-it-again

That was such a cartoon violence moment. It’s more fun to see an aggressive, obnoxious character get knocked around, rather than a laid back, passive personality like Peter.

Fuselli lists their jobs: Chefs, dishwashers, musicians, hat check girl, cooks, cigarette girls. Well, we know they can dress as girls so, okay Fuselli. Now it’s time for a kitchen romp to “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart). This is another good plot-relevant romp. They run around the kitchen mostly; cooking, juggling plates, playing sides of meat like guitars, and dropping stuff. Don’t miss Peter sneezing on the salt shakers. Maybe he was hoping to make Fuselli and Rocco very sick? Mike gets tangled in spaghetti, and this was the same shot used in Success Story (shot later but aired earlier). The best part of this is Peter’s struggles with the pizza dough. He tosses it up and it doesn’t come down, so he gets a gun and tries to shoot it down.

Since their antics aren’t working, they go to the police station where they meet with the Inspector who is very intense, and possibly insane. The actor is hilarious, flipping emotional temperature in a split-second. He tells them they are dealing with part of the Syndicate, and “The Only members of the syndicate we’ve captured belonged to the Purple Flower Gang. But, we got all four of them!” Mike asks, “How’d you do that?”

Flower-to-Flower-2

The Inspector tells them they must connect Fuselli to the violent Syndicate. Micky says they’re violent too, and attempts to demonstrate on Peter again, but Peter evades him and they all run out. I’m glad Peter got away from him that time. Peter is my hero in this episode, he takes all the abuse and does all the work. It occurs to me that in most of the other episodes I’ve looked at for these posts so far, Peter hasn’t been given much to do. The character in previous episodes is good for a few sight gags, or to say humorously clueless lines but generally Mike or Micky do most of the useful things. This is an ensemble episode with all the Monkees working together to defeat a common enemy, but Peter is the standout, stand-up guy. And he’s STILL performing the best sight gags and lines.

The Monkees’ attempt to get fingerprints is foiled by Fuselli wearing gloves, and their plan to record an incriminating conversation is ruined by the usually mechanically adept Micky screwing up with the tape recorder. (A common problem for the Monkees, see Davy in “Royal Flush“) Next, they go for breaking and destroying. They sneak into the office, in bandit masks, planning to use explosives to blow open the safe. Instead, they blow up the desk and scramble to replace it with the still intact safe. Micky looks at the camera and assures me, “They’ll never know the difference.”

Fuselli holds a meeting with the Syndicate, which gives the Monkees an opportunity to help the police arrest them all at once. Out in the dining area, the Syndicate introduces themselves, including a female gangster, Big Flora. Peter offers his own introduction, and he really deserves the applause they give him.

Peter-Tork-Bass-guitar-II

The Monkees want to stay and listen to get the goods on the Syndicate but Fuselli gives them the boot and breaks out the big map, used to divide up the city among the Syndicate members. The Monkees re-enter disguised as the Purple Flower Gang, looking fabulous in cool gangster suits with white flowers in the buttonholes and fake mustaches. Flora questions the flower color, but Micky covers this in his gruff “gangster” voice.

Purples-flowers-baby-ii

Peter slips up and says they’re hungry, so now they have to also be the waiters to serve themselves food on Fuselli’s orders. In the kitchen they “choose” to see who will go get the Inspector, but end up just making Peter go. Of course they do.

At the police station, Peter is immediately arrested as part of the Purple Flower gang. He protests that his flower is white, but crazy inspector offers a call-back gag, “Don’t try to kid me, I know how tough it is to find purple flowers.” They put him under hot lights, and shake him down, then play nice and offer him coffee. He enjoys the attention and being fed. Truly, the police are treating Peter better than the other Monkees do in this episode. Peter takes credit for every criminal activity including the sinking of the Lusitania, the Great Train Robbery etc.

At the restaurant, Micky, Davy, and Mike run back and forth, quick-changing costumes from crooks to waiters as the meeting continues. The Syndicate members continue to fight over Fuselli’s map. Mike and Davy turn it into a giant game of tic-tac-toe. The chaos-loving Monkees start tearing up the map and handing out the pieces of paper. Davy stuffs some of the map into a gang member’s mouth. As the crooks start fighting, Micky and Davy shake hands on a job well done and look at us knowingly. This is one of their favorite maneuvers, delaying the antagonists by creating chaos and confusing them.

One hood says this room isn’t big enough for all of them, so the Purple Flower gang volunteers to split. The real gangsters start pulling out guns and shooting. Under the table the Monkees agree they’d better do something. Micky stands up to stop the proceedings and calls a cute young woman in a fur coat to the scene.

Pretty-Girl

Thank you, James Frawley. Or the writers, or whoever came up with that. That was a really well-placed use of a unexpected, unrelated joke.

The shooting continues. Micky pops up behind the shoulders of various bad guys and tries to get them to stop: “Five people should be able to get along!” (Bang!) “Four people should be able to get along.” That was a funny, dark joke. This is a weird, bloodless bloodbath as bodies drop on the table but no blood effects are used. The gangsters are disposable, and their faux-dramatic deaths are played for humor, they’re not deaths we care about. Under the tables, Davy and Mike coolly ignore all the chaos and gunfire and continue to play tic-tac-toe. Every crook is dead, and the Monkees are not at all bothered. They got out of the situation by letting the adversaries destroy each other.

Peter brought the police, hurray! Unfortunately the Monkees are still dressed as the Purple Flower Gang, so the Inspector arrests them. More of “Stepping Stone” is heard with some footage from other episodes, the most relevant being the bits of them walking around the cell in Ghost Town and playing with the flood lights from “I’ve Got a Little Song Here,” mixed with the prison break bit from the pilot.

They don’t show us how they straightened things out with the inspector. Maybe Pop helped, because here he is, in his restaurant saying “Play for me boys, play like you used to.” The performance is separately shot footage of “She” (Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart) with the band in grey suits and a blue background. They do some interesting angles, with Mike blurry in the foreground and the focus on Micky, who is singing. On a shallow note, Micky looks very handsome. Shots of the band are mixed in with some old black and white footage of women in bathing suits and circus performers, and other footage of people dancing. I don’t get the relevance.

Maybe I won’t forget about this one next time. There were many funny lines and this must hold the record for the most deaths in a Monkees episode. There are other violent episodes for sure. In “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” a character dies on screen from poisoned meat. Many more bullets are fired in “Hillbilly Honeymoon” but we never see bodies. When we see the thugs in “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” they are putting a guy’s feet in cement, so surely he’s about to be a corpse. Something about dark humor like this always appeals to me. On a show like The Monkees, it’s even better because it’s unexpected. It’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to the show as an adult, laughing at things that, most of the time, we’re expected to take seriously.

Evil-Carte

Look-Out-For

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: “Success Story”

header_text

 

“The Monkees Probably Should Have Been Arrested”

Title

 

The 6th episode, “Success Story” had an emotional story-line compared to other episodes and was also the first to feature a Monkees family member. There was an unusually stereotypical situation-comedy feel with a main character getting in trouble for deceiving a loved one. I wasn’t really looking forward to writing about this one, but as I watched I rediscovered a lot of funny moments.

One of the elements creating the mood was the incidental music, composed by Stu Phillips, which expresses the sensitive nature of this episode. Mr. Phillips began composing for movies and television in 1958 and was the founder of Colpix Records (a label that signed Michael Nesmith and Davy Jones as solo artists before they were cast on the show, and later became Colgems). Phillips’ music can be heard in 54 of the 58 Monkees episodes. He’s known for his work on Quincy, M.E., Knight Rider, and many other television shows and films, including two of my favorite Sci-Fi shows from childhood, Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.

“Success Story” debuted October 17, 1966 on NBC. Oddly, the writing/directing credits run at the start of the episode instead of the usual spot after the opening theme and they are as follows: Written by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Bernie Orenstein, Directed by James Frawley.

The Monkees play cards with Mr. Schneider, who gets his first line, paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw: “It’s a shame to waste youth on children.” The plot kicks off with Davy receiving a telegram from his grandfather who’s coming to visit. Davy’s distressed because he’s been lying to him about being rich and successful. Micky selfishly (and amusingly) tells Davy it’s his problem. Davy explains that when his grandfather finds out the truth, he’ll have to leave the band. Meanwhile, the telegram man is trying to shake down Mr. Schneider for $1.80 for the collect telegram.

Your-problem

Mike suggests they make Davy “look” rich and so begins a series of scenes where the Monkees steal the appropriate costumes and props. Usually they just quick-change into disguises, but in this episode we see how they acquire their costumes. Micky swipes a Rolls Royce by tricking the owner into letting him “exercise” his car. Micky’s character is mechanically inclined, maybe echoing the real-life fact that Micky Dolenz worked as a mechanic for Mercedes Benz in 1964.

Mike appropriates a chef’s costume by getting hired and immediately fired as a chef, complete with a cute look to the camera when he gets away with it. The kitchen is the same set from the later “Monkees à la Carte ” episode. Micky acquires a fake chauffeur’s costume by convincing the telegram man to switch clothes with him, so he can demonstrate how to get the $1.80 from Mr. Schneider.

Peter approaches an ice cream cart. In a very Harpo Marx way, he gets the ice cream seller’s jacket without even speaking. This impresses me, but not as much as the weirdness that follows: The now topless ice cream man is suddenly stampeded with men in suits, demanding ice cream as though his bare chest made everyone hot and hungry. Charlie Callas has funny, exaggerated facial expressions in the scene.

Ice-cream

 

Davy reviews his “staff” in their new costumes to prep for gramps. He takes to his rich kid roll a little too well, getting annoyed with the other boy’s antics. Davy is seriously hoping he’ll look convincing as a successful star. The storyline relates to the overall theme of the Monkees quest for success, though this time it’s just the appearance of success to keep an older adult from worrying.

Chauffer

At the airport, pretend chauffeur Micky repeats his nasal doorman voice from “Monkee See, Monkee Die.” Davy picks up his grandfather while Mike and Peter work to make Davy look famous. Mike plays various autograph seekers and Peter takes pictures for the “press.” Cecil Cabot from “Royal Flush” is back and she approaches him for an autograph when she sees all the fuss. Davy thinks she’s Mike in disguise and kids around with her. The fact that Mike is about a foot taller than Cecil Cabot didn’t really clue him in to his mistake.

Mike and Peter play chef and houseboy roles while Grandfather and Davy have dinner at the house. They don’t have money for two fancy meals. Davy has plastic/rubber food, and the film rewinds to emphasize him bouncing it off the table. Davy complains that he’s hungry enough to eat a horse and we’re treated to a flash to future episode “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” with the boys pulling a horse through the house. It’s all over when the various victims of the Monkees theft show up wanting their stuff. Grandpa catches on quick, and Davy is busted. To make matters worse, the lights go off because they didn’t pay the electric bill. Grandfather tells Davy to pack for England.

Rolls

This is one of the rare times on the series where we see an older adult on the show taking care of the young Monkees or having their best interests at heart. In previous episodes the boys were on their own, facing older adults who wanted to destroy them or at least take advantage of them. This time the grandfather, though we certainly don’t want him to break up the Monkees, has his heart in the right place. There’s some nice acting on the part of Davy Jones and Ben Wright when Davy is sorry for lying and compliant about leaving with him. The music score is noticeably more serious here. Mike isn’t having it though, and tells Grandfather he’s only taking Davy because he misses him and needs him around. Grandpa won’t own up to this. For those of us living far from our parents, I think we’ve all been here. The older generation can’t understand why the younger ones aren’t living the way they want them to live. It doesn’t change when you’re out of your 20s either. The generation gap that’s represented here is something that resonates today.

sentimental

Davy walks around with pretty hair and sad eyes as the song “I Want to Be Free” (Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart) plays, and there’s footage of the Monkees playing with the kids that was used in “Monkee Vs. Machine” and other footage “memories” of them hanging out. Emotional scenes are not really what this show does best, but you have to have serious or touching moments sometimes in order for the comedy to have impact. Davy says a sad goodbye to the other Monkees and Peter gives him a parachute just in case Grandfather changes his mind on the way over. Aww…Peter. Peter is the only one Davy hugs. I guess the others are too manly. Looking at this now, it has an especially poignant feeling with David Jones’ sad death in 2012.

The three orphaned Monkees cry comically for a few seconds and then Mike gets it together and tells the other Monkees and the audience they’re going to stop Davy from getting on the plane. Of course they are; they’re off to create havoc!

Crying

Now we get the scenes of airport mayhem, and watching it in this new millennium, it’s hard not to think about how much they’d be suspected of terrorism. On the other hand, I’d be disappointed if they did anything less.

Micky sets up a fake baggage claim for Gramps, and busts out a British twit voice while messing up his suitcase and directing him to the wrong gate. Peter freaks out Grandpa with an Icarus/Daedalus impression, running around with fake wings screaming “don’t fly!” Mike arrives driving an airport golf-cart and pretends to take Grandpa to his flight. He drives around chaotically, terrorizing and nearly running over other travelers. Meanwhile, Davy waits and wonders what’s keeping his grandfather. Really? I think he knows his buddies better than that.

Grandfather Jones is smarter than most of the opponents they’ve tried to fool thus far. Even quicker than Daggart, he has the wit to see through their disguises. Their insane behavior convinces him that Davy has good friends that really care about him, and he lets him stay. In the meantime, he’s picked up the Cecil Cabot character and he’s taking her to England. Well, I guess “fast-mover” is a trait that runs in the Jones family!

aiport-havoc

In the tag sequence, the Monkees sit at the same park from “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” and “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.” Micky realizes they could have tried actually playing music to impress Davy’s grandfather. This launches a romp for “Sweet Young Thing” (Michael Nesmith, Gerry Goffin and Carole King) where some senior citizens dance and frolic with the Monkees. Toward the end there’s a weird bit where the seniors chase them around with cards in their hands, maybe BINGO cards. Mixed in are shots of the Monkees playing instruments with close-ups of Mike looking slightly sweaty and very attractive.

The episode ran short again and they fill time with another interview segment. This one appropriately features Davy talking about going home to visit his family. It’s a cute story about his father thinking his hair is too long and making him get his haircut twice before letting him into the house. Davy says he bought a house to give his father in Davy’s own name so that can’t happen again.

Speaking of long hair, in the documentary We Love the Monkees (2012) Micky notes that the television network at the time must have been nervous about putting The Monkees on TV because “the only time you saw long-haired kids on television, they were being arrested.” Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, some men and boys had long hair and no one thought twice about it. It’s hard to imagine long hair being associated with a criminal element. But, in the episodes I’ve written about so far the Monkees have done a few insane things that could’ve gotten them arrested. Just for fun, here’s the rap sheet:

Arrested

Monkees in jail_sm

Look-Out-For-Success

 

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.