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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Bronwyn Knox

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

 

Vintage Cable Box: “Irreconcilable Differences, 1984”

“This Civil War ain’t gonna get me down. I’m taking my act to a brand new town. This belle rings in old Atlanta. I’m gonna find myself a brand new Santa!”

Irreconcilable Differences, 1984 (Drew Barrymore), Warner Bros.

At the end of a particularly biting monologue delivered by Drew Barrymore to her befuddled, self-absorbed parents (Ryan O’ Neal, Shelley Long), she tells them they have “irreconcilable differences.” My mother jumps up, points at the screen and shouts, “What a little bitch!” I’m like, “Why?” I don’t think she gave me an answer, except to say Drew should have respect for her parents. In her world, parents were always right. Children were meant to be seen and not heard. Shut up, Drew! I don’t agree, and I am a parent. She has a valid point to make. When a child commits an atrocity; something we read about in the morning papers, my first question is always, “Where were the parents?” This must be the disconnect between the baby-boomer generation and their generation X offspring. They were too busy living second childhoods to care. Drew, essentially, takes her parents to court so that she can emancipate herself or, at the very least, get the Hell away from them.

Generation X-types aren’t completely innocent in the exchange either. They tend to spend way too much time playing video games, brandishing new tattoos, and reading comic books when they should be perfecting basic skills like combing their hair and shaving their neck-beards, but I kid! I didn’t mean for this to become a speech, but I always mean for my tone to be sarcastic. Little Casey Brodsky (Drew) hates her parents, or maybe she tires of their antics. Dad Albert is an up-and-coming filmmaker. His wife, Lucy, assists him to the point of rewriting his scripts (while not receiving credit). It must irk her to see their success attributed only to her husband. After a couple of hits, Albert is the toast of the town. He hires aspiring actress, Blake (Sharon Stone, in an early role) for his next film, and when it becomes obvious to Lucy he has subscribed to the Peter Bogdanovich playbook, she divorces him.

Bogdanovich (for those of you who don’t know) famously courted the beautiful Cybill Shepherd despite being married to production designer Polly Platt. The affair destroyed several relationships and killed Bogdanovich’s career after the failure of his bizarre musical, At Long Last Love. Married (at the time) writing couple, Nancy Meyers and Charles Shyer parody this opus with Atlanta, a musical version of Gone With The Wind. I was never a fan of Gone With The Wind (I think it’s a terrible movie), but I think I would’ve been interested in seeing Atlanta. This misstep also kills Albert’s career and Blake dumps him. As the meteor of his success collides with Earth, Lucy’s star rises. She writes a tell-all memoir of her time with Albert, hilariously (and subversively) titled, He Said It Was Going To Be Forever, which becomes an enormous hit. There’s a nice bit of visual symmetry with all of Albert’s belongings being shuffled out of his mansion in a U-Haul as Lucy moves her stuff in.

What charms me about the movie is that Albert and Lucy still love each other, and they do love their daughter, even if they don’t know how to show it. They seem to use Casey as ammunition in their feud. Albert suffers what appears to be a heart-attack. Lucy rushes to his side at the hospital. She leaves in a huff after learning it was an anxiety attack. Albert seduces Lucy into a one-night-stand so that he can get the option to direct her memoir, which infuriates her. This is enough material for the court to determine that their housekeeper, Maria, should be given guardian status of Casey. My mother’s instinctive reaction to the material is not an isolated story. Irreconcilable Differences divides audiences along age boundaries, and if you examine the film closely, you’ll see that whenever Ryan or Shelley are on the screen together (or even separately), Drew is shunted off to the side, filling the background of the scene.

Meyers and Shyer craft an interesting take on the dissolution of a marriage, drawing on inspiration from old Hollywood fables and the break-up of writers Nora Ephron and Carl Bernstein in Ephron’s languid memoir, Heartburn, but told from the point-of-view of a child. As an adult, it is difficult to understand Drew’s predicament. She wants for nothing. She’s obviously given adequate shelter and safety, and we must always remember that children tend to be preoccupied (to a pathological level) with their creature comforts, yet I don’t agree with the “little bitch” assessment. She’s more precocious than anything else. She’s wonderful to watch in the movie, though she has a tendency to mumble and not seem to understand much of what she says, but she was nine years old at the time of shooting, so I can’t fault her. She is, at her core, genuine.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird).  We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images.  We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates.  About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties. 

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: “Hillbilly Honeymoon” (a.k.a. “Double Barrel Shotgun Wedding”)

“Y’all come back now, y’hear!”

“Hillbilly Honeymoon” aka “Double Barrel Shotgun Wedding” was written by Peter Meyerson and directed by James Frawley. Meyerson wrote eight Monkees episodes including the debut episode “Royal Flush,” and the very similar-in-plot episode, (it’s doppelganger you might say) “Prince and the Paupers.” This episode debuted October 23, 1967 and was filmed September 12-15, 1967, after their big 1967 July 8-Aug 27 summer tour. The Monkees have a new look in the episodes that were shot from September onward. Micky’s curly hair is the most noticeable, but the Monkees started dressing in what I’d call a more “hippy” look and Mike didn’t always wear the green hat.

The story begins with the Monkees lost and driving their Monkeemobile through a small town that’s divided by a white line. On either side are two feuding families, the Weskitts and Chubbers. The Monkees ask for directions, but gun-toting Weskitts and Chubbers warn them to stay on the white line. The Weskitts and Chubbers parody the Hatfield and McCoy real-life family feud that occurred between two rural families in the West Virginia and Kentucky area from 1863-1891. Mike sends Davy to follow the white line out of town and find some help.

Davy starts to walk the line but gets pulled into a haystack by a pretty young woman in pig-tails, Ella Mae Chubber. She kisses him (with a pop sound effect) and then has the nerve to warn him her boyfriend won’t like it. Ella Mae resembles Elly May Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies with her name, hair, and costume. The other three main characters in “Hillbilly Honeymoon” also have Beverly Hillbillies counterparts: Maw equals Granny, Paw resembles Jed, and Jud is a Jethro type. The Monkees were parodying this popular television show that ran from 1962-1971. Both are “fish out of water” stories: The Beverly Hillbillies is about a group of hillbillies trying to navigate their way through society in Beverly Hills, while “Hillbilly Honeymoon” has our California boys trapped in hillbilly country. Admittedly the “Hillbilly Honeymoon” versions of these characters are lot nastier, in a fun way of course.

Paw points his rifle at Davy and Ella Mae and makes it clear Davy has to marry her. Jud Weskitt approaches with his rifle and makes it clear Davy’s going to die for kissing Ella Mae, because she’s his girl. Since Ella Mae’s a Chubber and Jud is a Weskitt, I can add Romeo and Juliet to the list of things parodied in “Hillbilly Honeymoon.”

After the opening theme, Ella Mae tries to keep Paw and Jud from killing both Davy and each other. Micky pops into the frame and tries to talk the men out of fighting but they just shove rifles in his face. Micky and Davy run off, and the two feuding clans start shooting at each other, accompanied by banjo music. There’s lots of bullets flying around but no deaths occur that we see. Micky pops up in the haystack and Ella wants to kiss him now. He points out he’s not Davy but she kisses him anyway. Micky responds, “Well, I tried,” and makes out with her. Now Paw wants Micky to marry Ella Mae because she’s about to turn 16 and he doesn’t want anyone calling her an “old maid.” Yep, those kind of stereotypes. Paw takes Mike, Micky, and Peter away at gunpoint. Maw tricks Davy into thinking she’s a helpless old lady and asks him to help her cross the street. As a reward for his kind service, she and Jud kidnap him.

At Maw and Jud’s, cabin, Jud wants to put Davy into his vat to make liquor out of him while Maw explains the health benefits of anger and hate. At Paw and Ellie’s cabin, Paw wants to know which Monkee will marry Ella. Micky, Mike, and Peter eagerly volunteer Davy. Paw points out that Jud’s got Davy and going to get him will get them shot. All three declare in unison, “We’ll risk it.” Paw agrees to send Micky and keep the other two but Ella wants one for herself. She approaches Mike, “I think you’re cute.” Mike breaks the fourth wall in terms of actor/character and says, “So does my wife and kids.” He volunteers to go with Micky. Peter frets that they’re abandoning him but Mike promises they’ll be back for him “or we’ll die trying.” Paw gleefully points out, “That’s a distinct possibility.”

I love that Dub Taylor plays Paw with a menacing smile. Sure he’s going to blow your head off, but he’ll have a good time doing it. I also figured out that I recognized Dub Taylor from the old Hubba Bubba “gum fight” commercials. Big bubbles, no troubles. You 70’s-80’s kids will know what I’m talking about.

Jud has Davy in a sack. Between this and “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” people really enjoy putting Davy in sacks. He’s ready to boil Davy when Micky and Mike arrive outside, dressed as hillbillies. They push a pig wearing a baby bonnet in their baby carriage. The pig, the bonnet, and carriage remind me of Alice in Wonderland, when Alice takes the Duchess’s baby outside and discovers it’s a pig. Mike and Micky try to convince rifle-wielding Jud that they’re cousins. Jud doesn’t recognize the names Claude and Roy, or Luke and Ezra, but seems to remember a Roland and Clem. He still wants to get rid of them until Maw insists, “That’s no way to treat kinfolk” and lets them inside. Meanwhile at Paw’s, Peter becomes Ella’s next victim [She’s a lonely woman, apparently – Editor’s note]. She chases him, and he gives in as Micky did, with a resigned, “Well, I tried.”

Micky and Mike see Davy in the sack, but they’re intimidated by Maw and Jud. Jud wants Mike to prove he’s a cousin by playing his nose. Mike (in a line delivery worthy of Jim Parsons) tries to stall, saying his nose is “out being fixed.” He gets nervous when Jud points the gun so he starts tapping the side of his noise, and the sound editors help Mike out with a “boing, boing” sound. Micky accompanies Mike by tapping the pig. This begins the romp to “Papa Gene’s Blues” (Michael Nesmith), a first season song that’s perfect for this romp and episode. During the song, Maw, Jud, Mike, and Micky play in a jug band, and also do some square dancing, joined by Davy in the sack. There’s some footage from “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” with the Monkees performing farm chores, bailing hay,etc. My favorite bits are Micky and Mike smoking ears of corn and Mike politely attempting to light Maw’s pipe with a match, but failing until she eventually just busts out a Zippo. Billie Hayes, the actress who plays Maw, is a lot of fun to watch.

After the nose-playing, Maw welcomes them to the family. Micky frees the pig to create a distraction. Maw and Jud chase after it, giving Mike and Micky time to look through the sacks for Davy. When they just find oats, they start crying that Davy Jones is dead. Funny gag as Davy comes up behind them joins in the crying over his own death. They all abruptly stop to figure out what to do now.

Mike pulls out a script and they use it to figure out that they need to get Peter from Paw and Ella Mae’s. With this, and Mike’s earlier mention of his family, this entire episode feels looser than usual. The first season episodes, for the most part, create the reality of them as a band with the fourth wall breaks as a knowing “wink” to the audience. This episode and some others after it make no pretense at creating a reality; I’m constantly reminded I’m watching a show. With this episode, there’s so much funny stuff that it doesn’t hurt the energy of the episode. There’s never a dull moment.

Outside Paw’s place, Micky, Mike, and Davy start making pig calls. Ella Mae and Paw come out, and Micky and Mike rush in to get Peter, but Davy’s pants are caught on a nail. Paw turns around and cocks the rifle at Davy. He asks Ella if Davy was the one kissing her. Ella isn’t sure, “Maybe. I can’t tell one from the other no more.” Paw makes Davy drop to his knees and tries to force a proposal. Instead, Davy starts singing “I Wanna Be Free.” Paw isn’t impressed, “Anybody who sings like that deserves to die.” The other three Monkees run out on the porch. At Paw’s gun-pointing threat, Davy finally says “Will you marry me?”

Outside Paw’s, Mike, Micky, and Peter agree they’ve got to stop the wedding so they head for Jud’s. I love Micky leaping over the porch rail and posing as he proclaims Davy’s predicament. He looks like he’s trying to crack Mike up. Those little moments, they can’t be scripted. Inside, Paw and Ella have dressed Davy up in a suit for the wedding. Elly thinks he’s “purdy” but Paw’s not satisfied: Davy still looks like a city slicker. Davy suggests, “Why don’t you rub dirt all over me or something?” Unable to detect sarcasm, Paw and Ella go for this idea.

Mike and Micky tell Jud that Ella’s getting married. Naturally Jud grabs his gun. Mike and Micky stop him. Mike tells Jud he’s got to treat Ella like a gentleman. Jud’s response, “But she’s a girl!” inspires the first “Isn’t that dumb” recurring line from Micky. Huge compliments to all the guest cast actors. The episode is packed with over-the-top and corny stereotypes but the actors make it into great comedy. Billie Hayes and Lou Antonio have the most ridiculous lines but I still laugh every time I hear them delivered.

Maw wants to know, who’s going to teach Jud how to treat a girl? Micky announces, “Raybert presents, coming straight from the mountains, Uncle Raccoon!” Peter enters and speaks in a German accent until Mike stage whispers, “wrong accent.” Peters tries again with a hillbilly accent that’s awkwardly over-the-top. I dig the fact that all the Monkees get a chance to shine and be funny in “Hillbilly Honeymoon.” The Monkees have Jud practice proposing to Ella Mae on Micky in a bonnet.

The scenes of Jud’s training are intercut with Davy fussily complaining about being covered in soot and Paw’s spitting and so on. I’ve never seen this fastidious side of him before. They’re contrasting a British fastidious persona with the dirty hillbillies, I suppose. Davy tries to convince Ella to elope with Jud, but Paw won’t have it because Jud is “dirty, dumb, and violent.” Well, yeah.  There’s a subtle anti-violence message here.

The same barn used in “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth” and also “The Monkees in a Ghost Town” is decorated for a wedding in this episode. Paw walks Ella and Davy down the aisle with his gun. The preacher, played by Jim Boles, who also played the Dad in “Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth,” starts performing a funeral service. Once he restarts the right ceremony, Ella Mae is reluctant to take this “stranger to be your lawfully wedded husband,” so Paw jabs her. Jud walks in wearing a suit and followed by the other Monkees and Maw. He announces, “Gentleman Jud Wescott, come to claim his bride.” Paw isn’t happy and renews the fighting between the two clans, despite Micky and the Preacher’s efforts to keep the peace. The barn is crackling with gun fire and the families divide across the white line again.

Ducking behind a hay bale, Davy asks Ella who she loves best and she admits that it’s Jud. Davy plays matchmaker and calls over Jud and the preacher. The preacher marries the hillbilly couple behind the hay stacks as the gunfire continues.

Jud and Ellla are about to kiss when Paw comes up with his gun and says, “I got you at last.” Ella updates him that they’re married. Paw happily says, “You son-in-law” and hugs Jud. He takes the couple to the center of the barn and makes the announcement that the feud is over, “the houses of Weskitt and Chubber are joined.” Everybody celebrates. A Romeo and Juliet where no one has to die. Paw invites Jud to go ahead and kiss. Jud leans in, and Paw clarifies, “Not me, her!”

Despite all the hillbilly clichés, I love this episode. It’s so funny, even just thinking about it makes me laugh and it’s easily one of the best of season two. One thing that these recaps have taught me is a true appreciation for director James Frawley. I knew nothing about him before I started this recap project. There’s an interview with James Frawley here where he talks about directing The Monkees. The four actors were encouraged to go off the script, and they would disregard written scenes for ad-libbed versions. I would speculate this extended to the guest cast as well if they were up for it and willing to play. (I realize that when they were actually shooting they probably couldn’t improvise so much due to lighting placement and other technical needs.) According to the book, Monkeemania: The True Story of the Monkees by Glen A. Baker, 29 of the first 32 Monkees episodes directors had no previous television directing experience. Frawley’s willingness to experiment might have been because he didn’t have much experience at the time as a director so he wasn’t encumbered by having to do things the “right” way. The natural-seeming bits of comedy and interaction combined with the elements of magic and fantasy are part of what makes “Hillbilly Honeymoon” and many other episodes watchable over and over.

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.

 

Extreme Cinema! “Inquiring Minds Want To Know”

This is interesting; it’s a VHS dub, Nelson Entertainment, even has the FBI Warning (remember those?) and we have Adam Baldwin and Roy Scheider in Cohen and Tate, music by Bill Conti, and it’s an unusual score, like old time horror, like Dead Heat – that’s what it reminded me of, but first I wanted to ask if you remember the movie, My Bodyguard, also with Adam Baldwin. I did a write-up of it recently for Vintage Cable Box. This is unusual in that we pick up mid-story, a nine-year-old kid witnesses the murder of a mobster, and he is under protective custody as the movie starts, right?

This is the kid from The Believers? The kid wants to know when he can get back to his normal life, but his Dad tells him that’s never gonna happen. Shifty agent George has sweat on his upper lip. He’s nervous. I feel like something’s about to go down. I think Mom is in the kitchen. This house is like the TARDIS from Doctor Who, it’s much bigger on the inside. Uh-oh, phone’s not working. This is bad news. Something terrible is about to happen, and everybody’s nervous when George takes off. The wife looks familiar to me. They sit at the dinner table and Bill Conti goes nuts on the soundtrack. They have a spoken prayer at the dinner table. I’ve always found that creepy. The family dog takes and the kid gives chase. Roy Scheider and Adam Baldwin enter and kill the kid’s family! This is weird. I always ascribe Scheider and Baldwin to good-guy parts, but not here. Scheider makes a phone call and says, “It’s done.”

So we’re discussing some of the select work of Eric Red, writer and filmmaker, probably more famous for his scripts, The Hitcher and Near Dark than his work as a director. We talked about Cohen and Tate, and we’re going to talk about Body Parts with Jeff Fahey, as well as talk a little about Blue Steel (written with Kathryn Bigelow) and The Hitcher (directed by Bob Harmon), but I would like to say I think I knew where you were going when you suggested Eric Red for the podcast. He has a style that is very similar to Larry Cohen, the writer/filmmaker we both have enormous respect for; Eric Red is very similar. He’s a very gifted writer, because I think he writes with an eye toward shooting. He’s thinking about making the movie as he is writing it. If it came down to it, if he had no financing or support, he could do it himself. That’s what I think.

So, Blue Steel comes out in 1989, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, and I remember the critics hailing it as progressive, remember we were talking about Tyne Daly in The Enforcer last time, this affirmative action placing her character firmly in danger and she has to work to get the respect of Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan. This is a slightly different prospect with Jamie Lee Curtis, who, from a purely aesthetic sense, seems a lot tougher than Tyne. Isn’t that strange? That we can size people up (particularly females) in this way?

I miss the Tri-Star horse, don’t you? This takes me back, and I also remember that HBO produced the movie, and that The Hitcher was released by HBO on home video – Thorn/EMI HBO Video in the clamshell. We have another bit where a driver falls asleep at the wheel, like in Cohen and Tate, and I think he picks up Rutger Hauer just to keep himself from falling asleep. I could make a really terrible joke about Eric Red at this point, but I won’t. Remember when C. Thomas Howell was a teen heart-throb? He was all over the magazines in the early ’80s. And then came Soul Man. The movie was remade recently with Sean Bean in the title role. I love Sean Bean, but he’s no Rutger Hauer. Hauer is absolutely menacing, he’s just about perfect casting; he’s creepy, he’s inappropriate – the only problem is that he (and Sean Bean) are just too good-looking to be serial killers, don’t you think? Nine minutes in, he threatens C. Thomas Howell, right? Wow. You believe him. C. Thomas is kind-of a beta male up against an alpha male. It’s funny when the road worker calls them, “sweethearts.”

Opening credits for Body Parts, 1991 (with Jeff Fahey) are a collage of drawings of musculature, arms, legs, and torsos, which reminds me of some of Bronwyn’s drawings. As an artist, she’s constantly drawing hands and arms and feet. Frank Mancuso, Jr. ran Paramount for a time; he supervised several of Paramount’s franchises including the Friday the 13th movies. Fahey plays a criminal psychologist and a teacher. Can we stop for a moment to show Jeff Fahey a little love? He’s one of my favorite actors, ever since, I think Psycho III; he’s always interesting.

Written by David Lawler and Andrew La Ganke.
“Love Theme from Extreme Cinema” composed and performed by Alex Saltz.
Introduction written by Bronwyn Knox.
Narrator, “The Voice”: Valerie Sachs.
Artwork by Bronwyn Knox.
Head Title Washer: Ben Lauter.

Running Time: 1:33:36

This is a mini-bit tacked on to the end of the previous episode about Eric Red.

Eric Red was found to be at fault in a car accident that caused two deaths after he drove his truck into a crowded bar in Los Angeles on May 31, 2000. After the accident, Red apparently exited his vehicle, and attempted suicide by slitting his own throat with a piece of broken glass. Red survived the incident and was taken to the hospital under an alias and released weeks later. No criminal charges were brought, but a jury in a civil suit found that he had acted intentionally. The suit, which awarded over a million dollars to the families of the two men killed in the accident, was appealed to state and federal courts, which confirmed the original jury finding.

Andrew and I discuss the incident, and the L.A. Weekly article.

LA Weekly story: Death Race 2000, by Paul Cullum 01-13-2006, LA Weekly

Addendum Running Time: 15:27

Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. We do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

 

Vintage Cable Box: “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert, 1979”

“What-choo takin’ my picture for? Who you gonna show it too? ‘I got a picture of Richard Pryor!’ ‘Who gives a fuck?’ Sit yo ass down! Motherfucker, sit down! You know you ain’t got no film in the camera. You just bullshittin’ just flashin’, ain’t nothin’ flashing. Sit yo ugly ass down!”

Richard Pryor: Live In Concert, 1979 (Richard Pryor), Special Event Entertainment

Comedians (Jon Stewart among them) have long made reference to a “holy trinity” of stand-up comedy, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, who had paved the way for modern comedians to practice their particular skill. The stand-up comedian tells a story, transforms the story into a joke, and waits for his or her audience to respond, often with laughter. Lenny Bruce is a bit before my time, so I understand the variations of Bruce and the evolution of his humor with Carlin. Carlin’s emphasis in his performance was in the machinations and manipulations of our common language. Bruce, from what I’ve seen and heard, placed his emphasis in shocking the audience; much like the way modern comedians shock their audiences. Richard Pryor’s considerable talents are invested in heartbreak, isolation, and anguish.

To say I was shocked, or floored into submission to Pryor’s incredible brand of levity upon first seeing Richard Pryor: Live In Concert would be a dramatic understatement. I had never, ever seen anything like this before, and most likely, will never see it again; even as more and more comedians attempt to shock and inspire us. Louis C.K. came close, but, compared to Pryor, he is a pale imitation, and a pretender (as talented as he is) to that specific throne. When I say I was floored, I mean (upon first viewing) I was on the floor, laughing so hard it hurt. This is the funniest (hence the greatest) stand-up comedy film I have ever seen. The film is a moody, unpretentious, raucous journey through the life and personal turmoil of a man with failings; either in his personal life, or his difficulties as a husband, and a father, or professional foibles as an entertainer. Yet, he can make you think, and make you feel good about yourself.

The Terrace Theater in conservative, predominantly white Long Beach, California sets the stage for the invasion of Pryor. He even makes fun of his predicament; to see a swarm of his black fans among his white fans shows that comedy can bring us all together. To see whites laughing alongside blacks (with no virtue signalling or judgments being made from either party) makes me feel good. It gives me hope. Language being more elastic in 1978 as opposed to these heady times, he makes repeated and unrepentant use of the “n” word, and despite what Ice Cube thinks about the subject, no one person or group can own a word, and to take that word away is to take away our understanding and appreciation of the word, as delivered with the master craftsmanship of Richard Pryor. Pryor would recant somewhat in later years for his liberal use of the word, but he railed against censorship, even when it was self-imposed. These words belong to all of us. It’s just that some people are better at using them. Pryor’s humor was rooted in his danger, his capacity for self-deprecation, and his emotional and chemical dependencies.

Pryor tell stories about his family; growing up the child of an extended poor family in Peoria, the tutilege and discipline (“Go get me something to beat yo ass with!”) of his grandmother, the bizarre wisdom of his father, and his various brushes with death. He speaks of an experience where he had suffered a heart attack, and thought he had died. In the hospital room, he opens his eyes and sees a bunch of concerned white faces looking down at him and he thinks, “Ain’t this a bitch. I done died and wound up in the wrong motherfuckin’ heaven.” In this new age of heckling and overly-sensitive, unoriginal comedians, Pryor works with ease, talks to the crowd; even when interrupted by his adoring fans, he engages them and you feel that there is no wall between him and the people in the seats. He completely owns the Terrace Theater. Comedy seems to be such an incredibly subjective art (horror movies are the same – they live or die based on our direct, subjective impressions of either what’s funny or what is terrifying to us) that everybody’s top ten lists on the subject will be different person to person, but Richard Pryor: Live in Concert is always on everyone’s list.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.

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.