Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees Race Again”

“You Flew All the Way to Hollywood for This Part?”

Buckle up your seatbelts because it’s going to be a bumpy ride. “The Monkees Race Again” was the last full episode filmed, wrapping on December 20, 1967. After the previous two terrific episodes, “The Monkee’s Paw” and “The Devil and Peter Tork,” this one is a bummer because the Monkees appear to have zero enthusiasm. It seems as though they had a case of “senioritis” and weren’t interested in making these types of episodes any more.

Directed by James Frawley, “The Monkees Race Again” first aired on February 12, 1968. The writers were Dave Evans and Elias Davis & David Pollock. Davis and Pollock worked together on many television shows such as The Carol Burnett Show, Frasier, and M*A*S*H. This episode was their first writing credit. Dave Evans wrote nine Monkees episodes, including the excellent “Find the Monkees” and “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers.” The “a.k.a. Leave the Driving to Us” portion of the title is an allusion to the iconic Greyhound Bus slogan “Go Greyhound and Leave the Driving to Us!”

The Monkees are in their driveway fixing the Monkeemobile when Davy gets a phone call. The audio sounds like Charlie Brown’s teacher, but the caller is actually Davy’s grandfather’s friend, T.N. Crumpets, an auto racer who’s been “winning all the major races lately.” He needs the Monkees help. They try to start the car but instead the red phone starts up and drives back into the house. That cute sight gag was my favorite moment of the episode.

Peter, Davy, and Mike arrive at Crumpet’s garage and go bananas admiring his race car. Where the [cuckoo’s] Micky? The Butler startles them by… standing still and staring. They should be used to people staring by now. He introduces his boss, T.N. Crumpets, who is terribly British. There are Union Jack flags decorating the garage in case his nationality wasn’t clear. Crumpets tells the Monkees that some “absolute rotter” has been sabotaging his car.

Peter and Mike take a look at the engine and cause a small explosion. Micky, whom they’ve established as the group mechanic, wanders in. I guess he took the Greyhound bus or was out parking the Monkeemobile. Imdb trivia states that Micky Dolenz was a mechanic in real life in between acting jobs. I know little about car racing, but I assume this story is meant to mimic (very loosely) Formula One. Some legal races do take place on temporarily closed off public roads, making the finale of this episode not so unbelievable. The British dominated the Formula One Racing world from 1962-1973, connecting Davy’s line about Crumpets winning all the major races to reality.

The next scene takes place at the garage of Baron von Klutz, foreign-accented villain, who is having trouble with his own car, the Klutzmobile. He and his toady, Wolfgang, struggle to get the engine started. Both the Baron and Wolfgang are in World War I military dress and have a periscope installed in their garage, which they use to view black and white footage of a U-boat battle. They also use it to spy on Crumpets’ garage. They watch the Monkees do nonsensical things to “fix” Crumpets’ car: using a saw, hammering a nail into it, filing a piece of wood. Wolfgang wonders, “Who would be so stupid as to treat a machine this way?” The Monkees all look up and bow as though they heard him.

This periscope joke could have been weirder or more imaginative. They could have taken a hint from the episode “The Chaperone” where they had party guests looking at Alcatraz through a telescope. The execution of that gag was unexpected and funny. I realize that most of the jokes on The Monkees were corny or silly, but the difference is in how they are executed. Most episodes were very funny. With this and “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes” however, the humor falls flat due to the lack of joy and imagination. For that matter, the “Klutz” name isn’t that funny either because they never make use of the pun.

Baron von Klutz is a loose parody of Manfred von Richthofen, a.k.a. the “Red Baron.” He was a World War I airplane fighter pilot who destroyed 80 of the allied forces aircraft between 1916 and 1918 until he was shot down and killed himself. Baron von Klutz has the Iron Cross on his car, which was used on German WWI airplanes and was first a Prussian and then German military decoration. These World War allusions were a missed opportunity. They could have added a fantasy sequence where the Monkees become WWI pilots, or created some other historical parody, like Peanuts with Snoopy as the WWI Flying Ace. I’ve read in multiple sources that Frawley used to work with the Monkees in rehearsal of the episodes to re-work or add quick funny bits. I’m guessing no one felt up to it this time.

The Baron and Wolfgang march over to Crumpet’s garage counting, “Eins zwei drei vier.” The Baron approaches Crumpet to gloat over his car trouble. The Monkees cover that everything is fine; the engine was taken apart to “make it lighter.” Micky tells the Baron that the car is in perfect tune, and he proves it by smacking him on the helmet with a tuning fork. Baron laughs evilly and says he will see them at the race. I’m so glad someone is having a good time.

The Baron and Wolfgang repeat the same “I can’t move/ you’re standing on my foot” gag three times between this scene and the last and it’s not funny. David Hurst and Stubby Kaye are two great actors and I wish they’d gotten a better episode. After they go, the Monkees manage to get the engine working. Crumpets decides they should celebrate with tea. What a party animal!

The Baron and Wolfgang’s next plot is to capture Crumpets and Micky. Meanwhile, the Monkees have tea with Crumpets. (Heh.) For atmosphere, the Butler sprays the air with “London mist.” Stu Phillips has an adorable instrumental version of “London Bridge is Falling Down” scoring the scene. Baron and Wolfgang sneak up behind in plain sight and spray knockout gas. No one notices. Come on, the Monkees aren’t this dumb. Davy cracks that it smells like Liverpool (in a spot-on Beatles accent). After they pass out, the villains grab Micky and Crumpets and drag them out.

Micky and Crumpets are tied to chairs in the Klutz garage. Baron starts in with the villain cliché of revealing his plot. Micky guesses “You’re going to award me the Blue Max?.” This is a reference to the 1966 film The Blue Max, which was about a World War I German air force pilot striving to win the highest military order awarded by the kingdom of Prussia. It could also be Micky’s clever way of pointing out how anachronistic the Baron and Wolfgang are; like many Monkees villains, they seem to have stepped out of a time bubble. Speaking of history-related jokes , as the Baron discusses his plans to win the race and make the Klutzmobile famous, his speech comes to a Hitler-type shouting climax and there’s a “Seig heil!” chant from somewhere in the background. Between this and Wolfgang’s Hitler mustache, the required mocking of Nazis is present. Crumpets protests that Micky is not a mechanic and the Baron decides this is reason to gag him.

Knowing how The Monkees loved to spoof popular television shows of their day, this episode is also a parody of Hogan’s Heroes, with Baron as a stand-in for Colonel Klink and Wolfgang substituting for Sergeant Schultz. It’s not a great parody though. There’s no unique take on the topic. Compare this to the much funnier “Hillbilly Honeymoon” where they parodied “The Beverly Hillbillies” but made the episode guest characters dark parallel versions of the ones from the original show.

Mike, Peter, and Davy wake up and give a half-hearted “They’re gone!” when they realize Crumpets and Micky are missing. They rush over to the Klutz garage, where Peter finds Micky’s tuning fork on the ground. Wolfgang approaches to block their entry and fibs that it’s his tuning fork, an “a.” Wolfgang and the Monkees take turns hitting themselves in the head with the tuning fork, arguing over whether it’s Micky’s “b flat” or the Wolfgang’s “a.” Peter notices that Wolfgang has a good voice and asks if he’d like to join the group if they don’t find Micky. Cute line referring to the fact that Stubby Kaye was a star of musical comedies. He performed one of my favorite numbers in Guys and Dolls.

Wolfgang pulls a gun on them and tells them to go. Mike and Peter break the fourth wall to bust Wolfgang’s balls about having a gun on television. They must be joking, because the Monkees have had guns in their hands themselves many times. “The Monkees in Texas,” “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” “The Picture Frame,” not to mention the crazy amount of gunfire in “Monkees à la Carte” and “Hillbilly Honeymoon.” I know they were probably making a statement against violence, but it was vague and chaotic as it played out. The Baron approaches and he intimidates the Monkees into leaving.

Mike, Peter, and Davy finish fixing up Crumpet’s car. Mike remarks they have no one to drive it, but Davy points out that as a British subject, the Racing Commission may allow him to drive the car. Yes, but why is it so important that they have representation in the race? There’s nothing at stake here that anyone cares about. All the same, they go to see the Official, (played by Don Kennedy, the policeman from Monkees à la Cart) who agrees to let Davy race. He has only one concern, “I don’t think he’ll be able to see over the wheel.” Punch him in the knees, Davy!

They go back to the garage where Mike and Peter put Davy in the car with a phone book (remember those?) under his butt to boost him up. He says he’s “a little high” so they rip out a few pages. No, Davy you’re not a little high. That was in “The Monkee’s Paw.” Davy takes a joy ride and it seems he’s also familiar with Peanuts.

The Baron spots Davy through the periscope and realizes the British car isn’t out of it yet. Wolfgang un-gags Crumpets, allowing him to breathe. Crumpets proclaims, “You’ll never get away with this!” and gets gagged again. Micky meta-comments to him, “Boy, you sure got a lousy part.” You said it, Micky. In order to steal Crumpets’ car, the Baron makes an announcement on the loudspeaker, calling the Monkees to the reviewing stand. Despite his heavy accent, the Monkees buy this and go running. This is even sloppier than the knockout gas bit; Peter is naive enough to fall for this, but Mike is not. These are all gaffes I’d happily ignore if the episode was funnier. Team Klutz takes Crumpets’ car back to their garage. They take parts from it and put them in the Klutzmobile. Un-gagged Crumpets helpfully comments that they’re putting the part in backwards. I don’t know why he’s helping them, but he gets gagged again for his trouble.

Mike, Peter, and Davy go back to the Official’s office where they try to convince him they can race without a car. The Official refuses, because you’ve got to have some standards. Davy remembers that the Monkeemobile exists, and they run off. Out on the track, Davy gets ready to race the Monkeemobile and Mike discusses their plan: during the race he and Peter will go to the von Klutz garage and find Micky and Crumpets. (The voice announcing, “ladies and gentlemen, cars and drivers are now on the starting grid” sounds a lot like Mike.) Davy wonders about the other contestants. The Baron pulls up and declares there are no other contestants. So, these dummkopfs managed to fool, sabotage, or murder all the other racers teams. I do like that they switched the Baron’s helmet for goggles and an aviation cap.

A girl walks by with a racing flag for her skirt. To her dismay, the Marshall tears her flag-skirt off so he can signal the start of the race. As he gives the signal to start, his pants come down. With these two gags, I suspect some absolute rotter sabotaged my DVD and swapped it for an episode of The Benny Hill Show. Mike and Peter burst into the garage as Wolfgang was about to shoot the prisoners. Wolfgang has the gun, but he runs away from Peter and Mike instead of shooting them. Yeah, they are two intimidating guys.

The Klutzmobile and the Monkeemobile race on real roads, mixed with superimposed footage of the actors in the cars. The Baron forces Davy off the road and leaves him hanging off a cliff. He gets going again and the Baron sends tires rolling at him. Davy swerves to avoid them and they roll in front of the Baron, causing him to crash into a tree. Davy wins. The girl in the checkered skirt (now intact) gives him the trophy, a flower wreath, and a kiss. The IMDB says this is Valerie Kairys but there’s no clear shot of her. I’m sure the Imdb would never lie to me.

It’s nice that Davy won, but in other episodes where the Monkees participated in races, “Wild Monkees” and “Don’t Look a Gift Horse,” there was something on the line. In “Wild Monkees” they would have been torn to pieces by bikers if they didn’t join the motorcycle race. Not to mention risking their manly reputation in front of the girls. In “Don’t Look a Gift Horse,” Davy raced a horse to help the broken-hearted little kid who wanted to keep it. With “Monkees Race Again,” I suppose Davy’s defending Crumpets’ reputation and the British and American honor against their World War I and II former enemies, but neither of these was worth rooting for as they played out.

Since the race is over, the romp to “What am I Doing Hangin’ ’Round?” (Michael Martin Murphey/Owen Castleman) ) is completely pointless. The actors do some goose-stepping and “heil” arms. German characters were used often as the stock villains for mid-to-late twentieth century pop culture and this episode is only 23 years after the end of WW II. I think that the British pop culture has done the best job at making dark comedy out of Nazi’s, etc. The funniest thing I’ve seen using the post world war tensions as humor was the Fawlty Towers episode, “The Germans.” It’s worth checking out if you’ve somehow missed it.

I wouldn’t have nitpicked so many little details in this episode, if the Monkees had given more enthusiastic performances. When they’re into it, it’s so entertaining that I don’t really care if it makes sense. Unfortunately, the actors playing the Monkees were interested in other things at this point in the series. Micky and Peter directed episodes around this time (Micky co-wrote his), Mike recorded The Wichita Train Whistle Sings sessions just before this, Davy opened a boutique called Zilch, and they were all getting ready to shoot Head. These are just a few of the things I found in The Monkees Day by Day book by Andrew Sandoval. I’m sure there were other distractions. They didn’t seem to care about performing for the show by this time. I watch these episodes to see the Monkees’ friendship, to watch them solve problems together in funny ways, and to see their interactions. I got none of that in “The Monkees Race Again.” There was none of the usual warmth or interest in entertaining and connecting with the audience.

by Bronwyn Knox

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

 

 

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