Monkees vs Macheen: “Fairy Tale”

“Once Upon a Time, In the Land of Kirshner”

“Fairy Tale” was directed by James Frawley, written by Peter Meyerson, and aired on January 8, 1968. This is a memorable episode, and when you think of the series, this one’s bound to come to mind. It’s funny and unexpected. They break with the regular episode format and the usual premise of them as an out-of work band to show them acting out a comic stage play. I’m all for shows that can experiment and then return to their usual format. The episode takes place on sets with colorful backgrounds, such as ones used in some of the musical performances for “Valleri,” “Words,” and “Papa Gene’s Blues.” The sets are all cardboard and look like they were made for a school play. Instead of the usual poking fun at old movies, this story is a parody of the fairy tale genre, reminiscent of The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends “Fractured Fairy Tale” segments. Most kids watching the show had probably read books of fairy tales many times.

The Town Cryer, played by Regis Cordic, who was also the Doctor in “The Monkees Christmas Show” as the Town Cryer, blows a horn and sets up the story for us, “Once upon a time in Avon-on-Calling…” Avon-on-Calling is a joke referring to the “Avon calling” door-to-door cosmetics sales company and commercials. I remember Avon – both my grandmothers were into it. The Town Cryer introduces Mike the cobbler, Davy the tailor, Micky the innkeeper, and Peter the unemployed. The Cryer continues to narrate that Peter is out of work because he can’t stop dreaming about the princess. The other three advise him to give it up.

Peter plays the underdog role in this one, and he’s the perfect choice, having done it so well in “One Man Shy.” He’s the poor young hopeful hero like the youngest son from “Puss in Boots” who ends up marrying a princess. Speaking of princesses, she’s in a carriage that just so happens to be stuck in the mud in Peter’s little town. Princess Gwen is played by Mike, with a long blonde wig (sideburns fully visible), false eyelashes, and an extremely unpleasant attitude. Mike’s Gwen performance contradicts the expected beautiful, sweet, and virtuous princess. Gee, I wonder if these two kids can work it out.

After the opening titles, Mike as-the-cobbler starts carrying on about what a great-looking chick Mike-as-Gwen is, (“those sideburns, that body”). This gag of Mike lusting after himself happens several times and is weird and funny. The Princess Gwen version of Mike shouts for her knight, Harold, to get her out of the mud. To my amusement, there’s a sign with an arrow helpfully pointing out where the “mud” is supposed to be on the set (as seen on the “title” graphic in this post).

Harold promises his “fair jewel of the east” that he’ll have her out of the mud in a moment. Mike bats false eyelashes at Harold. Just reading the previous sentence makes me laugh. Mike as a “pretty girl” is the funniest way the show could have gone. Micky does crazy things all the time, so if he’d played Gwen it wouldn’t be as unexpected. Davy as “pretty” is a little too obvious. Mike is the perfect choice for maximum comic effect.

Peter offers to carry Gwen out of the mud, but she says she’ll walk across his back instead. That’s a shame: I would’ve loved to have seen Peter Tork carry Michael Nesmith. Gwen warns Harold that if he doesn’t get the carriage out of the mud in 10 minutes, she won’t marry him. She walks across Peter’s back to get back into the carriage, and then Harold steps on Peter to talk to her. Micky pulls Peter out of the “mud,” and Peter kicks the sign in frustration.

Harold and his fellow knight, Richard, go to the Inn and demand food, launching a montage of them eating like savages with twinkly “la la” music playing. Mike and Davy help Micky wait on the unruly knights, giving them a plastic and rubber food feast (but real bread). It gets ridiculous as they start piling furniture on the tables for the knights to eat, and then the gag escalates as they bring lights, stands, and film equipment to the banquet.

Peter hears Harold telling Richard his plan: Richard will lock Gwen in the tower, torture her, kill her, and then Richard will stab himself. What’s in this for Richard? Before Peter can warn Gwen, the knights return to the carriage. Peter supplies his back for them to walk across again. Gwen rewards Peter by giving him her locket (Mike gets it caught in his wig but yanks it out and keeps going in character). They order the horsemen, Ric Klein and David Price, “let’s away!”

Peter tells Micky, Mike, and Davy (innkeeper, cobbler, and tailor) about Harold’s plan to lock Gwen up in a tower with “an impenetrable dragon.” He uses the p-popping trick that he used on the “Peter Percival Patterson’s Pet Pig Porky” track on Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. Micky suggests the locket might be of use. Peter disagrees and bites it to demonstrate its cheapness. There’s a puff of smoke and the Fairy of the Locket appears, complete with a Bronx accent and hair half in curlers. They tell her the princess is in trouble. The Fairy identifies her as, “The selfish, conceited, overbearing one, oh, with the Texas accent?” This is classic fairy tale stuff gone goofy: the dragon, the magic locket, the fairy, and the rescue.

The Fairy starts giving orders. She tells Mike to make shoes that will “scale high walls.” Davy is to “sew me a suit of mail that nothing can penetrate.” Micky is supposed to turn a kitchen knife into a sword that can cut through iron. When this is done, Peter will take these things and save the princess. The Fairy tells Peter not to drop, crush or lose the locket. Not because it would lose its magic as Micky assumes but because, “I’ll be killed, stupid; it’s my home.”

Much miming and physical acting to “la-la-la” music as Mike, Micky, and Davy make enchanted objects for Peter. The score to this episode, with all the “La las,” “Uh-huhs,” and “magic lockets”, is funny all by itself and enhances the goofy tone. Peter ends up with chain-mail armor, a prop sword, and (to my amusement) wingtips. Mike, Micky, and Davy push Peter into the forest. Comically contradicting the hero archetype, he is not brave and wants to get out of it, “I don’t even like her anymore.” He suggests, “What about the army, 10,000 strong?” Nice Lord of the Rings reference, Peter. Once he’s on his own, the first person he meets is Davy as Little Red Riding Hood, Micky as Hansel and Davy as Gretel, and then Micky as Goldilocks. These are funny little bits, clashing with the expected image of well-known childhood fairy tale characters.

Peter gets to the castle and approaches the Dragon, who appears to me to be more the Asian New Year’s style than the medieval fantasy I would have expected. Peter is prepared to fight him with his magic sword, but the dragon doesn’t want to play that game. He asks Peter a riddle instead. Director James Frawley supplies the voice of the dragon, “What has two ears, two eyes, and a very short life.” Peter doesn’t know but that’s good enough for the Dragon, who lowers the drawbridge and allows Peter entrance to the castle.

Unfortunately, it’s a trap; Richard is waiting for him. Richard tries hitting him with a mace and club but the score tells us the “magic locket” is protecting Peter. Richard tries beating at him with his sword and shield but nothing hurts Peter. He has this beaming, adorable smile on his face the entire time as Richard is trying to kill him, as only Peter Tork could do. Richard runs off and Peter looks up at a stock footage shot of the Empire State building, identifying it as where the princess must be languishing. (“Languish, languish.”)

Peter does the Batman-style crawl up the wall with his anachronistic wingtips. He gets to the tower and asks Gwen to escape with him through the window, but she’s afraid of heights. Peter says she has nothing to fear because of his magic locket. Gwen realizes she gave him a valuable magic locket and demands it back. Harold and Richard enter the scene, and Harold orders Richard to “Get them.” Richard, showing more logic than his boss, asks, “Why should we do that? They’re already in prison.”

Because he no longer has the luck from the locket, Peter’s sword gets stuck when he tries to defend himself. He asks Gwen to return it, but snarks, “You’re going to fight them with a magic locket? You might as well do a dance to Spring.” The knights pull knives on Peter. Harold promises Gwen a torturous death, so she dumps him. With that, Peter and Gwen are now cellmates.

Back at the inn, the Monkees drink milk, as they did in “Hitting the High Seas.” The Town Cryer announces, while crying, that Peter will be executed. (Mike is mouthing the Cryer’s lines for some reason.) Mike, Micky, and Davy head off through the woods to rescue Peter. After searching for him for three days, they decide to split up. Micky runs into Little Red Riding Hood (Davy), and Davy runs into Goldilocks (Micky).

Nothing quite like a smutty joke in the middle of a fairy tale, eh kids? Micky, Mike, and Davy reach the castle and freak when they see the dragon. The dragon asks the riddle: “What has six eyes, six ears, and a short life?” Sharp-witted Micky quickly figures it out, “Three dumb peasants.” The dragon lowers the drawbridge and the Monkees jump to show the impact, and their jumps are deliberately out of sync with each other.

Gwen is shrieking in the tower as the knights are about to kill her. Mike, Micky, and Davy get up there and the knights and the peasants fight, mixed with footage of knights climbing a castle wall and fighting from some old film that I can’t identify, unfortunately. Gwen is flattered, “Defending my honor, isn’t that groovy? A bunch of long-haired weirdos and some vicious people.” Harold says he’s basically non-violent and Peter agrees, so they arm wrestle instead of sword fight.

Gwen finally tosses the locket back to Peter. Once he has it, Harold and Richard instantly give up the fight. Micky and Mike sing, “Robin men, Robin men, riding through the woods,” their own variation on the theme song to The Adventures of Robin Hood TV series. Gwen offers Peter anything he wants for a reward. Mike, Micky, and Davy prompt Peter to ask her to marry him, especially Mike who goes on about how hot she is again. Peter asks Gwen, but Mike breaks character, takes the wig off, and turns him down, “Yeah, I’m already married, man, Phyllis and Christian and my little kids.”

Mike-the-cobbler ends with, “Well, that wraps up another laugh riot” and reminds us to “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken.” They sing the Monkees theme a capella as they walk off and wave to the camera. The episode proper is followed by a brief interview segment. Bob Rafelson and the other Monkees tease Mike about playing Princess Gwen. He only comments, “I fail to recognize that I really did that you know.”

After this is the performance clip for the song “Daily Nightly” from the album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. The song was written by Michael Nesmith and the lyrics refer to the Sunset Strip curfew riots from 1966. This same riot was also mentioned in the interview segment for the episode “Find the Monkees.” The lyrics are beautiful and poetic, “Darkened rolling figures move through prisms of no color/Hand in hand, they walk the night/But never know each other.” The song also uses the Moog instrument, as did “Star Collector.” For “Daily Nightly” Micky played the unusual instrument himself. In the book the Monkees Day by Day (Andrew Sandoval, 2005), Peter mentioned that he thought Micky did a better job playing the Moog on “Daily Nightly” then session musician Paul Beaver did on “Star Collector.” According to Tork, instead of trying to play it like a “monophonic musical keyboard,” “Micky just made the Moog stand up and speak in a way that Paul Beaver didn’t have a clue.”

“Fairy Tale” really was a laugh riot, despite Nesmith’s sarcasm. Everyone’s big over-the-top acting suits the visual style with the flat sets and grade school theater costumes etc. There are so many good lines and funny sight gags. Nearly all the dialogue makes me laugh. The Monkees carry most of the comic weight themselves in “Fairy Tale,” playing multiple roles. The best part for me is that the two non-actor Monkees took the lead roles, and they really committed to it. The guest cast did their part to be hilarious as well; the dastardly Harold, and post-modern fairy. “Fairy Tale” was an experiment that worked. It could’ve gone either way when they risked breaking the format, but it paid off in big laughs and a fun premise that kids can relate to, since they most likely know all those common fairy tales. It was fun to see those stories taken apart and played with, Monkees-style.

The episode was obviously, for whatever reason, low budget. It seems to me that the crew and performers used their creativity to make that work for them and came up with hilarious episode.

by Bronwyn Knox

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

 

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Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monkee Mayor”

“Nevermind the furthermore, the plea is self-defense”

“Monkee Mayor” aired October 2, 1967, and though that was a mighty long time ago, the story doesn’t feel dated to me. The ideas are still relevant today. It’s also one of those stories where the Monkees are working to help the underdog, instead of working for their own purposes. “Monkee Mayor” was directed by Alex Singer and written by Jack Winter, the same combo that did the previous episode in air-date order, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik.”

At the Monkees pad, Peter and Davy prep Mike to cut a ham, putting multiple rubber gloves on him (Like they did in “The Case of the Missing Monkee” when they impersonated doctors.) The neighbors, Mrs. Filchok, Mr. Swezy, and Mrs. Homer come in and take back the chairs, dishes, and table the Monkees had apparently borrowed. Why? Because the older folks are all being evicted. Their homes will be torn down to put up parking lots (“You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone” – Editor]. Mike takes a look at the notice they’ve received and explains it’s impossible because it violates “every zoning regulation.” Just as he assures them, the sounds and the dust of the destruction begin.

Mike goes to city hall and asks the Secretary to tell the mayor that, “Michael Nesmith, private citizen, is here to see him.” He explains that innocent people are being thrown out because of the parking lot the city is building. She condescendingly asks if he’s making a complaint, then shows him through to the “Complaints” door that leads him back out onto the street. Mike walks right back in, determined to see Mayor Motley. She shows him through another door which leads him to a brick wall. Adding injury to insult, Mike gets hit in the head with a random mallet.

Mike comes back and now he’s angry. His yelling draws out Mayor Motley, played by Irwin Charone who was also the Producer in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Mike introduces himself and stammers through his complaint. Motley keeps messing up his name, calling him “Niswash” like Bernie Class did in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Motley distracts Mike with the following subversive speech: “Our country was founded in 1612 from across the shores,…from across the shores the pilgrims landed and found Indians, luckily they moved those Indians. Why, throwing people out of their homes is the American way!” He shakes Mike’s hand, thanks him for his opinion. Mike leaves, stammering and not realizing he’s been brushed off until he’s outside again.

Motley goes into his office to discuss the diabolical plan with a Mr. Zechenbush (Monte Landis). Zechenbush, who has a vaguely southern accent, wants to “ring” the entire city with parking lots so no one can go in our out without having to pay them. The mayor points out they would have to tear down museums, schools, hospitals, etc. Never mind that nobody would bother come to the town to park if they get rid of everything people would potentially visit. [I’m reminded of Flint, Michigan in the late ’80s. – Editor] It doesn’t have to make sense, because it’s evil! They don’t explain exactly who Zechenbush is (plot description on Wikipedia says he’s a ‘crooked construction tycoon’) but he owns Motley in some way; he probably gave Motley a lot of money to get him elected we can assume. He’s a crooked lobbyist. Motley’s eagerly agrees with whatever Zechenbush says. I’m also curious about what town Motley is mayor of? They’ve established the Monkees live in Malibu. The story for this episode has such a small town vibe, that’s hard to imagine.

Mike goes home and finds the neighbors have moved in. He still wants to help them, he has motives for the greater good, “we don’t want a dictatorial government running the city” and “the rights of an individual citizen have got to be respected” and also pragmatic motives, “we’ve got to get all these people out of our house.” Micky comes to the conclusion that Mike should run for mayor. He’s the only one with “a hat to throw into the ring.” At that moment, he’s not wearing it. Repeating the gag from “Monkees on the Line,” Mike asks “where’s my hat” and someone throws it to him from off screen. Then Micky tosses it “in the ring.” Micky calls Motley to warn him that Mike is running for mayor and they’ll see him in the polls on Thursday.

The Monkees work on Mike’s political image. First Mike impersonates George Washington. (Peter did this first in “Monkees a la Mode.”) Davy vetoes this (“too honest”). Mike protests, “How can you be too honest?” Next, he’s “bearded weirdo” Abe Lincoln. Davy declares he “doesn’t have the looks.” Actually, Mike makes a terrific looking Lincoln. The third option is Lyndon B. Johnson, who was the president when this episode was aired. Mike as LBJ promises, “And so until this crisis is over, I will hunker down like a jackass in a hailstorm, dot dot dot.” Davy protests, “no politician would ever say a thing like that.” And yet…

Deciding Mike’s everyday look is perfection, they launch the campaign with Micky as campaign manager, Davy as aide-de-camp, and Peter as his campy aid. I always thought aide-de-camp was a military term. It’s Peter’s title that really amuses me though; this show is campy enough, no “aid” required. Peter treats Mike as though he were a ship being christened and tries to brain him with a champagne bottle. Fortunately Micky and Davy intervene.

They launch the campaign, counting down into the romp for “No Time” (Hank Cicalo). I dig this song, sort of a gospel sounding number. The tempo suits the violence of the romp perfectly. This song was written by the Monkees themselves, but credited to Cicalo as a “tip” for him because he was their recording engineer for The Monkees, More of The Monkees, Live 1967, and Headquarters. He also engineered some tracks for Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones as well as Michael Nesmith’s The Wichita Train Whistle Sings.

The romp itself is one of the best; funny, subversive and moves the story beautifully. The basic narrative is the Monkees promoting Mike’s campaign, and it all goes go horribly wrong. Mike judges a beauty contest; after he picks a winner, the losers beat the crap out of him. Micky helps an old lady cross the street and she beats him with her umbrella. Davy stops to kiss a baby and the Mom assaults him with kisses. This is juxtaposed with the Secretary smacking back Zechenbush for kissing her. Mike meets and greets the public, one of whom steals his watch. (Stand-in David Price is among the crowd.) Mike stops Peter from using a toy bazooka on Davy but then a bunch of well-dressed people pull guns on Mike. We see Zechenbush paying off all of these people to humiliate the Monkees. Delightfully cynical. Other visual highlights include Peter disappearing into a bottomless baby carriage and Micky hanging a “Mike Nesmith for Mayor” sign on his date’s behind.

After all that fruitless work, the Monkees come back to the pad to find that it’s been ransacked and the campaign posters vandalized. They consider who would have done this and Micky mentions that the cleaning lady comes on the second Thursday of every month with an “r” in it. (Yet in “The Chaperone,” she came Tuesdays.) Mike guesses the culprits were “goons from Mayor Motley’s office.” Speaking of Tuesdays, I found a fun interview with Michael Nesmith, promoting his new memoir, Infinite Tuesday. Check it out.

The Monkees go back to the mayor’s office to find out what he’s hiding. Conveniently, no one is around so they can sneak in and search the office file cabinets, closet etc. Very forward-thinking of them, in a criminal way. (This is five years before the Committee for the Re-Election of the President busted into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters.) Peter opens the closet and finds a skeleton dressed in a suit. (Nice visual pun!) Micky removes a key from the skeleton’s pocket to open the locked file cabinet, knowing it will work because “it’s a skeleton key.” In the cabinet, Davy finds the plans to turn everything into parking lots. Peter materializes an 1880’s Eastman View camera (similar, but not the same medium format camera from “The Picture Frame”) out of nowhere. He takes a picture of the others displaying the incriminating evidence. Before they can escape, Zechenbush and Motley come back. The Monkees hide in the closet, Micky taking the skeleton’s place inside the suit. There’s a funny gag when Micky, “the skeleton,” hands Zechenbush the key and Zechenbush thanks him. Zechenbush notices the camera. As the Monkees improbably sneak out in plain sight, Motley and Zechenbush obliviously discuss their paranoia that Monkees have seen the parking lot files.

At the pad, Peter develops his film. Turns out he took a picture of the file cabinet, not the plans. As in “Monkees on the Line,” the other three cover Peter’s eyes with his own hands in annoyance. Zechenbush, Motley, and the Secretary discuss finding dirt on Mike while they wait for him to make a play with the evidence they assume he has, but it’s no use. According to the Secretary, Mike’s had a “nothing life.” No arrests, no firings. Really? I’m pretty sure Mike has been fired (“Monkee vs. Machine”) and arrested but acquitted (“The Picture Frame”). I guess none of the insane things they’ve done have never made the papers, like: terrorizing an airport, riding a motorcycle through a Laundromat, or disrupting a televised boxing match.

The Monkees are ready to throw in the towel since they have no evidence against the mayor, and no campaign funds. Micky enters with a bag full of checks from people contributing hundreds and thousands of dollars to Mike’s campaign. (The “little people” are mentioned here, as they were in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.”) Micky says they can “blow this town wide open,” and the editors cut to stock footage of a building being demolished. Mike points out that’s exactly what they’re trying to prevent, so Micky re-states that they can blow the town “wide closed” and they reverse the film so the building re-assembles itself.. (The music here is an instrumental version of “Star Collector.”)

The Monkees spend cash. Micky goes to the newspaper and literally throws money at the publisher to put Mike on the front page and everywhere else. Peter wants a skywriter to write Mike’s name in the sky “with the sun dotting the “i”. But the pilot isn’t good enough, Peter wants Lindbergh! (Charles) then he decides, “On second thought, get me Rickenbacker! His penmanship is better.” Davy goes to the television station, directing the cameraman (played by Monkees stand-in David Price) when to give Mike close-ups for his TV appearance.

Back at the pad, Micky, Davy, and Peter give Mike a pep talk. Zechenbush walks in uninvited and Mike tells him he’s going on television to expose him and his “whole racket.” Zechenbush explains that the checks the Monkees spent were all from people that work for him, so Mike’s campaign is now also funded by Zechenbush. He’s figured out a way to own Mike and warns him to withdraw or he’ll “get him” and his friends. It seems they’re screwed.

The Monkees go to the TV station anyway. Davy, Micky, and Peter encourage Mike not to give up. Then, they sit and watch to see what Mike will do, and the neighbors watch Mike on TV from the pad. For the scene, they use that “Stand By” sign again, the one used for previous episodes “Too Many Girls” and “Captain Crocodile.”

Once he gets the signal, Mike begins to speak. He explains he began his campaign hoping to help people like his neighbors that didn’t have any power. He didn’t think it was right that no one would listen to them so he wanted to do something. Mike admits, “I got sucked up in the very forces I was trying to conquer” and his campaign was financed by an “improper source.” Though he was unaware and got tricked into doing this, he figures he’s “not smart enough to be mayor.” It’s very moving and aided by Michael Nesmith’s natural and non-actor-ly delivery. Trouble is, Mike is an honest and hardworking character, the kind you would want in public office. That same quality makes him unlikely to succeed at getting elected at the “dirty game” of politics. It’s a catch 22; someone who has the right characteristics to succeed at getting elected, may not be someone who should be trusted with leadership. It’s the ultimate cynicism of this story. 

Zechenbush and Motley entered the TV studio in the meantime. Motley is motivated by Mike’s words. He approaches and, in a callback to the earlier gag says his name correctly, and Mike corrects him, “Niswash.” I have to question Motley’s quick change of heart on this, but it is, after all, a 24 minute show. Just when you think Mike has accomplished nothing, Motely declares “one man’s honesty throws sand in the machinery.” Motley promises to mend his ways and make the town “a cleaner and more personal place to live.” Zechenbush slips out the back defeated.

Mike’s ill-fated campaign could be looked at as alternative to a protest. It’s interesting that the writers/producers didn’t go the protest route. Instead of Mike running for Mayor, they could have had the Monkees staging a protest of city hall. Protests were a big part of counterculture of the time. Creating chaos is a Monkees specialty, but instead of trying to change things from the outside, they try to make Mike an insider. But episodes like “Monkees à la Mode” have established the Monkees as outsiders. On the other hand, young people protesting may have been too controversial for a network sitcom. It also would have dated the episode and locked it into the 1960s. “Monkee Mayor,” as it stands, has a timeless appeal.

Next is a tag sequence as the neighbors thank the Monkees for saving their homes. The Monkees exposit that the mayor canceled his plans to put parking lots where their homes were, and Zechenbush is in jail. Micky wonders where the parking lot will be built, and a wrecking ball comes crashing through the ceiling, followed by a Rainbow Room performance of the song  “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Goffin/King).

According to the Monkees Tripod site, this episode was originally titled “Micky for Mayor.” I imagine the original script called for Micky to run for office. But the job suits Mike better. Micky Dolenz is a fine actor, but Micky is tricky. Michael Nesmith comes off sincere. He’s compelling actor; he delivers the speech at the end and you feel bad for him. I actually teared up a bit. I get the feeling from listening to various episode commentaries that maybe Mike didn’t like acting much, or at least his own acting. On the IMDB he only has 11 acting credits. I know the world doesn’t need another actor but in a way, it is a shame. “Monkee Mayor” shows what an effective job he could do.

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: “The Picture Frame”

“What’s My Motivation?”

“The Picture Frame” starts out with the “Hurray for Hollywood” sound-alike incidental music and the sign for the fictional Mammoth Studios, first used in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Some previous episodes where the Monkees tried to break into show biz were “Captain Crocodile,” “Find the Monkees,” “Monkees at the Movies,” and “Monkees in Manhattan.” Mike, Micky, and Davy wander onto a soundstage and meet Harvey and J.L., who tell the Monkees that they want them to play bank bandits in their picture. Harvey and J.L. are wearing berets, and it amuses me that berets are what crooks think will let them pass for legit Hollywood producers. The film flips over and the three Monkees appear in gangster-wear with guns, cigars, suits and hats, etc. (It’s probably a sign of illness on my part, but I find them sexy here.) Other episodes where the boys pose as gangsters include: “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” “Monkees à la Cart,” “The Monkees on the Wheel,” and Micky in “Alias Micky Dolenz.” In all those cases however, the Monkees were trying to fool crooks into thinking they were of their kind.

J.L. asks the Monkees for a picture to see “how they photograph” and Davy whips out a baby picture. J.L. throws it away and asks for something more recent. Micky grabs a medium format camera to take a picture of the crooks with Mike and Davy, despite J.L.’s protests of “no pictures.” They get an instant picture which J.L. tosses in the same trashcan. J.L. tells them they’re all set up to shoot “the bank stick-up scene” at the 9th National Bank. He tosses scripts at them and explains they use the “hidden camera technique” so they won’t see the film crew. The Monkees, who have perpetuated dozens of cons aren’t suspicious of any of this.

“The Picture Frame,” directed by James Frawley, originally aired on September 18, 1967. The filming dates for the main episode were April 5-7, 1967, not long after they finished Headquarters. Jack Winter wrote “The Picture Frame” as well as “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” “Monkee Mayor,” “Hitting The High Seas,” and “The Monkees In Texas.” The first three on that list were among the group of leftover first season scripts. Musical numbers in this episode were part of the Rainbow Room performances, shot on August 2, 1967.

Back to the story, the Monkees awkwardly enter the busy bank, guns drawn. Some highlights of this scene include the squeaky voiced bank teller (Joy Harmon) who keeps asking Davy, “Do you have an account here, sir?” Micky’s brief Cagney impression, and Mike’s magic power to speed up time and open a safe by imitating a clock. The bank Vice President was played by Ronald Foster, who was also the Rolls Owner in “Success Story” and the Courtier in “Prince and the Paupers.” As they leave, the boys read the “scripted” lines, telling the bank customers and staff not to move or say anything. The “extras” put their arms down once the door shuts, but then Micky sticks his head in to say “cut, print that’s a wrap” and they all put their hands back up.

Mike, Micky, and Davy are back on the soundstage. Peter arrived, having gone initially to the wrong stage at the wrong time. J.L. congratulates them, gives them each $100 bucks, and tells them they’ll call tonight about tomorrow’s shoot. Mike offers to take the stuff back but J.L. tells him the “prop people” will handle that, as the Monkees are going to be “big stars.” As they leave, J.L. tells Harvey he’s going to make an anonymous call to the cops.

There’s stock footage of police cars with sirens blazing. Outside the Monkees house is Dort Clark as the Sergeant, previously in the “Monkees à la Cart” episode in a similar role. He’s a funny actor and I wish they’d used him as well for “Alias Micky Dolenz” (though Robert Strauss did a fine job as the Captain.) The Sergeant is with two uniformed policemen. Peter thinks they want his overdue library book, so he crawls to the door and puts the books outside. The Sergeant tells them to stop fooling around. Davy goes up to the lookout window and repeats the gag from “Monkees à la Mode” where he opens it even though he’s too short to see out. Somehow he reports what’s out there: cops, lights, etc. Mike decides it must be tomorrow’s shoot moved up to tonight.

The Sergeant sends one of the uniformed cops in, after some comic uncertainty on the their part. The cop goes into the Monkee pad, stammering and telling them to follow him. Micky says that’s no good and starts directing him how to hold the gun and to be more steely-eyed. Cute, unintentional meta-moment because the cop is played by Robert Michaels, who was also in “The Frodis Caper,” Dolenz’ directorial debut. The cop exits and re-enters, accidentally scaring the Monkees and himself by shooting up the place. The editors cut to stock footage of planes crashing, cars crashing, etc.

At the police station, the Sergeant shows the Monkees the film of themselves robbing the bank. They’re disappointed that it’s black and white, but I think it’s actually improbably good for security camera footage. Mike tries to decide what movie star he looks like: Barry Sullivan, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, while Micky and Davy also admire their own performances. Not getting that they’re in deep trouble, they agree it is them on film. Peter walks in with popcorn and the scene becomes a clever parody of a movie audience, with a lady in a hat, a couple making out, a guy sleeping in sunglasses. The Sergeant tells them he’s booking them for the robbery of the 9th National bank. The Monkees are confused. Davy explains, “We were shooting a movie. Some cat came up and said ‘do you want to shoot a movie?’ We said, ‘yeah, we’ll shoot a movie’ So we shot a movie.” Mike realizes the trap they’ve fallen into and has a nervous breakdown, with hilarious facial expressions.

Now we have the comic sequence of Taking Everything Literally. The Sarge tells the three busted Monkees to “start talking” and so they mutter lyrics to “Zilch,” the isolated vocal track from Headquarters. Sarge tells them to change their tune, so Mike blows a pitch pipe and talks in a higher pitch (okay, not technically changing their “tune.”) He threatens them with the 3rd degree so Micky passes out three diplomas. The cops bring over the bright light but the Monkees respond by pulling out dark glasses and sun-tan lotion. Sarge asks them if they’re ready to spill the beans, and of course the Monkees pour out cans of beans. The Sarge loses it and says to throw the book at them. The cop tosses a book. In the shot where Mike catches it, he’s not wearing his glasses but back in the closeup he’s wearing them again. I’m thinking this is not an accidental continuity error but a deliberate one so he could see to catch the book. In a callback gag, the book is Peter’s overdue library book.

The Monkees, minus Peter, are now pacing around a jail cell. Peter brings them a file, which turns out to be an emery board instead of the expected metal file. Peter unleashes this nonsensical gem, “I don’t think you’re guilty. I just don’t see how you could possibly be innocent.” He found a lawyer from the classifieds but the lawyer won’t attempt get them off, “With that kind of evidence? No chance.” He points to Davy, “him maybe with the cute face.” The not-so cute faces of Micky and Mike are told to plead guilty. The lawyer wants $40,000 to represent them, which they don’t have. The lawyer states the seemingly obvious, “Of course you do, you just robbed a bank, didn’t you?” The lawyer was portrayed by Art Lewis, who was the missing persons inspector in “Find the Monkees.”

Now, the court scenes. The judge asks the Monkees if they’re represented by council. They say yes, but clearly they don’t have a lawyer. She asks them to bring in the first prospective juror. The DA calls in Philip Jackson. It’s actually Mike playing a similar character to the janitor he played in “Captain Crocodile.” The DA objects on the grounds that “Mr. Jackson“ is one of the defendants. The judge scolds Mike for trying to pull a fast one. Mike starts flirting and pulls out some flowers for her. She melts (as do I) as Davy and Micky look on hopefully.

Meanwhile, Peter is back on the soundstage, snooping for evidence against the actual crooks. He has the Sherlock Holmes hat that Micky used in “Monkee See, Monkee Die” and a sleuth-cliché magnifying glass. Peter runs into Harvey who correctly guesses that Peter is snooping. If this were logical, Harvey could have gotten rid of Peter right there, but instead he watches him snoop. Peter finds a picture in the wastebasket and is happy/excited with this evidence. Harvey calls J.L. and tells him what Peter has found. J.L. assumes it’s the incriminating picture of them with the Monkees and orders Harvey to keep Peter there.

Back at the court, Micky adopts a British Barrister persona and questions the bank VP on whether he can be sure Mike was the one who held him up. The bank manager is sure, so Micky asks him a bunch of irrelevant trivia questions (What is the capital of Nova Scotia?) Micky wants to dismiss on the grounds that it is late and everybody’s hungry. The judge joyfully claps her hands for food and Mike and Davy are suddenly ballpark vendors with hot dogs and popcorn. The prosecutor freaks, “Your honor, this is outrageous!” as the judge obliviously enjoys her hot dog.

Mike argues that the dynamite that they supposedly threatened to blow open the safe with was actually harmless. There was no bit like that in the robbery scene, but just roll with it. He lights it, and it goes out as it burns down the wick. The prosecutor objects and grabs the dynamite. Of course it explodes, leaving him not blown to bits, but covered in soot and smoke, a la Daffy Duck. It is to laugh. The judge overrules his objection because this is all insanity anyway.

Peter tries to leave the studio but J.L. comes in with a gun and tells him to hand over the picture. This launches a romp to “Pleasant Valley Sunday” (Goffin/King) with Peter running all over the soundstage area we saw in “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” and in and out of the “Mammoth Studios” area. This is mixed with Rainbow Room footage of the Monkees performing the song. The gangsters catch Peter in the shower at one point and he pretends to be offended. If this was meant to make sense, they could have shot him a while ago. Outside the soundstage, Peter drives a Monkees logo golf-cart. He seems to have evaded them by climbing the chain-link fence but they simply open the gate.

Somehow he gets to the courthouse with the picture. The music is still playing as Peter runs all over the courtroom with the gangsters chasing him. The Monkees protect Peter while the police grab the gangsters. Romp over, J.L. yells at Harvey for not emptying the wastebasket (or you know, shredding the picture, destroying the negative etc.) Mike, Micky, and Davy crowd around Peter hoping he’s got the picture they need, but naturally it’s the baby picture. They hand it over to the judge anyway who gasps at the cuteness and decides they’re “obviously innocent.” That was certainly in keeping with the ridiculous logic of everything else in this story.

Next up is more Rainbow Room footage of “Randy Scouse Git” (Dolenz). This series of song performance film clips were shot in the summer of 1967, in the middle of the Monkees concert tour. Due to race riots taking place in both Milwaukee and Detroit at that time, a couple of the Monkees performances were cancelled so they ended up with some extra time in Chicago. The Monkees producers booked time in Fred Niles Studios (later Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Studios was there; sadly it is now torn down). In the Fred Niles Studies room with a robin’s egg blue and rainbow background, the Monkees filmed promo clips for “Daydream Believer,” “She Hangs Out,” “No Time,” “Randy Scouse Git,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “Love Is Only Sleeping,” “What Am I Doin’ Hangin’ ‘Round?,” and “Salesman.” If you look at the recording dates of these songs, some of them were not complete yet so the Monkees were lip-syncing to rough versions. More about this here.

I enjoy all the Rainbow Room performances, they have an iconic look and are the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Monkees performance clips. Last summer I was lucky enough to be invited to discuss the Rainbow Room with a panel of smart Monkees fans on Zilch! A Monkees Podcast. Check it out here.

The Monkees are in great form in this story, working together with crack comic timing to create mischief in the justice system. With the dynamite, the literal sight gags, and the absurd plot points, “The Picture Frame” would certainly get my vote for Most Cartoony. It’s a tightly put-together farce, with it’s own insane sense of logic that builds up to a wacky finish. The solution with the baby picture certainly isn’t any more ridiculous than the Monkees just tying up the bad guys at the end of the romp like they usually do. “The Picture Frame” has one laugh-out-loud scene after another and it’s certainly worth watching for entertainment value.

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! A Deadly Game of Cat and Mouse

Extreme Cinema episodes are released once-per-month. This is because when we record, we usually wind up spending two to three hours discussing these movies. We have to watch the movies first, that takes about two weeks. We’re busy guys and Andrew and his wife just had a baby. After we record, I listen to the episode twice to figure out edit-points, sound effects, and where to put the clips. After that I start cutting for dialogue. I run the episode again to place clips and sound effects. I put the clips in and find the right spot for the intermission. I go through the episode again to take out the “uhs” and “ers” and gaps in the audio for piss breaks and diaper changes, and then I add in the intro and outro music and voila! A brand new episode of Extreme Cinema! So it’s a three-week process for me from recording to editing; add in an extra week for Bronwyn’s art and there you have it. I pride the show on having Bronwyn’s episode-specific artwork.

Tonight, we’re talking about John Boorman, an excellent often underrated filmmaker with a phenomenal body of work, again an eclectic mix of different genres, everything from cop movies to science fiction and fantasy. We have two movies we’re looking at in-depth directed by Boorman and starring the great Lee Marvin. Lee Marvin was an early champion of Boorman. He used his star power to get Boorman hired.

In Point Blank, a desperate John Vernon has a plan to get some loot.  He gets buddy Lee Marvin in on the heist, and the idea is to tell the story in a modified flashback, or at least to get the back-story.  He remembers Vernon’s words in a great out-of-context kind of way, but five minutes in, it’s obvious Vernon double-crossed him.  He told Marvin they weren’t going to kill anybody, but when they see their marks, he fires his gun and kills everybody.  Vernon shoots Marvin and leaves him for dead.  Marvin wants his cut, and he also wants a little revenge!

I watched Payback again to compare it with Point Blank; I wasn’t aware that Point Blank was an early adaptation of Richard Stark’s book, The Hunter, or that Payback was also an adaptation of the same source material. Bronwyn and I saw Payback back when it came out. It was unusual for us, in that it was a movie we were both very interested in seeing, even though it’s kind of a down and dirty action exploitation movie with the familiar beats of a revenge fantasy. This was Mel Gibson at his best, before he got all loopy. His Icon Productions made the movie, written and directed by Brian Helgeland (who won an Oscar for his L.A. Confidential script). It follows the same story as Point Blank, but executed differently – a kind of a straight line narrative, we start with a flashback and then go to the beginning.

We move on to Hell in the Pacific – great title and again directed by John Boorman, shot in beautiful Panavision, photographed by Connie Hall, who photographed Marathon Man among other classics.  We have the quiet, contemplative Toshiro Mifune meditating on an island, I surmise Guadalcanal with the breaking of water on the shore.  He searches with binoculars – perhaps he’s looking for a rescue boat, who knows?  We don’t know yet.  We’re not supposed to know.  We see Lee Marvin under a lean-to, some kind of a shelter, talking to himself.  Toshiro stalks the jungle.  I don’t know if Toshiro knows Marvin is near.

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: 1:33:15

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: Where the Buffalo Roam, 1980

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“This is a party, not a safari!”

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Where the Buffalo Roam, 1980 (Bill Murray), MCA/Universal

“He was … known for his lifelong use of alcohol and illegal drugs, his love of firearms, and his iconoclastic contempt for authoritarianism. He remarked: ‘I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.'”

I figured in this review of the notorious 1980 folly, the unprescribed medley of moments in the life of celebrated writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Where the Buffalo Roam, I would adopt the persona of celebrated writer, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. As long as the persona does not irritate, dear reader. Fishing cap? Check! Extra-long cigarette holder? Check! Hawaiian t-shirt? Check!  In a phrase, he was celebrated for being celebrated.

His memories exist as a wild anecdote, only partially rendered impotent by the gross complications of a film director who has lost his personal sense of humor, and instead relented and choked from insatiable gasps of Bill Murray’s star power. He lives in a swanky cabin in Colorado. His fax machine belches, demands tasty portions of words, with which he is not ready to part. Instead he shoots the infernal machine, and sicks his Doberman on the tasty testicles of his Nixon effigy. He looks at a picture of his beloved hippy attorney, Carl Lazlo (Peter Boyle) and remembers those times, some ten years back in San Francisco. Lazlo is an idealist. He defends the weak. Helps the helpless! He’s God’s own prototype! To weird to live. To rare to die. I know. I stole those words directly from the real Thompson, but I can’t help it. The man was such a brilliant fuck-face, it’s hard to imagine anyone (even Master Johnny Depp) portraying him in any meaningful way.

Lazlo spends a lot of his time defending young idiots on marijuana possession counts.  I understand his reasoning.  These are victimless crimes, but in trendy San Francisco, end-of-the-decade, with colleagues seducing him to the dark side; rich clients and cushy digs, Lazlo doesn’t care.  In these all-important character scenes, we become convinced we’re watching the story of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer (which is probably interesting enough to work on it’s own) instead of a story about the celebrated icon.  Lazlo is demoralized watching his clients sentenced to hard time in prison for what would amount to (in my view) petty misdemeanors, but such are the breaks in the world of the old and powerful.  He flips out when a particularly young client gets five years in jail for possession of one joint.  He’s held in contempt, while Thompson sits on a deadline and makes his editor (Bruno Kirby) pray for Lazlo’s swift release (and also for all the people of the world).

We move forward a few years as Thompson is covering the Super Bowl.  I don’t think he has any interest in covering sports, but he runs up a huge expense account at the hotel where he is staying (including Crab Louie and sixteen grapefruit).  He trashes the hotel room, dresses the staff in football equipment. and causes a ton of havoc on his floor.  The next morning, Lazlo (wearing a Nixon mask) catches up with him.  He stopped being an attorney full-time, and now cavorts with the younger set.  Thomspon ditches his assignment to become Lazlo’s traveling companion.  I wonder if, in these later scenes, Lazlo isn’t simply a figment of Thompson’s potent and overactive imagination.  Lazlo tells him he’s been “reborn”, running guns for paramilitary types out of Mexico.  Whatever floats your boat, Lazlo.  He wants Thompson to write a story about the “struggle.”  The movie is a push-pull of idealism and gluttony that never kicks into gear, mostly because I think those so-called revolutionaries of the time could never get their shit together in a worthwhile way.

The movie is a mess, editorially, with no flow except for episodic moments in which Murray crosses paths with Boyle’s Lazlo.  For his part, Boyle is extraordinary, but he acts in a vacuum.  Murray’s Thompson is a baroque caricature.  While obviously devoted to playing this part (with some guidance from the real Thompson), he comes over as an inebriated middle-child with autism, hiding a feverish addiction to alcohol and other various substances.  Despite good production locales and photography, Where the Buffalo Roam does no favors for the time period, and the social and the political unrest it attempts to show us.  I often wonder if this is the beginning or the end of self-destructive behavior, as Thompson’s exploits become bigger and more dangerous with each scene change.

Later releases of the movie remove key bits of music, due to rights issues, and replace them with “sound-alike” tracks, which make the whole thing even more unbearable to watch.  In retrospect, I had the same issues watching Terry Gilliam’s similar Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, however that movie improves on subsequent viewings, but Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s legacy has been tarnished by his God-given desire to numb himself in any way he could.  In a way, Thompson was his own prototype.  Too rare to live, but always ready to die.

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It still hasn’t gotten weird enough for me.

“No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”

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.