Monkees vs Macheen: “The Monkees on the Wheel”

“Dolenz’s Four”

“The Monkees on the Wheel” debuted December 11, 1967 and was directed by Jerry Shepard. Shepard was mainly an editor on The Monkees, but he directed “The Monkees Get Out More Dirt.” Episode writer was Coslough Johnson, who wrote “Monkees on the Line” and many more. The episode starts off with a stock footage shot of the Las Vegas strip, and the narrator sets it up [“Submitted for your approval…” – Editor’s Note], “Las Vegas, pleasure capital of the world, where each man seeks the things he loves most.” He repeats the phrase “the things he loves most” a few times, and we see a foreground of a casino. In the background, lecherous Monkees literally chase girls. Mike rubs his hands together as he tries to catch one, and Davy zeros in on a girl’s derriere. It’s pretty darn funny to see, and it sets up a tone that’s bawdier than most episodes. I’m thinking they were going for a Rat Pack, Ocean’s Eleven (1960) vibe on this one, doll-face!

The narrator tells us that some are here to “pursue their greed” and we meet the villains of the week, two gangsters planning a caper. Crooks and gangsters, etc. were the most commonly used opponents of the Monkees. This mini-gang has fixed the roulette wheel to land on 16 red. The Boss (David Astor) gives Biggy (Pepper Davis) instructions on how to win all the money from the casino. He can’t do it himself because he’ll be recognized.

In the main casino, Micky tries to pick up a pretty blonde called Zelda by giving her money for the slot machine. Once again, Micky has poor taste in women: he goes on and on about their endless love while she just wants to win money. When he’s out of coins, she tells him to, “buzz off, Charlie!” and walks away. Micky loses his temper and pulls the handle on the slot machine, winning the jackpot. She runs back to kiss his hand and tell him he has “magic fingers,” interested in him again now that he’s won money. Micky tells the camera, “I thought she only loved me for my money.” This episode is especially cynical. Many of them are and I’ve applauded them for it. In this episode the Monkees are fully participating, instead of being victims of a cynical story line.

Zelda is played by Joy Harmon who we previously saw in “The Picture Frame” as the squeaky-voiced bank teller. If you’ve never seen the film Cool Hand Luke, Harmon has a memorable scene where she washes a car in front of the prisoners. Given the overall girl-ogling tone of this episode, it seems perfectly appropriate to mention it in this recap.

Mike chastises Micky for gambling, “you told me you wouldn’t gamble anymore” while Zelda and Micky pick up the coins. Mike reminds Micky that they need to go play a gig. It’s always nice when they manage to add a line that mentions that the characters are supposed to be musicians. Season two so far hasn’t shown them playing very often as part of the story. Micky absent-mindedly sets his winnings down for a moment on the roulette table, accidentally betting on 16 red.

Biggy missed his chance to place a bet somehow. He gasps when the Manager (I’d call him the dealer but IMDb says “Manager”), Rip Taylor, announces 16 red and Micky wins tons of money. Davy walks up to mention they’re supposed to be rehearsing. Biggy, who looks like a shorter Vic Tayback, tells Micky not to bet and crushes his hand. The three Monkees decide to leave, but Peter comes up and says you should never leave while you’re ahead. That seems like terrible advice but what do I know? I don’t gamble. Biggy tries to place his bet but Peter blocks him, putting Micky’s bet down again. When Micky wins again, the Manager freaks out because he broke the bank.

Back in their room, the gangsters talk about how to get the money back. The Boss tells Biggy to get Della the Decoy. Meanwhile, the Monkees carry Micky’s winnings back to their room on a stretcher. They consider what to spend it on; Mike says they should invest the money in something “worthwhile.” [Nesmith was quite the businessman. – Editor’s Note] There’s a quick montage of Micky, Mike, and Davy picturing hot girls while Peter imagines hugging a stuffed tiger. That was hilarious, and Peter was the only one who got close to his object of desire. Also, could be an allusion to the song, “Cuddly Toy” that’s used later in the episode and the notion of girls as “cuddly toys.”

There’s a knock at the door and Peter lets in Biggy, who’s got a vacuum and poses as the “maintenance man.” Since Davy and Biggy are about the same size, Davy doubts his claim, “Maintenance men don’t come that short.” Peter disagrees that Biggy’s short, “stand up and show him how tall you are.” Of course Biggy comes back with, “I am standing up.”

Next, Della the Decoy walks in the room, dressed in a sexy maid’s costume and the Monkees all go nuts for her. Peter: “Are you the maintenance man too?” Della: “Sure. Don’t you like the way I’m maintained.” The Monkees stumble over each other to try and pick her up. Behind them, Biggy’s making off with the money. Della’s not really a decoy, she’s more like Della the Distraction. Also, we’ve seen the Monkees interested in girls before but it’s usually romantic. We’ve never seen them this out-and-out horny. (Maybe Micky from time to time.) The Monkees make an over-the-top spectacle of being all over Della, instead of acting in character.

Back in the casino, the Manager chews the scenery, going on and on about his aggravation. In every scene that the Manager is in, Rip Taylor hams it up. In contrast, fantastic straight man Dort Clark enters the scene, playing yet another cop (we previously saw him playing cops in “Monkees a la Cart” and “The Picture Frame”). The Manager tells him his story.

The Monkees are still ad-libbing with Della until Davy halts the chaos to let her say her line, but she doesn’t have one. Biggy takes off with the money, and the Monkees realize they’ve been had. They start shouting for the police, who turn up immediately along with the Manager. (Mike sarcastically quips, “What took you so long.) The Policeman tricks Micky into signing a confession and arrests all four Monkees. The Monkees protest that they’re arresting the victim, not the criminal. As they’re led away, there are some unusual close-ups as the Monkees complain about police brutality, etc.

At the police station, the confession is shot with crooked Batman-type angles. The Monkees protest the illegality of this arrest and insist their money was stolen. The Policeman tells them to think of a better story than that, so Mike tells “Jack and the Beanstalk.” This scene (and the entire episode) is reminiscent of the confession scene from “The Picture Frame,” but not as funny. It becomes obvious the Monkees didn’t know the roulette wheel was rigged, so the Manager makes an offer: if they can get the money back in 24 hours he won’t press charges. Our boys are now thoroughly enmeshed in yet another criminal caper.

Back in their room, Mike suggests if they can’t find the crooks, they should get the crooks to find them. Peter suggests, “Why don’t we open a prison?” The other Monkees immediately jump on him for the “stupidity” of that suggestion. But not really; they’re clearly being ‘meta’ and reacting to the stale jokiness of the written dialog. As in the scene with Della, they’re way outside the actual episode and commenting on the story and the writing, not really acting in character to mock Peter. Mike “comes up” with an idea, which we hear as mumble, mumble, rhubarb, rhubarb.

The Monkees enter the casino dressed as gangsters in suits and sunglasses, except Peter who looks more like an accountant. Zelda recognizes Micky but he brushes her off. They step up to the Roulette wheel. Biggy approaches Peter; Micky recognizes him as the hand crusher (but doesn’t recognize him as the Maintenance Man.) Micky disguises his voice; I don’t know what he was going for, but he sounds like Wolfman Jack. He tells Biggy not to bother the Professor (referring to Peter.) Micky identifies himself as the Insidious Strangler and explains his gang is in town for, “Robbery, extortion, and murder.” Mike cuts in “sort of your regular tourist activities.” Except he clearly did NOT say that. It doesn’t match his lips at all and the above line was obviously dubbed in later in Micky’s voice. I can’t read his lips and would love to know what the heck he really said, and why it had to be dubbed over.

Micky identifies Mike as Vicious Killer and says he did two years of solitary confinement, standing on his head. The editors flip a shot of Mike upside down. “The Professor” tells Biggy they’re here to “take over this town and win all the money.” He starts to tell Biggy about his mathematical system, which is almost perfected. Biggy gives him the missing piece: 7+5 equals 12 (not 11). Peter gets excited, “My system is perfect!” Upside down shot of Mike repeating the line “isn’t that dumb.” All of the action above was intercut with shots of Rip Taylor, carrying on behind the roulette table. The Monkee gangsters go see the Boss in his room. Micky has a Three Stooges/James Cagney impression contest with the Boss. I think it’s a draw.

Peter explains his sure-fire gambling “equalization” system by handing Biggy and the Boss each glasses of liquor. Then, Peter does something uncharacteristically savvy: He gets the crooks falling down drunk while he bluffs his way through his “system.” The other three Monkees sit and let the Peter steal the show, cutting in once to ask the audience “Isn’t that dumb?” The crooks pass out and Micky, Mike, and Davy give Peter well-deserved applause. The Monkees look for the money and immediately ruin Peter’s clever plan by setting off an alarm. The Boss drunkenly wakes and decides, “It’s a deal: your system, my money.”

Back in the casino, the fake and real gangsters enter. David Pearl approaches Mike, smacks him in the nose, Three Stooges-style, and says “take this wizard Glick.” Mike tells him he’s not Wizard Glick and Pearl apologizes. He should have smacked Rip Taylor, who was Wizard Glick in the final episode “The Frodis Caper.”

The Policeman approaches Micky and explains he can’t take the stolen money without proof. The “Professor” tells the gangsters to bet 24 red. The Boss is in the casino, even though at the beginning he said he would be recognized (as a crook I suppose). Zelda approaches Micky again and keeps bothering him until he gives her money to play with. Unfortunately 24 red wins, even though the Monkees aim to lose so the Manager can recover his money. Peter bets absurd numbers that don’t exist (87 plaid) and continues to win. Zelda identifies Micky as “Magic Fingers,” outing him to the Boss. The Boss orders Biggy to “get them.”

Romp to “The Door into Summer” (Chip Douglas, Bill Martin), from Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. The cast runs around the roulette table. Della the Dish distracts everyone. Davy plays a spinning wheel game and kisses girls. Joy Harmon steals the scenes and looks to be having fun. She pulls all the slot arms, until she gets to Micky. She pumps his arm like he’s a slot machine; Micky grows taller and gives us a lascivious smile. Everyone keeps sneezing over yellow roses that are in the casino. Mike eats the rose petals in a callback gag to “The Picture Frame. The story finishes with the gangster collapsing on the roulette table.

Peter, Mike, and Davy demonstrate the tag sequence, which Mike explains as, “some complete laugh riot at the end of a show.” They demonstrate a “here we go again” tag. Peter and Davy discuss how’ll they’ll never get involved in gambling again and then realize Micky’s missing. Mike cuts in to explain; now they’ll cut over to Micky playing with “the gambling machine.” Micky wins a bunch of slots and he gives his all his money to Della in his hat. He smiles at the camera with his tongue hanging lustfully out as they walk off screen together. While Micky does his thing, there’s these quick-cuts back to Mike, Peter and Davy and Mike saying “and now you cut back to us.” Mike: “And we’re supposed to give a pained look to the camera. Isn’t that funny kids.” Sarcastic laughter. Seems like a fitting way to wrap up this particular episode.

But wait, there’s more! Next is an alternate performance film of “Cuddly Toy” (Harry Nilsson) For this version the Monkees are on stage in vaudeville-inspired striped jackets and straw hats. Davy dances by himself, no Anita Mann this time, while the others play instruments. This is followed by the outtakes from the “Monstrous Monkee Mash” episode, which aired after this episode on January 22, 1968. There are several repeat takes of Mike and Micky in their Werewolf/Mummy costumes trying to get through their dialog. (You can hear James Frawley directing, “Go again.”) Mike can’t say the punch line because he’s laughing so much. On the last one, he finally finishes his sentence and Micky looks confused at the camera.

To me, this episode had a different tone than the others. Some of the jokes were dirtier than usual for a kids show. As a five year old, I wouldn’t have understood it. As a teenager, I loved it for being naughty. It’s also unusual for the amount of fourth-wall breaking. As in “Hillbilly Honeymoon” and “Wild Monkees” they draw a lot of attention to the fact that it is indeed a television show. They reached a point where instead of parodying everything else in Hollywood, they made fun of themselves. The Monkees seem to be rebelling against the format of their very own show when they break down the tag sequence and mock their usual treatment of Peter, etc. They don’t leave the audience out of this; we’re in on the joke. I like this, but I also like it when they’re truly engaged in the story-lines. Fortunately, there were a few more of those episodes left before the series ended.

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: “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik”

“Strangeways, Here We Come”

“Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,”  was directed by Alex Singer, written by Jack Winter, and aired September 25, 1967. Filming dates were April 25-27, the same week the Monkees began working on their fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. The episode is unfortunately, a recycled plot of a recycled plot. As with “The Prince and the Paupers” the Monkees are helping a young royal who is duty-bound to get married, and as with both that and “Royal Flush,” the Monkees are up against ambitious, evil adults in a fictional kingdom. The title tells us this Kingdom is modeled on a fictional Middle Eastern culture. I assumed the title was meant to rhyme with the line “everywhere a sheep, sheep” from the nursery rhyme “Old Macdonald Had a Farm,” which would mean they are using the obsolete pronunciation of “sheik.”

The story starts out with the Nehoudian King informing his daughter, Colette, that “the stars” say she must marry. His companion, Vidaru, tells her “the stars never fail.” [“The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” – Editor] The King and Vidaru are both dressed as made-for-television sheiks, complete with the headdress known as the keffiyeh. Vidaru is all in black, telegraphing that he must be the bad guy. Colette rolls her eyes at Viradu and protests to her father. I like Donna Loren as Colette; with her expressive face and playful line delivery, she gives a little spark to an otherwise boring role as another Davy girlfriend. The King is played by Monte Landis (then credited as Monty Landis) and this marks the first of his seven appearances on The Monkees.

The King is afraid he’ll die and no one will inherit the throne and he suggests she marry Vidaru. Colette is visibly repulsed at Vidaru, who turns to reveal he only has a beard on half of his chin. The King points out Colette has already turned down all the most eligible bachelors. She counters by selecting Davy Jones from a picture in a magazine.

Two of the King’s servants, Abdul the Strongman and Shazar, are at the Monkees pad, weighing Davy against bars of gold while the other Monkees make jokes. Abdul puts Davy in a bag and carries him off while Micky, Mike, and Peter passively allow this. Shazar hands Mike an invitation to the wedding of Colette and David Jones. Micky doesn’t have sunglasses on when they read the card in the close-up but for some reason he’s wearing them on the reaction shot when they all look at the camera in shock.

After the credits, Davy has arrived at the Nehoudian hotel. Shazar tells Davy that Colette wants to marry him. Davy wants to know why, and his reaction shots here are the ones used in the opening theme sequence. Shazar gives Davy a non-answer, “Do not question the strange ways of our people.” Because it’s an “exotic culture”, get it? Shazar implies the danger of rejecting Colette; she puts a wreath on the grave of the last boy that did so.

The three non-betrothed Monkees arrive in the classic individually styled gray suits. I like the way they choreographed their entrance: They march in a line in step with each other, and then Mike and Davy lean out from behind Micky as they ask the guard if they can see Davy. Abdul stops them by simply pushing back on Micky’s chest, knocking them all back like dominoes.

Davy is decked out in his own Nehoudian wardrobe when he meets the King and Viradu. Davy and the King do an awkward bumping bow. While the King goes to get his daughter, Viradu puts a dirty smock on Davy, again giving him the “Do not question the strange ways of our people.” He leaves Davy alone. Colette arrives wearing an outfit that resembles a bedlah, which is a belly dance costume, not hanging-around-the-hotel clothing. But unlike the other women in this episode, she has a westernized touch to her costume:

Davy and Colette look at each other and are instantly smitten. Middle Eastern-style string music plays as they begin complimenting each other’s features, cut together with dreamy footage of them dancing and almost kissing. So cheesy it actually becomes campy fun. Davy halts everything to tell her he’s not ready for marriage. She insists that it’s him or Vidaru. Speak of the devil, Vidaru comes in and drags Davy away, “our ancient laws do not permit further contact at the first meeting.” Oh boy, with the strange ways and ancient laws. [That’s a micro-aggression! I need a safe space! – Editor]

Now, for some real comedy. Mike, Micky, and Peter are back in the corridor. Mike and Micky have formal military dress costumes with fancy hats and Peter is dressed as a scientist and carries a Geiger counter. Micky has an over-the-top German accent and keeps knocking Mike’s hat off when he salutes. Their “con” is that they’re looking for a bomb, and they convince Abdul there’s one in the room where Davy is staying.

They do the three stooges gag where they all try to get through the door at once and get stuck. Davy pulls them in and updates them. The King walks in and the Monkees introduce themselves with a Three Stooges “Hello” harmony. Monte Landis gestures to cut them off; he’s good at playing off the Monkees. Davy confesses to the King that the marriage is “a little sudden.” The King tempts Davy with a fabulous mansion and his weight in diamonds. (They’re really into weighing people against precious gems and metals.) Davy confers with the others and they are still opposed to the marriage. The King lures them with the idea that his friends could all become cabinet ministers and each would have his choice of a dozen wives. He claps his hands and summons a group of pretty young women in belly dance outfits. The Monkees eagerly check them out, and naughty Micky makes me laugh with his air-humping gesture. Davy considers all this and decides marriage is better than being killed.

The Monkees are now all in sheik headdress and hanging out with the Harem of Hotties. Davy makes Micky Secretary of Defense. Peter snaps his fingers in disappointment. (This footage is used in the opening.) Mike is to be Secretary of State. Davy wants to make Peter Director of Forests, to which Peter (uncharacteristically) sarcastically, “you would.” Meanwhile, Viradu and his toady Curad plan to kill all the Monkees, but separately so no one will connect the murders. Hmm…I think there’s a hole in his theory. Also, the Curad character seems to have come out of nowhere.

Mike works out the wording for a peace treaty while a girl flirts with him and fondles his hair and his ears. He looks at the camera in disbelief. He decides he needs a paperweight. From above, Curad obliges him by dropping cement block on him. It misses and puts a hole through the apparently very thin table. Mike asks the audience, “What is this number with the concrete block?”

Peter is relaxing with his girl when Shazar brings them some food. Shazar insists he must taste the food first, to make sure it’s not poisoned. He takes a bite and collapses. Peter politely asks, “How is it?” Shazar gasps his last: “It’s poisoned! And a little rare.” Bye-bye Shazar, at least you got to go out on a funny line.

Micky discusses his military plans with his blonde date, going mad with power and a Napoleon impression. Between this and the earlier bomb scare, they are taking an subversive crack at the military and military leaders. They also do so in a way that’s not dated; the military is always a classic target for parody. These jokes aren’t specific to what was going on at the time, the cold war and Vietnam War and so on. Curad is terrible at murder; he throws a knife at Micky and misses.

Colette and Davy nearly kiss some more. Davy frets he’s not cut out to be a prince, just like he did in “Prince and the Paupers.” Colette sweetly gives him a large necklace for luck. Curad sends a blow dart at Davy, and the necklace blocks it. Colette figures out that someone’s trying to kill him.

The Monkees have reunited in the same room and rightly decide they need to split. Mike wants to create an escape plan but Micky thinks they can just walk right out. He hits Abdul on the head with a lamp. Abdul doesn’t feel it so Micky agrees they need a plan. Mike huddles them together for a plan that is never mentioned again. That certainly went nowhere.

Viradu’s new plan is to kill them at the banquet with wine glasses rigged to explode when they toast. He’s overheard by one of the harem girls, who in turn tells it to Colette. Colette’s not allowed to attend the banquet so she asks the girl to tell them, “Golden Grecian goblets guarantee graves,” which is a funnier way to say the glasses are booby-trapped.

At the banquet, the Monkees are seated at the table. There’s humorous stage business in which Micky keeps handing Peter banana peels and Peter hides them. The girl gives Peter the “Grecian Goblets” message before she is pulled off by a guard. Peter passes the message to Micky who thinks it’s a tongue twister: “rubber baby buggy bumpers.” Peter tries the message on Mike and Davy but they don’t pick up on it either. The King stands up to make his toast. Several false starts where the Monkees are about to clink glasses but the King keeps talking and talking. Finally just before they toast, Peter accidentally tosses his at the wall and it explodes. Davy catches on and asks Viradu to clink glasses with him. Viradu refuses. The King figures out that Viradu tried to kill his future son-in-law. In a pretty darn funny reveal, Viradu change his accent to Southwestern American and confesses he’s not a “Nehoudian”; he’s from Oklahoma and came to get their oil.

This launches the romp to “Love is Only Sleeping” (Mann/Weil). Scenes of the Monkees and the guards fighting are mixed with Rainbow Room footage. This one features Mike in his Paul Revere and the Raiders sleeves and blue jacket. I love the song. It’s the sexiest Monkees song; the arrangement and the lyrics. There’s also some of the Foreign Legion footage of the Monkees shot in the first season. The high-point of the mayhem is when the Monkees take turns sword fighting and cut in on each other to make out with the same girl. It gives the whole thing a weird orgy vibe, “wrong” but kinda sexy. The Monkees do that switcheroo thing again where Viradu somehow ends up huddling with them instead of his guards. There’s an explosion and the Monkees are sitting on Abdul.

In the aftermath, the King tells the Monkees he’s eternally grateful and he grants freedom for them all. Davy apologizes to Colette that he’s too young to get married, he’s sure she’ll find somebody else, etc. Donna Loren’s facial expressions are adorable as she explains that she already has found someone new: Peter! Abdul puts Peter on the scale. Peter doesn’t look too happy and I don’t blame him; there’s no reason for him to be second choice to Davy.

There’s a final performance to “Cuddly Toy” (Nilsson.) The songwriter, Harry Nilsson, was working at a bank and writing songs at night when he met the Monkees and played this song for them. Because it was a hit, he was able to quit the bank and become a singer. Nilsson’s career peaked in the 1970s, and he died in 1994. The title track of the Monkees newest record, Good Times! was also written by Nilsson, and a 1960s demo of him singing the song was used to create a “duet” with him and Micky Dolenz on the album.

The Monkees are on stage in Vaudeville-style striped jackets, canes and straw hats. Micky has the purple-tinted sunglasses that we see Mike wearing throughout the second season quite a bit. Micky and Davy compete to see who will dance with Anita Mann, but Davy settles it with a fake punch to Micky’s face. Good thing since Davy can really dance. The other three bounce gamely and goof around with their canes off to the side while Davy and Anita perform the dance she choreographed. Mann has many credits as a choreographer; the IMDB lists her as uncredited choreographer for all 58 Monkees episodes, and choreographer for 47 episodes of Solid Gold, as well as some Muppets TV specials and the film Mystery Men.

The episode closes with an interview from the Rainbow Room shoot on August 2. Micky, Peter, and Davy are in their psychedelic clothes while Mike wears the dull but timeless shirt and tie and red pants with the purple sunglasses. The best part of the interview is the mention of a girl who mailed herself to Davy with the punch line, “We shipped her to the Beatles.”

It’s hard for me to criticize this episode as much as I should. It’s a re-hashed and thin plot with yet another fictional kingdom. Compared to the previous two episodes, which were clearly well thought-out and put together, this one is sloppy. It’s in the same territory as “Prince and the Paupers,” but unlike that one, which I found really dull and drab, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” has some entertaining comedy. The Monkees are funny in every scene they’re in, and for the most part they’re working together and playing off each other well. Some of the bits that didn’t feel scripted added some cheeky laughs, especially from Micky. The guest cast seems to have fun with their parts, which always helps the quality of the 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.