Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkees Blow Their Minds”

The Monkees Blow Their Ending

“The Monkees Blow Their Minds” was directed by David Winters, written by Peter Meyerson, and aired March 11, 1968, second to the last Monkees episode in the original run. To my delight, this episode features James Frawley, director of 29 of the 58 Monkees episodes, as Rudy, dimwitted henchmen to Oraculo. When I saw this episode in the 1980s, I had no idea this actor was one of the directors, possibly the best director of the series. Knowing this makes it so much more fun. Thanks to MeTV, I’ve recently enjoyed Frawley’s performances in The Outer Limits episodes, “The Inheritors” Pt. 1 and 2 and various episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

“The Monkees Blow Their Minds” kicks off with a musical guest segment, like the one from “Some Like it Lukewarm” with Davy and Charlie Smalls. Frank Zappa (1940-1993), musician and founder of the band The Mothers of Invention, was Michael Nesmith’s pick. Zappa, who also appeared in Head, makes this episode memorable for me. (It certainly wasn’t the storyline.)

For this chat, Mike and Frank impersonate each other. Aren’t they tricky? Zappa wears a Monkees 8-button shirt and has his hair tucked up in one of Mike’s green wool hats. Mike wears a long, bushy wig and a rubber nose. “Mike” introduces “Frank” and pretends to interview him about the psychedelic music scene. Frank, as “Mike,” comments on the tricky editing style of The Monkees and overall, the conversation is full of the ironic self-parody that frequently characterized the second season. I wonder how much of the Monkees audience at the time were into Zappa, The Monkees being a popular show for kids and The Mothers of Invention being an experimental, underground phenomena. That’s more or less what Nesmith and Zappa were joking about in their conversation.

The best part is when Mike conducts Zappa as he musically destroys a car. This is set to the song, “Mother People” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention from the 1968 album We’re Only in it for the Money. I wish this part had gone on longer. By the way, you can also see Zappa playing a bicycle on this clip from The Steve Allen Show in 1963.

My first memory of Frank Zappa was the 1982 song “Valley Girl,” featuring his daughter Moon. (So shoot me, I’m a child of the ’80s.) He was in the news a lot in the mid-eighties for testifying before the United State Senate against the PMRC, a story that I followed closely. I would imagine that by the time this episode aired on MTV in the 1980s, a lot of people were as tickled as I was to see him on The Monkees. I even became a casual fan; intrigued enough to listen up for his songs on classic rock radio, sit through his surreal film 200 Motels, and buy a copy of the album Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch. That album has some hilarious cover art. Speaking of cover art, the cover for We’re Only in it for the Money is a parody of the Beatles album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Relevant because of the various Monkees references to that album, and because Mike was present at the recording of “A Day in the Life.” You can see Mike about 2/12 minutes into the promo clip.

Back to the recap. Peter arrives at a spooky shop, looking for the “World’s Leading Mentalist,” a.k.a. Oraculo– a scruffy looking magician played by Monte Landis. Oraculo’s dim-witted assistant Rudy (Frawley) greets him. I love the set decoration: weirdness and skulls everywhere, including Oraculo’s staff. Peter explains that he’s got writer’s block and hopes Oraculo can help him. He needs to write a song for the Monkees audition at the club Cassandra. Oraculo perks up at the mention of an “audition.” He tells Peter to look deeply in his eyes and tries to mesmerize him.

That failing, Oraculo pours him a cup of tea. Rudy distracts Peter with a full size skeleton while they sneak a potion into Peter’s beverage. This little bit of physical comedy was funny and I hope Frawley had a good time performing with the Monkees when he wasn’t directing them. The drug completely zones out Peter, which I interpret as a possible subversive statement about drug use.

Next scene: Mike, Micky, and Davy set up for their audition at the club. There are indications that this was filmed much earlier in the second season (April 1967, nearly a full year before it aired), such as the black velvet matching 8-button shirts and Mike wearing the wool hat as well as Micky’s merely wavy rather than full on curly hair. The black shirts were previously seen in “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes.” Peter walks in late, still zombified. Latham, the club manager, was played by Milton Frome, who appeared in The Monkees first season episode, “Monkees on the Line.” Peter can’t remember how to play his bass. He crows like a rooster, destroys Micky’s drum, and over-all wrecks their chance to impress Latham in the audition.

Oraculo summons Peter backstage. Peter’s now wearing an outfit that looks similar to Rudy’s fake Middle East-style costume (they resemble organ grinder’s monkey outfits). On stage, Oraculo auditions for Latham. His act is to levitate Peter four feet off the ground. We see that it’s a trick aided by Rudy who is off stage using ropes to pull him up and down. Latham hires Oraculo instead of the Monkees. Micky, Mike, and Peter suspect that Oraculo has “stolen” Peter’s mind.

The Monkees go back to their pad and plan one of their cons to distract Oraculo and free Peter. (There’s a rare voice-over from Davy setting this up, making me think scenes were dropped or missing.) Mike calls the mentalist, pretending be an amnesiac who has forgotten where he put his suitcase containing 50,000 dollars. Naturally, Oraculo is interested. Cut to Oraculo already at Monkee’s house. He tries to hypnotize Mike, but Mike sees the same, “Cowardice, and, um, dishonesty, and a general lack of scruples” that Peter saw.

Alone with Peter at Oraculo’s shop, Rudy looks at himself in the mirror in one of Oraculo’s capes and top hats, wishing to become his Master. Micky and Davy sneak in behind him. Micky impersonates Oraculo and gives Rudy commands, “Come to me Rudy.” Rudy realizes pretty quickly that it’s not Oraculo, (wrong accent, Micky) but Micky promises a great treasure to share with Rudy, and this lie is enough to get Rudy to go join Oraculo.

As Micky and Davy try to get Peter’s mind back, they launch a romp to “Valleri” (Boyce/Hart). The first moment with the skeleton driving the go-cart out the door is epic. In these romp shots you can see that the Oraculo set is the same as the Monkee’s pad. At one point, Davy and Micky even carry Mr. Schneider around. The shop scenes are cut in with scenes of Mike at the pad with Oraculo, who tricks him into drinking his hypno-potion. Mike has the same hilarious gagging, full-body reaction as he did in “Wild Monkees” when he drank gasoline. The romp has a few cute moments and some cool weirdness, but is generally pointless and doesn’t enhance the plot. Afterwards, Peter’s still in a trance so Davy just hits him on the head with a mallet.

Rudy shows up at the Monkees pad, seemingly through the wall the way it was edited. This tips off Oraculo that something is wrong, so he orders brain-dead Mike to spill the whole scheme. I’m going to stop and say how much I’m enjoying Monte Landis’ performance. This whole episode is a lesser version of “The Devil and Peter Tork,” with Peter losing something vital to a scheming villain. But Landis’ line delivery makes me laugh out loud. I’ve enjoyed every one of Monte Landis’ seven performances and they were varied enough that I honestly didn’t notice he was the same actor when I watched these episodes as a kid.

Later, Micky and Davy bring Peter back to the house, but he’s still spellbound. On top of that, Mike is missing. There’s a classic Monkees scramble to their usual fast-paced incidental music as Micky and Davy look for their friend in places where he wouldn’t fit: under tables, in jars, in the cupboards, etc. They chain Peter to the wall for safekeeping while they go look for Mike. Weird over-dub of Micky saying, “This overlapping chain link is perfect for both sport and formal attire.”

Micky and Davy burst into Oraculo’s shop to rescue Mike. Rudy knocks them out with the mallet, and Oraculo orders Rudy to give Micky and Davy the potion. He boasts about what a sensation he will be with his four psychic slaves. Clip from the show “Here Come the Monkees” (pilot) showing the four Monkees in the prison-break cutaway. Good times. He summons Peter, who breaks the chains out of the wall to obey his command.

At the club Cassandra, Latham introduces The Great Oraculo. Backstage, all four Monkees are now dressed like Peter. Burgess Meredith is in the audience as The Penguin who he played on Batman. His costume is slightly different however, black top hat instead of purple, so that Screen Gems wouldn’t get into legal trouble with 20th Century Fox, perhaps. It’s a random, pop-culture sight gag, memorable and well executed.

Oraculo works the crowd. Choosing a woman from the audience, he asks her to hold up one to thirteen fingers behind his back. (Thirteen fingers? Heh.) She holds up three. Rudy blatantly signals him the answer. Oraculo “guesses” right and the audience is dazzled. Next, Oraculo picks Davy, disguised in a suit and fake facial hair. He claims he’s a lawyer, and Oraculo offers to predict his future. “At the age of 29, you will be the youngest judge ever to sit on the Supreme Court.” Davy makes a fool of him. “But I’m already 35.” The audience boos. Next, he finds Micky in disguise and asks him to help demonstrate that he’s impervious to pain. Micky touches his palm with a lit cigar, instead of whatever prop Oraculo had planted, and Oraculo howls in agony. Once again the audience expresses disdain.

Backstage Oraculo checks on the “psychic slaves.” Foolishly, he smacks Micky instead of giving him another dose of potion. Micky is revived and quickly smacks the other three awake. HOLD IT, hold it. They should have shown this before the scene of the Monkees as audience plants. That would have made sense because then we would have understood that the Monkees were alert and executing a plan to make a fool of the bad guy. It’s completely plausible in the reality of the show that the Monkees could pop in and out of disguises that quickly. They did it all the time. With the scenes in this order, I have no idea what happened.

Rudy tries to save the day by calling the “psychic slaves” out on stage. They circle Oraculo, who commands them to go rigid. The Monkees defy him, falling limply to the stage floor. The audience boos. The Monkees turn this into a human dog act, barking and jumping through hoops and so on. They cut in the “I’m Gonna Buy Me a Dog” romp with Monkees playing with the dogs from “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” Lame. I don’t mind when they recycle footage for a fun effect, triggering the audience’s memory like they did earlier with the prison break scene, but this is just lazy filler. On stage the dog antics continue and Rudy ends up with the bone from “Some Like it Lukewarm” in his mouth.

That line was a nice nod to The Monkees recurring theme that everyone wants to be in show business. Then, alas, the episode abruptly ends and goes to the black and white performance clip of “Daily Nightly” (Nesmith). There are two things to note in the end credits. First, James Frawley does not get an acting credit as Rudy. I’m guessing Frawley was acting for fun and he didn’t need a credit. The second looks like an error, they misspell “Valleri” as “Valerie.”

“Monkees Blow Their Minds,” was not amazingly original, but was at least amusing before the sloppily-put-together scenes in the last act, and the production team’s general failure to wrap things up. I did enjoy Zappa, Frawley, and Monte Landis so it wasn’t all bad. It’s just one of those things like “Monkees in Texas” where I wonder if they lost a reel or just couldn’t come up with enough footage to make a more satisfying story. Well, that’s showbiz!

In two weeks, it’s the final episode: the delightfully weird “Frodis Caper.” See you then!

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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