Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Monkee’s Paw”

“You’ll never work in show business again!”

“The Monkees Paw” was directed by James Frawley, written by Coslough Johnson, and first aired January 29, 1968. I enjoy this episode; it’s good old fashioned storytelling, based loosely on the short story, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs. In that story, a married couple comes into possession of a mummified monkey’s paw that was cursed by a “holy man.” The couple tempts fate when they make an innocent wish that leads to a tragedy. The point being, I suppose, “don’t mess with fate.” There have been many adaptations of this story, including films and stage plays, an opera, an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, a radio play with Christopher Lee, and the short segment on The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror II.”

The Monkees version begins at an empty nightclub where the band audition with “Goin’ Down.” The Manager of the club (played by Henry Beckman, the D.A. from “The Picture Frame”) rocks out awkwardly in appreciation. Davy plays drums and Micky sings up front, playing tambourine and maracas. Yeah, they should have set the band up that way the entire series. The nightclub’s current act, Mendrek the Magician, watches from the side, sensing that he’s about to be replaced.

After the song ends, the Manager immediately hires the Monkees. When Mendrek inquires about his own fate, the Manager calls him a has-been and fires him. The two older men argue. Mike intervenes, standing up for Mendrek and asking the Manager not to just “throw him out.” Mendrek thanks Mike by stomping on his foot. Mendrek is a sympathetic character, yet he’s also unsympathetic because, let’s face it, he’s kind of a jerk.

Now for a tangent about clothing styles. For the episodes filmed after the summer of 1967 tour, the Monkees everyday costumes changed from the interchangeable mix-and-match shirts to variations on tunics, mandarin collars, and love beads. Except Mike. Beginning with “Monkees on the Wheel” he wore a tucked in shirt and tie, which I suppose suits his on-screen personality. I suspect at this point the actors were choosing their own clothes and they all look terrific, but sometimes Mike looks like their older brother, chaperoning the band around town [Your pot-smoking accountant brother-in-law – Editor’s Note].

Mendrek assumes the Monkees are going to mock him. Instead they instead offer condolences. They are always supporters of the underdogs. Mendrek says, “Oh don’t be sorry. People don’t want to see Magicians anymore. They want to see reality. As it’s shown to them on television.” Wow. Replace “television” with “YouTube” and that line still works today! This theme of older entertainers threatened by young rock-n-rollers was also in “Monkees at the Circus” and “Captain Crocodile.” Micky finds the Monkey’s Paw in Mendrek’s things; he’s grossed-out, but curious. Mendrek tells the story of how he acquired it from a Lama while looking for “secrets of the unknown” in Tibet.

As told in flashback, Micky plays Young Mendrek, who has climbed a snowy mountain in a magician’s tux to see the High Lama. Instead, he finds the regular lama, known as “Reg.” Mike plays Reg with as broad a Texas accent as possible, comically smashing the expectations about how a lama would speak. Young Mendrek wants to see the High Lama, but Reg explains that he’s out back “sleeping it off.” That’s how he got his name. Nice subversive joke. Young Mendrek tells Reg he’s looking for “Tibetan Unknown Secrets.” Reg is resistant at first and even serves Mendrek papers for trespassing. Eventually, he gives Young Mendrek the Monkey’s Paw, claiming it will grant him three wishes.

Back in the present, Mendrek offers Micky the “priceless” Monkey’s Paw for a quarter. This is pretty nasty of Mendrek. Going by the source story, we can assume that he’s had misfortune because of it, and now he’s wishing this on Micky. I don’t think Micky’s after “mystic power” the way that Young Mendrek was. As Mendrek is leaving, Micky gives Mendrek the quarter, officially purchasing the paw out of pity so that Mendrek won’t be a “vagrant” as the manager calls him. After the Manager kicks Mendrek out, Mike, Davy and Peter look at the camera to tell us, “Well, that’s show business!” with a musical flourish. Recycled joke from “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” but it still works here.

Back at the Monkees pad, bad luck kicks in. Micky’s on the phone with the never-on-this-show-before mentioned “Musicians Union” asking how they can pay their dues if they don’t work? But they can’t work unless they pay their dues. Of course they haven’t worked for a long time. Peter gets in some deliberately out-of-character political commentary with a tongue-in-cheek delivery to the camera:

Micky wanders off holding the paw and distractedly wishes for a way they could get that money. I don’t think he intended to use Monkey’s Paw. (Although he knew about the wishes from Mendrek’s story.) There’s been nothing in Micky’s characterization to suggest he’s superstitious, but throughout every scene in the episode, he continues to hold on to the Monkey’s Paw. Out of the blue, the Manager walks in and says he’ll pay their dues and take it out of their salary, for a kickback of 142%. Later, Micky defends the Monkey’s Paw to Mike, Peter and Davy, as it got them their dues paid, despite the ridiculous interest rate.

Davy is starving and wonders if the Monkey’s Paw could get them some food. Micky wishes for a spaghetti dinner “big enough to feed all four of us.” Spaghetti noodles drop on his head. The others rush up and eat it right off of him. Notice that the Monkees are relatively innocent and don’t make any “Make us as popular as the Beatles” wishes. That’s true to the story where the poor couple involved only wishes for enough to pay their mortgage off, no more.

At his home, Mendrek’s daughter expresses her sympathies about his recent unemployment. He tells her he sold the Monkey’s Paw to one of those “long-haired weirdos.” Daughter worries, “Don’t you remember The Book of Mysteries said it was cursed?” The Book of Mysteries? Would that be Nancy Drew or The Hardy Boys? Mendrek says if that were the case, his luck would change immediately. Just then, he gets a call informing him that he won a million dollars. I can’t help but be a little happy for him. He looked so down and out in the earlier scene, and Hans Conried is so likable.

At the nightclub gig, Micky obsesses over the Monkey’s Paw and his final wish. The others tell him to let it go already. Peter complains that Micky hasn’t talked about anything else since he got the Monkey’s Paw. Micky starts to say, “I wish I could stop talking about it.” but only gets to “I wish I could stop talking…” before his voice vanishes. Someone announces the Monkees and they start playing “Goin’ Down.” It seems a little unfair that this happens to him, since he didn’t have any selfish intentions with his wishes.

Micky’s screwed since he can’t talk or sing. He stands on stage and mouths the words. The crowd boos them off the stage, and the Manager demands an explanation. Mike bluffs that Micky’s singing with his feet, “Haven’t you ever heard of “A Young Man with a Corn,” which is a joke-reference to the 1950 movie, A Young Man with a Horn. Playing along, Peter suggests it’s like the jazz song, “Flat Foot Floogie with the Floy-Floy.” Davy makes the pun, “Sock it to me, baby.” Micky does some fast foot-work, but the Manager is unimpressed. He warns them that if Micky can’t sing by tomorrow the Monkees are, “Outta show business!” as he puts it. Does he have that kind of power?

At the pad, the Monkees huddle around Micky, who tries to say “Four Score and Seven Years ago.” Poor Micky. This is really hitting him in the worst place, his wonderful voice. Davy suggests that the Monkey’s Paw has no power, and the problem is all in his head. Did Davy forget the spaghetti ex machina? Mike reasons that the problem began with Mendrek. Well, duh.

The Monkees arrive at Mendrek’s house, where he has bags on his desk with dollar signs on them, as you do when you’re rich [Gene Simmons cashes another check! – Editor’s Note]. Mendrek is busy on the telephone. The Monkees, always eager to answer other people’s phones (See “Too Many Girls” and “Monkees in the Ring”),  answer some of Mendrek’s lines. There’s a Tonight Show reference when Peter tells a caller, “No, no Mr. Carson. Mendrek wants you on his show.” Mendrek pauses to give them his attention, and Mike brings up the Monkey’s Paw. Mendrek quickly brushes him off, claiming he’s too busy. Mendrek knows darn well the paw caused Micky’s problems.

I’m curious about Mendrek’s name. I wonder if it was inspired by the comic strip, Mandrake the Magician, which ran from 1934 to 2013. Mandrake was a hypnotist who used his powers to fight all kinds of villains and spies. It had a pulp-adventure feel, which is right up The Monkees’ writer’s alley.

Back home, the Monkees kid themselves that there’s some other cause for Micky’s sound of silence. They attempt to cure his “illness” with a cutaway gag, putting him in a boiling pot of chicken soup. Later, Micky silently chatters with Mr. Schneider, still holding the Monkey’s Paw. Mike, Peter, and Davy talk about him around the totem pole. Mike suggests that they need to re-teach Micky to talk. Davy makes a bad pun based on the totem pole, asking, “How?” With visibly red, stoned-looking eyes, he giggles uncontrollably at his own joke. I guess Davy Jones decided to play the “High Lama” himself in that scene.

Peter, Mike, and Davy dress in academic robes and give Micky lessons on talking. They use a blackboard that has a few inside jokes such as: “Save the Texas Prairie Chicken,” “Frodis,” and “legalize.” Mike wants to teach Micky to say “pencil,” but Micky still can’t speak. Peter tries to prompt him, using his p-popping trick. They give up, Mike holding the writing implement in question and pondering, “Do you suppose it has anything to do with the fact that this is a crayon?”

The Monkees hope that this is just a mental block. In a hilarious and memorable scene, they take Micky to a psychiatrist, played by Severn Darden (Guggins from “Monkee Vs. Machine.”)

They also use the same office set they used for Guggins. He gives Micky the ink-blot test, but the others keep piping in with their interpretations. Missing the point of the test, the shrink becomes furious, insisting that the only right answer is:

At the nightclub, Davy tells the Manager they’ve incorporated Micky’s silence into the act. By which he means, they’ve decided to imitate the Marx Brothers. Out on the stage comes Mike as Groucho, Micky as Harpo, and Peter as Chico. I guess Davy’s the Zeppo. Mike does bits from Groucho’s game show, You Bet Your Life. “Say the Magic Word, you get a hundred dollars.” There are other You Bet Your Life/Monkees connections. Joy Harmon, from the episodes “The Picture Frame” and “Monkees on the Wheel” and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez from “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” were both discovered on You Bet Your Life. Doodles Weaver from “Monkees Manhattan Style” appeared on the show as a comedian.

The Manager fires the Monkees and promises, “You’ll never work in show business again!” (Again, I doubt he has that power.) Back at the Monkees house, Mick-o mopes. Davy doesn’t blame the manager; he agrees an act like the Marx Brothers would never sell.

They wind up back at Mendrek’s. To his credit, he is now helping “the less fortunate.” That would include the Monkees. Davy and Mendrek’s cute daughter look through “The Book of Mysteries” to see if they can find a solution. Unfortunately this character never gets a name; she’s listed on the IMDB as “Daughter.”

Mendrek hits the gong from “Monkees Chow Mein” to jumpstart Micky’s power of speech but only succeeds in freaking Peter out. Fortunately, Davy discovered that the solution is to sell the Monkey’s Paw to someone else. Mike suggests they only sell it to someone deserving and, with perfect timing, the Manager enters to re-hire Mendrek. They all get to work on selling the paw to the Manager. The Manager finds a quarter a bit steep and wants to know more about the “special powers.”

They demonstrate via the montage of magician’s tricks to “Words” (Boyce/Hart). Micky and Mendrek are the magicians who make the others vanish and reappear with “pop” sound effects. There’s also recycled footage of the Astonishing Pietro from “Too Many Girls.” Mendrek puts Micky in a giant cup of coffee, perhaps to accompany the giant phone from “Monkees on the Line.” Five Monkee points to whoever gets the reference in this picture:

After the romp, the Manager demands they sell him the Monkey’s Paw. They happily comply, and Mike suggests he go ahead and make a wish (with a look to the camera, inviting us in on the joke). The Manager wishes for a million dollars, which rains on him from above. Immediately the IRS shows up and arrests him for tax evasion.

Back at the Monkees pad, Micky talks a mile a minute to make up for lost time. The Monkees are once again right back where they started, no better or worse off, despite their ill-advised fling with the supernatural. They say goodbye, borrowing each other’s names, and sing the theme a capella. Overall, this was a fun adaptation of the original story. Lots of funny scenes and lines and I’m always happy when the plot revolves around them as musicians. The guest cast was terrific as usual, with the talented and engaging Hans Conried as Mendrek, walking the line between friend and foe to the Monkees.

There’s an interview clip, in which Peter talks about the death of the Hippie Movement, but more interesting is the outtake from the episode that follows. The Monkees are at Mendrek’s desk and do a brief Three Stooges “Hello, hello, hello.” Hans Conried breaks character and curses, “(whistle), I hate these kids.” According to this article on Something Else Review,  the actors playing the Monkees were encouraged by the producers to be energetic and goofy all the time, creating a spontaneous mood where “their madcap sensibilities could be captured with first-take efficiency.” Conried did not enjoy this environment. His expressed frustration was a moment that embarrassed Micky Dolenz because he was a fan of the older actor. Dolenz talks about this on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast.

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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