Monkees Vs. Macheen: “The Case of the Missing Monkee”

header_text

“A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Bandstand”

Title

The Monkees really parodied a lot of genres didn’t it? It has more in common with cartoons than sitcoms in that way, as they don’t stick to the “situation.” There were Monkees episodes inspired by westerns, gangster films, science fiction, horror, mystery, and spy stories to name a few. If you were seeing these for the first time, you certainly wouldn’t be able to guess what they might try next. They just incorporate the notion that they’re a band right into the storyline, whatever it is. “The Case of the Missing Monkee” is a cross between mystery, sci-fi, and a spy story. Director and Monkees producer Bob Rafelson gives the episode a cinematic feel using more medium and close shots than usual. There is also a dark edge to the whole thing. “The Case of the Missing Monkee” which premiered January 9, 1967 was written by head writers Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso.

Speaking of the cinematic effect, the opening shot is a lovely pan across a banquet room where the scientist Professor Schnitzler is giving a speech. The Monkees sit on the bandstand, waiting to play. Schnitzler tells his audience, “war is war, peace is peace, and science is science.” Mike’s puzzled face reflects my own, but Peter’s impressed. He introduces himself to Schnitzler, who admires the Monkees music and discretely passes Peter a note. Peter reads. “They are taking me to the Remington Clinic.” He tries to tell Mike, but Mike’s all business because they have to perform. Peter ignores him completely and wanders off to look for Schnitzler. This week’s villain, Dr. Marcovich notices him. Good for Peter, doing his own thinking. Unfortunately, he wanders over to the curtain at the side, gets hit with a large mallet, and dragged off. The mallet is a silly contrast to the serious setup. This is one of the many instances in the series where Peter is the one finding trouble with his naivete and curiosity.

After the opening theme, Mike, Micky, and Davy look for Peter. Mike finds Dr. Marcovich and tugs on his coat, earning a “Don’t do that” from Marcovich. The Doctor dismisses them and tells them to play music as they’re supposed to. Mike remembers the note, reading it as “I am being taken to the Remington Clinic.” Outside the Remington Clinic, I’m surprised to see daytime as I assumed the banquet was at night. Inside, they attempt to get help from the Nurse at the desk and describe the missing Peter. The cheerful but clueless Nurse knows nothing about him or Schnitzler.

Missing

Go figure; Mike doesn’t mention Peter’s charming dimples and manly shoulders (like I would have). Also, in every picture I’ve ever seen of Peter Tork, his eyes look brown to me. The nurse tells them to go to the police. A subtle dig at authority as Davy mutters something about going to see “the man” and they go. Dr. Marcovich overhears the entire thing and denies to the nurse knowing anything about Schnitzler. He stops to make “evil faces” for good measure. I enjoy this actor; he is dramatic and menacing in most scenes and then he pulls off goofy stuff like this.

Davy, Mike, and Micky have indeed gone to the man, and bring a cop to the banquet location. The former French restaurant is now a Chinese restaurant complete with a ridiculous stereotypical Chinese restaurant owner. The owner makes The Monkees look like dopes and the cop tells them not to bother any more policemen until they know where they were. We have another situation where the boys have no responsible adult they can trust. “The man” indeed. The restaurant owner is of course Marcovich in disguise and he really hams it up, laughing and jumping up and down after peeling off his disguise.

Bandage-con

The Monkees try to fool the nurse into rushing them into the clinic, but the Nurse is too diligent and bureaucratic. Davy gives her his address as 1438 instead of 1334. He either really hit his head or he doesn’t want these questionable people knowing where he lives. I love the performance of the Nurse. She’s aggressively perky and nice, pathologically efficient, and not at all helpful. The Monkees don’t love her and lose their patience, especially when she says she can’t admit Davy immediately. In the meantime, she gives him a cough drop. I don’t know what’s in it, but it motivates Davy to drop his crutches and dance and sing “Old Folks At Home” (Stephen Foster) again, as he did in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.” Coincidentally or not, both of these episodes were written and directed by the same team. Getting high on her own supply, the nurse takes a few wacky cough drops and inspires stock footage of rocket ships.

The Monkees resort to breaking in to the Remington clinic. Davy questions the legality of this. I can’t believe a Monkee is questioning breaking the law but it leads to the following witty exchange: Micky: “So what do you want to do? Do you want to run home where it’s safe and leave Peter here in trouble all alone?” Davy: “Of course not.” Micky: “Well, it was just a suggestion.” Instead, Micky busts out what he refers to as the Bathook. Mike sensibly points out the ladder right behind them. The Bathook, by the way, is one of the many references to Batman made by The Monkees. This is beautifully listed here, on The Monkees Go Ape for Batman!

Finally in the clinic, Davy, Mike, and Micky disguise themselves as patients and begin to search for Peter. A very creepy atmosphere was created in the hospital with the Monkees nervous reactions, the lighting scheme, and the music. It would have been even better without the laugh track. Meanwhile, Marcovich and his partner Bruno have Peter tied up in another room. They discuss how they will sneak Schnitzler out of the country and “America will lose one of its greatest scientists.” Finally, we have an idea of the plot of the villains. This dialogue makes me think it’s a sort of foreign espionage story they’re going for, though like the Maltese Vulture it’s just what drives the story along.

Bruno wants to know what to do with Peter. Peter lists his woes but he’s really quoting the medical drama Ben Casey. There’s a Ben Casey connection as David Jones appeared in the 1965 episode, “If You Play Your Cards Right, You Too Can Be a Loser” as a glue-sniffing wife-beater [What? – Editor]. Try to picture that, will you? Speaking of Batman, Davy’s co-star on Ben Casey was pre-Bat Girl Yvonne Craig.

Bruno pulls a gun on Peter since he “knows too much.” (Peter: “Thank you!”) Sidekick Bruno is truly threatening, enhanced by Vincent Gardenia’s intense, no-nonsense performance and dour expression. Marcovich has a better idea. Peter tries to rescue himself by calling “Shazam!” at the mirror but only manages to break it. Catch a little “Monkee Men” theme here. Meanwhile the other non-missing Monkees try to get out of the one room where they have been searching, but here comes Bruno to give physical therapy.

stooges-again

There’s a silly sequence as they receive their therapy using the (now ancient) exercise equipment. Micky pulls on the wall pulleys, Davy uses the “vibrating belt machine” to get rid of his spare tire, of course leading to a site gag where he pulls out an actual tire. Mike is on the rowing machine, but not exercising; he serenades the lovely and lucky Valerie Kairys with a banjo.

After Bruno leaves them, The Monkees resume the search for Peter but stop to answer the ringing phone. There they go, answering phones that aren’t theirs again. In a cute fourth-wall-breaking bit, Mike takes a call from TV Guide and updates them on the plot. Meanwhile, Marcovich uses his sci-fi, super-science ray on Peter to erase his memory. Peter writhes in agony and thinks about being on the beach with the kids in the “Saturday’s Child” romp.

super-science-ray

Just as Mike, Davy, and Micky are about to give up hope, they enter a room and Peter wanders in behind them. Peter has no idea who they are. After a couple of false starts, they scare his memories back. Peter remembers that Marcovich and Bruno plan to smuggle Schnitzler out of the country. The nurse comes in and Mike, Davy, and Micky hide, telling Peter to play dumb. Peter gets sensitive about his perceived intelligence, “Why am I always the one to play dumb. Why can’t I play smart once in a while?” The Nurse covers Schnitzler’s face with an oxygen mask.

When she goes, Micky admires the villains’ plan to smuggle Schnitzler out in an ambulance. The mask gives Mike a plan of his own, and he puts Micky in the Professor’s place. Micky protests this with one of my all-time favorite bits of Monkees dialogue: Mike: “Believe me Micky, there’s no other way. Besides, Dr. Marcovich is an evil man.” Micky: “Well, what about me?” Davy: “You’re not evil, is he Mike?” Mike: “No, he’s not evil. He’s crafty and selfish maybe, but he’s not evil.” Dr. Marcovich and Bruno come to get Schnitzler and the non-disguised Monkees hide under the cart as they wheel out Micky.

This leads to my favorite bit of the episode, where Mike, Peter and Davy play “doctor.” In the operating room, Marcovich and Bruno prepare to do something to “Schnitzler.” Mike, Davy, and Peter enter in surgical scrubs. Mike adopts Micky’s typical shtick of pretending to have authority where he has none. Marcovich actually apologizes for questioning them. Bruno and Marcovich are marvelous at the thankless job of being straight men to the boys.

I'm-a-doctor

slow-twitching

This whole scene is reminiscent of The Marx Brothers’ A Day at the Races scene where Marx Brothers take over the Standish Sanitarium. Many sight gags and one peanut butter sandwich later, Mike and Marcovich end up physically tugging the “patient” back and forth until Micky says he’s dizzy and sits up. Marcovich and Bruno recognize them as “those musicians” and it leads into a wonderful romp to “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” (Boyce/Hart).

The romp is also packed with silly, energetic gags, including a lot of running in and out of doors in the hospital corridor. All the characters, heroes and villains, do this funny run where they take little steps with their hands up like dog paws. In the equipment room, Micky rides the exercise bike like a horse and Bruno also rides it, cut together like a chase scene. Micky and Mike have binoculars and stop to ogle a pretty nurse for a moment. I love their saucy looks to each other. Mike does the frantic bit on the rowing machine we see in the second season opening credits. Bruno “chases” him on the same bike. The Monkees get the bad guys in a two-man pile on a gurney.

After the wackiness dies down, Schnitzler thanks them for saving his life. Micky and Mike tell the bad guys they’re going to get 20 years and a wrist slapping from the AMA. As they leave, Marcovich looks more relieved to be rid of these lunatics than upset at being caught.

last-words

In this episode, the comedy is stirred in beautifully with the mystery and adventure of the plot. There are lots of great scenes of The Monkees working together, even if Peter is missing a lot of the time. They do tend to isolate him a bit, don’t they? The guest cast is excellent as usual, these great characters were never afraid to go over the top, and always made great straight men to The Monkees. One element that keeps these episodes fun to watch for 50 years, is the fun with different genres. This is probably something they were willing to try with a show geared towards kids, not adults. Kids might be more open-minded and entertained by a show that regularly bends reality, even its own rules of reality. Of course I’m an adult and enjoy it tremendously even after watching for many decades. Although the writing of the episodes did eventually get into a rut, it was more the plots and the gags themselves, and not the styles they tackle that were ever lacking imagination.

Evil-Case

Look-Out-For

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.

Advertisements

Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monkees à la Carte”

header_text

“If You Can’t Beat ’em, Confuse ’em.”

Title

I’m really relieved to be past the pilot. For some reason, I found that to be a daunting task. Now we’re on to more fun episodes, like this one where they run into the mafia. Honestly, I always forget about this episode. It blends together with some of the other gangster-related stories. They do run into gun-toting crooks quite a bit: “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers,” “Alias, Micky Dolenz,” “Monkees on the Wheel,” and “The Picture Frame” all have those types of antagonists. The Monkees live in a violent world, and they (mostly) don’t have any guns.

“Monkees à La Carte” was written by Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Bernie Orenstein, directed by James Frawley and aired for the first time on November 21, 1966. At the start of the story, the Monkees are in an Italian restaurant, sharing a large cliché submarine sandwich. A nice old guy, Pop, is encouraging them to eat. That’s sweet; he hired them to play and he’s also feeding them. The actor playing Pop has an accent that’s hard to understand. A couple of unpleasant-looking men in suits come in and threaten and intimidate Pop into selling the place. Peter helpfully asks, for the benefit of the audience, if they are “hoods.”

The hoods do some very familiar shtick. Fuselli, the leader, throws a coin up, and Rocco, the henchmen tosses him a new one when he drops it. This echoes the entrance of Micky and Peter in “Monkees in a Ghost Town,” when they were pretending to be Big Man and Spider, and Spider hands the Big Man a coin to toss up. I was aware this was a homage to classic Hollywood gangster films, but wasn’t sure of any specific one. The pop culture-savvy group members of the Monkee Magic group suggested George Raft as the coin-tossing Guino Rinaldo in Scarface (1932).

Gangster-Coin-tossing

The new owners fire the Monkees, and Davy confronts the larger one, Rocco, telling him to pick on someone his own size. Rocco’s about a foot taller than Davy, and he points out there is no one his size. I’m already impressed with Davy for standing up to this giant, and then he gets even braver: When Rocco pulls a gun, Davy brushes it aside and tells him, “You’re pretty tough with a gun in your hand.” Rocco punches him and knocks Davy and all the other Monkees back.

Fist-in-your-hand

Since Pop is an underdog and a rare older adult that is kind to them, the Monkees have to help him out. Back at the pad, they have a meeting to discuss that. Mike has his gavel and wants suggestions from the “floor” about dealing with Fuselli, leading to a gag where Peter listens to the floor, the wall, and the ceiling. Davy, I guess dizzy from being hit (see the cute band-aid?), has lost his earlier bravery and thinks the gangsters are too tough. Mike’s already decided that they’re going to help Pop and ignores Davy’s protests that there wasn’t a vote. I love that they end the meeting by throwing papers all over the place, and I wish we could end meetings like this at work.

The Monkees go back to Pop’s former restaurant and ask Rocco for their jobs back. Rocco hires them to wait tables since they “work cheap.” The other Monkees stick this job on Peter. This sets up the main theme in this episode: sticking Peter with everything. Peter auditions, successfully carrying large stacks of plates across the restaurant. In the kitchen, Peter lets go of the tray, which hovers (if you look close, you can see wires) for a few seconds, and then falls.

The Monkees are all in waiter’s uniforms, lined up for inspection. Fuselli shows them how they deal with people they don’t like by cuing Rocco to slap Peter. Micky gets in Fuselli’s face to show him how the Monkees treat people they don’t like, After an intimidating glare from Fuselli, Micky also slaps Peter. Peter wants to know what he did to deserve that.

Don't-do-it-again

That was such a cartoon violence moment. It’s more fun to see an aggressive, obnoxious character get knocked around, rather than a laid back, passive personality like Peter.

Fuselli lists their jobs: Chefs, dishwashers, musicians, hat check girl, cooks, cigarette girls. Well, we know they can dress as girls so, okay Fuselli. Now it’s time for a kitchen romp to “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart). This is another good plot-relevant romp. They run around the kitchen mostly; cooking, juggling plates, playing sides of meat like guitars, and dropping stuff. Don’t miss Peter sneezing on the salt shakers. Maybe he was hoping to make Fuselli and Rocco very sick? Mike gets tangled in spaghetti, and this was the same shot used in Success Story (shot later but aired earlier). The best part of this is Peter’s struggles with the pizza dough. He tosses it up and it doesn’t come down, so he gets a gun and tries to shoot it down.

Since their antics aren’t working, they go to the police station where they meet with the Inspector who is very intense, and possibly insane. The actor is hilarious, flipping emotional temperature in a split-second. He tells them they are dealing with part of the Syndicate, and “The Only members of the syndicate we’ve captured belonged to the Purple Flower Gang. But, we got all four of them!” Mike asks, “How’d you do that?”

Flower-to-Flower-2

The Inspector tells them they must connect Fuselli to the violent Syndicate. Micky says they’re violent too, and attempts to demonstrate on Peter again, but Peter evades him and they all run out. I’m glad Peter got away from him that time. Peter is my hero in this episode, he takes all the abuse and does all the work. It occurs to me that in most of the other episodes I’ve looked at for these posts so far, Peter hasn’t been given much to do. The character in previous episodes is good for a few sight gags, or to say humorously clueless lines but generally Mike or Micky do most of the useful things. This is an ensemble episode with all the Monkees working together to defeat a common enemy, but Peter is the standout, stand-up guy. And he’s STILL performing the best sight gags and lines.

The Monkees attempt to get fingerprints is foiled by Fuselli wearing gloves, and their plan to record an incriminating conversation is ruined by the usually mechanically adept Micky screwing up with the tape recorder. (A common problem for the Monkees, see Davy in “Royal Flush“) Next, they go for breaking and destroying. They sneak into the office, in bandit masks, planning to use explosives to blow open the safe. Instead, they blow up the desk and scramble to replace it with the still intact safe. Micky looks at the camera and assures me, “They’ll never know the difference.”

Fuselli holds a meeting with the Syndicate, which gives the Monkees an opportunity to help the police arrest them all at once. Out in the dining area, the Syndicate introduces themselves, including a female gangster, Big Flora. Peter gets into it and offers his own introduction, and he really deserves the applause they give him.

Peter-Tork-Bass-guitar-II

The Monkees want to stay and listen to get the goods on the Syndicate but Fuselli gives them the boot and breaks out the big map, used to divide up the city among the Syndicate members. The Monkees re-enter disguised as the Purple Flower Gang, looking fabulous in cool gangster suits with white flowers in the buttonholes and fake mustaches. Flora questions the flower color, but Micky covers this in his gruff “gangster” voice.

Purples-flowers-baby-ii

Peter slips up and says they’re hungry, so now they have to also be the waiters to serve themselves food on Fuselli’s orders. In the kitchen they “choose” to see who will go get the Inspector, but end up just making Peter go. Of course they do.

At the police station, Peter is immediately arrested as part of the Purple Flower gang. He protests that his flower is white, but crazy inspector offers a call-back gag, “Don’t try to kid me, I know how tough it is to find purple flowers.” They put him under hot lights, and shake him down, then play nice and offer him coffee. He enjoys the attention and being fed. Truly, the police are treating Peter better than the other Monkees do in this episode. Peter takes credit for every criminal activity including the sinking of the Lusitania, the Great Train Robbery etc.

At the restaurant, Micky, Davy, and Mike run back and forth, quick-changing costumes from crooks to waiters as the meeting continues. The Syndicate members continue to fight over Fuselli’s map. Mike and Davy turn it into a giant game of tic-tac-toe. The chaos-loving Monkees start tearing up the map and handing out the pieces of paper. Davy stuffs some of the map into a gang member’s mouth. As the crooks start fighting, Micky and Davy shake hands on a job well done and look at us knowingly. This is one of their favorite maneuvers, delaying the antagonists by creating chaos and confusing them.

One hood says this room isn’t big enough for all of them, so the Purple Flower gang volunteers to split. The real gangsters start pulling out guns and shooting. Under the table the Monkees agree they’d better do something. Micky stands up to stop the proceedings and calls a cute young woman in a fur coat to the scene.

Pretty-Girl

Thank you, James Frawley. Or the writers, or whoever came up with that. That was a really well-placed use of a unexpected, unrelated joke.

The shooting continues. Micky pops up behind the shoulders of various bad guys and tries to get them to stop: “Five people should be able to get along!” (Bang!) “Four people should be able to get along.” That was a funny, dark joke. This is a weird, bloodless bloodbath as bodies drop on the table but no blood effects are used. The gangsters are disposable, and their faux-dramatic deaths are played for humor, they’re not deaths we feel in anyway. Under the tables, Davy and Mike coolly ignore all the chaos and gunfire and continue to play tic-tac-toe. Every crook is dead, and the Monkees are not at all bothered. They got out of the situation by letting the adversaries destroy themselves.

Peter brought the police, hurray! But no, as the Monkees, still dressed as the Purple Flower Gang, are the last men standing, the Inspector arrests them. More of “Stepping Stone” is heard with some footage from other episodes, the most relevant being the bits of them walking around the cell in Ghost Town, playing with the flood lights from “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” mixed with the prison break bit from the pilot.

They don’t show us how they straightened things out with the inspector. Maybe Pop helped, because here he is, in his restaurant saying “Play for me boys, play like you used to.” The performance is separately shot footage of “She” (Tommy Boyce, Bobby Hart) with the band in grey suits and a blue background. They do some interesting angles, with Mike blurry in the foreground and the focus on Micky, who is singing. On a shallow note, Micky looks very handsome. Shots of the band are mixed in with some old black and white footage of women in bathing suits and circus performers, and other footage of people dancing. I don’t get the relevance.

Maybe I won’t forget about this one next time. There were many funny lines and this must hold the record for the most deaths in a Monkees episode. There are other violent episodes for sure. In “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” a character dies on screen from poisoned meat. Many more bullets are fired in “Hillbilly Honeymoon” but we never see bodies. When we see the thugs in “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” they are putting a guy’s feet in cement, so surely he’s about to be a corpse. Something about dark humor like this always appeals to me. On a show like The Monkees, it’s even better because it’s unexpected. It’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to the show as an adult, laughing at things that, most of the time, we’re expected to take seriously.

Evil-Carte

Look-Out-For

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.