Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool”

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“The Cool War”

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“The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” was the first episode written by the team of Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, who wrote a total of 22 Monkees episodes. It was directed by Robert Rafelson and originally aired October 10, 1966. I also want to point out the episode’s cinematographer Irving Lippman and editor Donald W. Starling. I can’t say enough about the behind-the-scenes team that made The Monkees, the director, writers, cinematographer, editors, and all the crew created one entertaining episode after another. I noticed some especially fun post-production techniques in this one, so I wanted to point that out.

The Monkees are driving the Monkeemobile within the actual episode. They get out and park while Davy begs the others to let him buy a new pair of maracas. Inside a music store, the big, Russian-accented Boris is stuffing microfilm into a pair of red maracas. Madame Olinsky tells him their plans: He’s to sell the maracas to a “very short man” who will want them in red and say he can only pay him 50 cents. I think we all see where this is going.

Davy-Jones

Outside, Davy notes that there’s a man talking to a Popsicle, but this only interests Mike if the Popsicle talks back. The Monkees enter the store and Davy requests the red maracas, accidentally saying the spies’ code phrase. Boris tells him he is “very short.” Davy is too cool to look half as annoyed as I would. They send Davy and the other three out through the “secret exit” in the harp case. Then, the actual short Russian spy enters and asks for the maracas. Poor Boris realizes he’s screwed up.

The Monkees play “The Kind of Girl I Could Love” (Michael Nesmith) at the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh, and we can see Valerie Kairys dancing in the crowd. This is the first episode featuring one of Michael Nesmith’s songs. Davy hears an extra rattle in his maracas and pulls out the microfilm, which he stuffs in his waistband. There’s no room for pockets in those tight pants. Boris and Madame Olinsky enter dressed as teenagers. Although Madame does look hot in these clothes, the couple looks hilariously out of place, and like Vic Tayback in the previous episode, they try to fit in by “dancing.” We have adults trying to infiltrate the teenage world by dressing and behaving like them, and failing.  Boris makes the subtle (and subversive for the time I think) suggestion that a teenage boy has hit on him.

The song finishes and the spies threaten the band on the stage with a gun, demanding the film. Peter bursts into tears. Mike gets them out of it by announcing the spies as folk-singing duo “Honey and the Bear,” which suits their appearance very well. Mike forces them on the stage where they are paralyzed with fear at having to face the teenage crowd. The nervous spies sing an anthem called “Blow up the Senate.” Micky starts the crowd booing as well as flinging pillows at them, setting off the theme of kids “following the crowd” in this episode. The Monkees use the distraction to make their exit.

At CIS headquarters (TV version of the CIA), Honeywell (the Popsicle-talker) and the Chief discuss the Monkees possession of the microfilm. Honeywell has been ineptly spying on them. (We wouldn’t need Snowden if the government were this obvious when recording citizens.) Honeywell shows the Chief the film he made of the Monkees. On the film, Honeywell asks political questions of Mike and Peter, who answer in a comically irrelevant way. The more “show-biz” characters, Micky and Davy, also don’t get it and respond with self-interest: Micky pulls out a larger than life head-shot of himself for Honeywell, and Davy breaks into a soft shoe dance performance of “Old Folks at Home” (Stephen Foster), knowing that a camera is on him. This is a very “Davy” moment that I love.

Popsicles

Chief brings the boys into the CIS headquarters and asks for their help. They’re none too enthusiastic about the danger. Micky does a little Don Adams impression as he picks up the phone and asks for “Schwartz, Harold B.” to catch the spies instead of them. Chief says he can save at least three of them, leading to a chair scramble for the three chairs which Peter loses completely. The Monkees reluctantly agree to help.

Back at the pad, they unicycle around the room, with the cameras giving a little fake jolt as they crash into each other. Mike is skeptical and wants to back out, but Micky goes into a spy fantasy, different from the previous costume fantasies where they pull costumes out of nowhere. Here we get a camera dissolve to set up the daydream. This is my favorite bit of the episode, where Micky plays a “Q” from James Bond role and explains equipment and weapons to the other Monkees. He takes them outside to the same park we saw in “Kidnappers” for a fighting demonstration with the very large Yakimoto, who destroys Micky’s gun display. This is also an unusual case where Micky is playing the straight man to the other characters who make all the jokes.

Spy-training

The Monkees meet Honeywell at the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh where he sets them up with an obvious microphone in a table lamp. Their task is to finagle a confession from the spies, and then Honeywell will pop out and arrest them. Davy disturbs the lamp as they walk out and a fake “Genie” dressed in an I Dream of Jeannie costume appears. Davy makes one of television’s first meta-references: “Imagine that, wrong show.”

Wrong-Show

The band plays “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) on the little stage while Boris and Madame enter. Madame mocks the kid’s western decadence, especially for their lack of individuality or originality in their dancing: “Sheep. They all follow one another.” (The kids are also all wearing the same clothes from the earlier disco scene.) This theme of “following” was seen in the previous episode where the young people all follow each other to rush into the Monkees house, and then rush out again when the music changes.

The spies sit down with the Monkees, and Davy obviously tries to get their confession. When asked if they are really foreign spies, Boris supplies him with a nod. Davy rushes back to check with Honeywell, who rightly points out he can’t hear a nod. On his way back Davy (who is maintaining his cooler, hipper personality from the previous episode) inadvertently kicks the cord out.

Mike stalls by counting the money the spies brought to buy the film. Davy pushes the lamp in front of them but Honeywell isn’t getting anything since it’s unplugged. Madame finally gets tired of these delay tactics, and we’re treated to a Marx Brothers moment from Peter:

Daffodills

Honeywell gets the confession, but Madame pulls out her gun and threatens the boys to give up the film already. Mike bravely taunts her to come get it and throws her out onto the dance floor where she has to dance in order to not make a scene. Davy and Micky desperately try to call Honeywell while Mike fights off Madame. Boris is pulled into the dance by a girl from the crowd. Micky and Peter stand up to subdue Boris, but he effortlessly tosses them to the walls.

Everyone in this scene is dancing to “All the Kings Horses” (Michael Nesmith). This is one of my favorite songs on the show. I love the guitar break and the harmony with Mike and Micky. This song is not listed in the end credits but “Last Train to Clarksville,” which we don’t hear, is listed.

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Madame karate chops Mike, who falls and we get the payoff to the earlier line about copying dance steps. The editors give a little help by winding the film back so we see the chop twice. The girls all start karate chopping and the boys all fall to the ground. Last episode, we have the “Kidnap” and now we have the “Karate Chop.” Madame takes the film from Mike’s pants and escapes. Davy bravely jumps on Boris’ back and somehow the three standing Monkees stop the big man from leaving. Honeywell finally comes out and tells Boris he’s going to Leavenworth. Peter sweetly comforts the disappointed Boris who won’t be meeting Madame in Argentina. Aww..Peter.

“Somewhere in China,” Madame tells a room full of men in suits that she has a film of America’s greatest secret weapon. And that weapon is the Monkees fooling around on the beach in their red bathing suits to “Saturday’s Child” (David Gates). Back at the disco, Mike awkwardly dances with Honeywell. Also in this footage is the bit I love from the opening credits with Peter in the bathtub being rolled down the street by the other Monkees, among other fun shots. The Monkees show up at the end of the song in trench coats, hats, and guitar cases that they pretend are weapons and find Madame tied up in the chair.

The episode title is obviously a parody of the John le Carré novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The movie of the same name came out the year before this episode. Spy stories were popular at the time. Other notable ’60’s spy series and films included: I Spy, James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Get Smart. The writers, Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, wrote eleven episodes of Get Smart so they were experienced at writing spy/comedy material. The cold war would have been on everyone’s mind at the time with the US having entered the Vietnam War in 1965, but I don’t think that The Monkees writers/producers were especially interested in topical humor. The ‘bad guys” could be anyone and it would be understood just as easily if this episode were made today, substituting “terrorists” (or whatever conspiracy the media comes up with next) for “Russian Spies.”

The way the Cold war plays here, the teenagers are detached from it all. They’re into their music, fun, their self-expression. Tension with Russia and China is a grown-up problem. It’s not their fault or their concern but they are expected to fight the war. The Monkees only help when directly confronted by the CIS. The other young people in the episode have no interest or even clue what’s happening around them in the disco scenes. The main source of the comedy in this episode is the cultural divide between the adults and the teens.

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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: “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers”

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“Monkees, Swine, and Crabs”

Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers

“Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers,” which aired on October 3, 1966, was directed by James Frawley, and written by Dave Evans, his first of seven Monkees scripts. This is the first episode where the plot revolves around the Monkees pursuing success and fame as a band. According to a couple of interviews I found online with Micky Dolenz, here and here, the central premise of the show was a band struggling to be as successful as the Beatles, not to make a show about an American version of the Beatles. It was meant to appeal to young kids struggling in undiscovered bands of their own. Traditionally sitcoms don’t show us successful people who’d be impossible for most of us to relate to.

The story opens with a band contest, and the group onstage is the Four Swine. Micky describes the leather wearing, cigarette puffing Swine as “seedy characters.” This is interesting because in the second season “Wild Monkees” episode, the Monkees will put on similar outfits to impress some biker girls. The “seedy” Swine make fun of the Monkees on their way off stage, handing Micky a banana. The Four Swine manager arranges for the audience to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony instead of the Monkees music when they get on stage and try to play.

Monkee-Talent

The Swine Manager shows up at the Monkees pad introducing himself as Nick Trump. He claims he’s there to handle their publicity during the contest and pretends he barely knows the Swine. They are surprised they made the finals, but Trump explains the judges “dig Beethoven.” None of the Monkees are taking this seriously: Mike is on a pogo stick, Davy is doing a headstand, and Micky does his Groucho Marx impression. They really do have some “peculiar talents” (to borrow a term from “Prince and the Paupers”). YouTube has a nice clip here. The boys want nothing to do with Trump’s publicity until he says it’s required in the contest rules. I don’t get their aversion to publicity since it could help them get more gigs.  At this point in the episode they don’t know the type of “publicity” that Trump has in mind.

Guitar-wipe to the disco known as the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh, which appears in a few episodes and was a play on words that I always loved. Trump tells them, via voice-over, they will have their clothes ripped off by crazy teenage girls for a publicity stunt. The Monkees sit there, excited and kind of scared as you would be. Micky and Mike go into an astronaut fantasy as they count down to clothes-ripping. Screaming girls come rushing in and tear the clothes off…some random middle-aged dude in the back.

No thanks, we're just here to have our clothes ripped off.

Mike’s facial expressions as he waits to have his clothes ripped off are so good.

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Lester Crabtree, the guy who got his clothes ripped off, did get in the newspaper. I love the shot of Micky reading the story and as he puts the paper down and the other three are revealed behind him. Trump’s next idea is to have the Monkees put their hands in cement in front of the Chinese theater. I notice in the background that the marquee says “The Machie” and the names as Nazemize and Dork, The other two read Dourantse, and Juhans, but I can’t see them on my screen. This stunt ends badly because Trump uses quick-drying cement and the boys have to take the block of sidewalk with them to get free. Trump pretends it’s their fault, but offers them one more chance. His final plan is for them to be kidnapped, which will make all the papers. Mike is rightly skeptical of this but the Monkees talk it over (saying rhubarb, rhubarb, in the background) and agree.

Trump calls the kidnappers, one of whom is Mel from the television sitcom, Alice! Always fun to see a famous actor before they played their iconic part. The kidnappers are busy putting a poor victim’s feet in cement, but they agree to take the job. Trump tells the Monkees to dress “black tie” for a daytime kidnapping. Peter tries a few different magical costume changes to get this right, and Davy’s wearing a red smoking jacket that’s different from the others who are in  black tuxes. Mike is skeptical of Micky’s suggestion that they call the late-arriving kidnappers, which leads into a pretend call with the kidnapper’s answering service where Micky resurrects his phony-salesman voice from “Royal Flush.”

Answering-Service

After going to the wrong house, the kidnappers knock politely and check the address with Mike. This is the first mention of their 1334 N. Beechwood address, which was also the address used for the Monkees original fan club. The kidnappers bust out guns and scare the crap out of Peter. They tie up the Monkees with Mr. Schneider replacing the missing Davy. Horace (Louis Quinn) tells George (Vic Tayback) he has to pick up Davy at the disco; however George is intimidated because he can’t do those “crazy dances.” There’s a brilliant screen caption when George practices dancing that reads “Cassius Clay Watch Out.” (Referring to boxer Muhammad Ali, known by his birth name Cassius Clay until 1965.)

George goes to the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh and finds Davy dancing with his date, (played by Valerie Kairys, who was in 14 Monkees episodes, most appearances uncredited). George tries desperately to blend in with his dancing but Davy takes mercy on him and says they can leave. Davy’s girl wants to go along for the kidnapping, and she ends up bringing everyone at the disco back to their house for a party. I wanted to mention, Davy has a bit of a personality change in this episode. He is fun, charming, and confident; he’s genuinely cool and not the starry-eyed romantic dork he appeared to be in “Royal Flush” and “Monkee See, Monkee Die.”

Back at the pad, the gun-wielding thugs have lost control of the situation because the kids, the staff, even the furniture from the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh are now in the Monkees pad. The overwhelmed kidnappers tie everyone up, but the kids keep dancing to “Let’s Dance On”  (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart) (not credited at the end of the episode) and “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” (Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart). Getting tied up does’t bother the kids at all. They make it into a new dance craze. Horace calls Trump to tell him he’s going to have to cough up more money to kidnap the entire crowd, but Trump refuses. Davy helpfully empties the room for them by playing a polka on the jukebox, causing the kids to stampede right back out of the house.

dance

Trump reveals his sinister plot: this is no publicity stunt, the kidnappers are real and there to keep the Monkees from participating in the contest so the Four Swine can win. I think everyone but the Monkees saw this coming. This marks the second episode where we have the bad guys holding the boys captive until a certain time has passed, the first being “Royal Flush.”  The kidnappers lock the Monkees in the bedroom while they play cards with the stuffed chimp.

The Monkees try to figure out how to escape in time to make the contest. Micky has more ideas in five minutes than I have all day. The editors put an image of light bulb directly over his head to signify this, but he complains, “I can’t think with this bulb hanging over my head,” and it pops like a balloon and vanishes (“thank you”). His first plan is to toss a hypnotized Peter out the window. (I would love to have Micky’s hypnotist talents for putting kids to bed.) Once this idea is dismissed, Micky makes a rope for them to crawl down until Mike points out they’re on the first floor. Okay, hold it, in that case why don’t they all just go out the window?

Mike, who really is the group skeptic, tries to warn Micky against his idea of punching the kidnappers. He’s proven right when Micky’s fist hits George’s hard face. Throughout this, Peter keeps the audience aware that the Monkees’ need to hurry by announcing the time, which the screen caps helpfully display in Central Time. Micky finally manages to con their way out, pretending he has a vial of Nitroglycerin and threatening the kidnappers with it until they back into the bedroom. Micky confesses to the other three that he has no idea what’s really in the vial and tosses it off the set where it explodes in a surprisingly good effect.

The freed Monkees head for the contest in their matching Monkees shirts. But wait: the gangsters get out of the “locked room” right away and begin a romp chase scene to “Last Train to Clarksville” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) . This is the third time in as many episodes they played this song. The chase includes scenes in a city park, a desert, a western scene, and stock footage of covered wagons. It ends with the Monkees clobbering the kidnappers and playing their song in the contest. Before the MC can announce the contest winners, there’s a fourth-wall-breaking bit from Peter:

Peter

The Four Swine and Trump go to jail in matching jail-striped outfits. The Monkees get “special consideration” for their trouble, but the winners are Lester Crabtree and the Three Crabs! Screaming girls run onstage to rip Lester’s clothes off again. Success eludes the Monkees who conclude that all it takes to get famous is having your clothes ripped off. They immediately tear off each other’s shirts in the most unintentionally homoerotic moment ever on the series. It’s also one of the many cynical comments about show business that The Monkees made over the course of the series.

Clothes-ripping

Tag sequence is an interview because the show is once again a minute short. Producer Bob Rafelson interviews them about their success since being on the show, which goes along well with the storyline. Mike reveals that he was a troublemaker when he was a kid and certain people from his past were surprised to see him doing well. He also says it’s nice to have a little extra money to spend since getting the role on the show.

Another one of my favorite episodes, with a satisfying set-up and payoff at the end. I love the fact that the plot is about their struggles as a band, and I like the focus on them as an ensemble cast as in “Monkee See, Monkee Die.” They’re at their best when working together. There is also the remarkable humor commenting on the fact that it is a television show. The producers/writers/editors are not expecting you to get lost in the “reality” of the story; instead there’s lots of breaking the fourth wall, the screen captions, etc. They know that we know we’re watching a show, and they let us in on the joke.

And now, here’s a mini-tribute to Micky Dolenz. With his sharp line delivery, funny voices, and expressive face, he can always be counted on for an out-loud laugh at least once in every episode.

Micky-Mania

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Songs

Happy Holidays everyone! Thank you all so much for reading these. I am having a lot of fun researching and writing them, and I really appreciate Monkees fans out there I can share this with. Be sure to check out the Blissville podcast on “The Monkees.”

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.