Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Monkees in the Ring”

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“’Round and ’Round We Go!”

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“Monkees in the Ring” was directed by James Frawley and written by Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso. This is a combination of director/writers that frequently worked on these Monkees episodes, yet somehow this episode for me, doesn’t feel like a Monkees episode. This could be because the story is very similar to a 1965 episode of The Smothers Brothers, also written by Dee Caruso (and Richard Newton and Aaron Spelling.)

Round I

Peter and Davy are walking along the street when Peter accidentally bumps into a really large man. Big guy wants to start a fight with Peter so Davy jumps in and defends him. I love Davy’s nerve, I really do. The man takes a swing, and Davy taps him on the chin and he goes down. There’s an older man watching this entire thing, which is clearly a set up. They’re looking for a patsy. The older guy, Mr. Sholto, tells Davy he’s going to make him a featherweight champion after seeing what he did. I note that Davy’s British accent is especially strong in this scene.

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The Monkees are at home, and they try to talk Davy out of going to see Mr. Sholto. Davy points out they need the money and he has fought before. In actuality, David Jones did do some boxing. He boxed at a place called Newmarket, the same place where he trained to be a jockey. Micky pops in as an old man and tries to “guilt” Davy into giving up this idea. What’s funnier than Micky’s little sketch is Mike’s over the top laugh at him and the look Peter gives Mike. You can’t script something like that. Almost makes this episode worth the trouble.

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At Mr. Sholto’s office, Sholto and his stooge Vernon discuss the plan to build Davy up by having other boxers take a dive, and then make a killing when Davy loses to the champion. Davy arrives at the office with Micky, Peter and Mike. Sholto wants Vernon to get rid of the other three Monkees, but Davy firmly states he won’t stay without them. This is one thing that makes me feel this isn’t a very Monkees episode: It’s all about Davy. Davy is the main character and the other three act as his backup band or Greek chorus. “Royal Flush” and the pilot were a bit like this too. Not that I expect every episode to be structured the same. That would be boring.

Sholto, who’s name they keep mispronouncing as Shakespeare character “Shylock,” decides it’s time to see what Davy can do in the gym. Vernon says “right boss” and his gesture/voice telegraphs that they’re up to something. Continuing the precedent started with “Royal Flush” with a smart bad guy and a dumb bad guy, Vernon is obviously the “dumb one.”

The Monkees, Sholto, and Vernon go to the gym. The boxers currently working out there all laugh at them. Is it the hair? Or is it that they don’t look like boxers? Davy is in his boxing shorts and gloves and he tests his skills on a light bag, which he sends flying. The other Monkees look surprised; they didn’t know he had such talent. Next, Sholto brings over “The Smasher” and he asks Davy to punch him with his left. Smasher falls right over. Micky decides it must be easy so he takes a few cracks at Smasher. He can only injure himself on The Smasher’s solid jaw and stomach.

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Back in Sholto’s office, the con-game on Davy continues. Sholto bargains with The Monkees that if Davy doesn’t win his first three fights by knock-out, they can have him back. Sholto and Vernon give Davy a boxing robe, christening him “Dynamite Davy Jones.” Sholto taps Davy on the jaw in an “atta boy” way, and Davy falls to the sound of shattering glass.

Round II

At home, the other three continue to worry about Davy and, though it’s unsaid, the future of the band, I presume. Peter plays a classical piece on the banjo in the background while Mike and Davy do my favorite bit of dialogue:

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At the gym Sholto and Vernon prep Davy for his new grueling training schedule. The training becomes a romp to “Laugh” (Hank Medress, Phil Margo, Mitchell Margo and Jay Siegal). This isn’t much of a romp. Furthering my above argument, Davy is the only Monkee in the sequence. The best bits are him jumping rope with two cute girls holding either end, and Davy boxing and losing to his own shadow. On the other hand, Davy was actually a very athletic guy; this was a good part for him. Part of the romp shows Davy knocking down fighter after fighter in one punch.

Sholto holds a press conference in his office because Davy is set to fight “The Champ.” Davy annoys the other Monkees by working the press, making jokes and saying he had to fight his way out of “the slums.” Mike picks up the ringing phone: it’s The Smasher complaining he got paid less than other fighters to take a dive while fighting Davy. Now Mike knows what’s up. He grabs Davy right there in the office and tries to tell him, but Davy stays in his over-confident groove. Vernon approaches and Davy says he doesn’t believe Mike. He punches Vernon, who pretends to fall. Mike gives several helpless, flustered looks to the camera. 

Round III

Now it’s The Monkees turn to set up a counter-scheme. Mike and Micky are at the gym in Sweatshop shirts. They try to get into the practice ring and there’s a very long sequence of them getting comically tangled up in the ropes. The Champ watches them dubiously. Mike and Micky pretend to be from the boxing commission and they proceed to warn The Champ that Davy is too tough to fight. The Champ’s dialogue all rhymes and this character is loosely based on Muhammad Ali, who also liked to rhyme.

Peter arrives in bandages, posing as a previous, badly beaten opponent of Davy’s. While he talks to Peter, somehow the tricky Monkees bandage The Champ’s hands. He’s smarter than most and figures out that these are Davy’s musician friends, here to talk him out of fighting Davy. The Champ loses his temper and says he’ll slaughter Davy. Quoting Ali he shouts, “I am the greatest!” and chases them off.

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Round IV

Vernon has overheard the whole thing, and he and Sholto must step up their game. Sholto tells Vernon to keep Davy’s friends out of the way until after the fight, and to give Davy a sleeping pill before the fight. Davy holds court with the press backstage before the boxing match, and says something that sounds like the lyrics at the beginning of the song “No Time,” “Hober reeber sabasoben Hobaseeba snick Seeberraber hobosoben.” Sholto tries to force Davy to drink water that’s been laced with a sleeping pill. The Champ comes over to wish Davy luck and he drinks the water instead.

Vernon arrives at The Monkees’ pad to hold the other three at gunpoint until the fight is over. At the fight, the announcer introduces Davy and the now sleepy Champ. The Monkees and Vernon watch this on the TV and irritate Vernon, requesting he make adjustments to the reception, since they’re in handcuffs. Micky remarks he wishes The Champ would go to the corner of Crescent Heights and Sunset, hoping no doubt he’d get caught in the Sunset Strip riots mentioned in “Find The Monkees.” Mike starts to mess with Vernon and asks if he was ever a prize fighter. Micky follows Mike’s lead and they suggest Vernon is out of shape now. Vernon challenges Mike to a fight and Mike quickly agrees but says Micky has to be his “second” and Peter’s the referee. All of this means slow-witted Vernon has to remove their handcuffs.

Round V

At the actual fight, Sholto is excited because they’ve reached the fourth round he thinks the pill should be wearing off by now. So far, The Champ has been too sleepy to fight and keeps grabbing Davy and the referee to stay upright. The ring, by the way, was also used in the boxing scene of The Monkees film, Head. Also appearing in Head was boxing champion Sonny Liston, who Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay ) defeated in 1964.

The Monkees meanwhile prepare Vernon for their “fight.” Peter does a Hollywood tough-guy accent. They get Vernon in “his corner,” which ends up being in the closet where they can trap him and help Davy. A little social commentary [A little more than social commentary, it’s almost like they’re making fun of their own television show – Editor]:

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Now that the champ is wide awake, Davy’s strategy is ducking punches and telling him, “don’t do that.” A romp to “I’ll Be Back Upon My Feet” (Sandy Linzer/Denny Randel ) launches. Vernon arrives somehow, but it makes no sense that he got there before The Monkees, who left their pad first. While he had to struggle to get out of the closet, right? Vernon chases The Monkees into the ring. Mike and Micky run around the ring while Peter rings the bell. Mike keeps Sholto busy while Micky does the same with Vernon. Davy keeps sitting on Mike’s lap, while Micky and Vernon sit on each other. The announcer narrates all these goofy happenings. Peter announces that the winner is The Monkees.

The cops arrest Sholto and Vernon for fixing fights. Sholto says The Monkees are “ruining the fighting game,” and Vernon repeats it back as “fighting the ruining game.” That actually makes sense in a way. Mike and Micky try to make Davy feel better about the fixed fights. They tell him he’s gentle, kind, sincere, a great friend and musician, and a great man. They don’t mention he has a tendency to fall for this kind of stuff, like he did in “Too Many Girls.” Peter announces “The National Anthem,” and Davy knocks himself out as he salutes.

And that’s that. I had a few complaints obviously, but the episode has some funny, spontaneous-feeling moments. When it’s a James Frawley-directed episode, I can usually count on having a few laughs even if I don’t love the premise. Mike’s the only other Monkee who got much to do in the episode. As usual, Mike is the voice of reason trying to talk his friend out of a bad idea. There must be something special about Davy that makes outside characters always want to take him away from the group.

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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: “Son Of A Gypsy”

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“Everybody Wants to be in Showbiz!”

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“Son of a Gypsy” was written by the team of Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso and Treva Silverman. I really do enjoy the ones that Silverman wrote. The story is about a gig gone wrong, but it is also a wildly improbable, high adventure territory as their opponents in this episode are a group of larger than life gypsies who really like to murder and steal. The story isn’t about any of the Monkees in particular and they work together in funny and entertaining ways to get out of trouble. “Son of a Gypsy” was directed by James Frawley and aired the day after Christmas, December 26, 1966. Weird huh? I guess back then TV didn’t go into reruns on the holidays.

To start, the Monkees are waiting in the hallway where they’ve just auditioned to play a party. Their competition is a gypsy music band: a mother and her four sons. Both groups fervently hope to get the job, but Madame Rantha comes out and announces The Monkees have it. The gypsies are furious, but not just about the loss of the gig. Maria and her sons were hoping to get the job so they could steal the Maltese Vulture, which is the episode’s MacGuffin and a clever homage to the 1941 film, The Maltese Falcon. I remember taking film studies class in college and watching this Humphrey Bogart film. This is when I learned what a MacGuffin was – a plot device that the characters pursue that’s not important to the overall story.

Maria and Co. have invited the Monkees out to their camp to show them there are “no hard feelings” for the Monkees taking their would-be gig. Against their better judgment (except Peter), the Monkees accept their offer. Maria welcomes the Monkees and gives them gypsy clothes and boar’s tooth necklaces for “luck.” She has each son take a Monkee separately on a tour of the camp, so it’s a nice parallel that there are four sons and four Monkees. I wanted to mention the son’s names: Marco, Rocco, Zeppo, and Kiko. Zeppo was the name of a member of the comedy act The Marx Brothers and the other three names certainly sound like they could be Marx Brother’s names; that’s a nice homage.

Rocco, played by Vic Tayback who was also in “Your Friendly Neighborhood Kidnappers” and “Art, For Monkees Sake” takes Micky to read his tea leaves. Micky, maybe learning from the plot of “Too Many Girls,” says he doesn’t believe in it. Rocco tells Micky his leaves say he is soon to be unconscious and Micky passes out from the drugged tea. Like I said about “Too Many Girls”, it’s easy to predict the future, if you create it. Marco, played by Vincent Beck, who played very similar characters in “Royal Flush,” and “The Card Carrying Red Shoes,” is paired with Davy. He terrifies Davy with a knife-throwing bit. Peter gets tied up by Kiko and a female who dance around him and wrap him up with scarves. Meanwhile, Zeppo wants to use Phrenology to read the bumps on Mike’s head. No bumps on his head? No problem! Zeppo hits him with a mallet and he collapses. It’s so polite the way Mike apologizes for not having bumps.  

The Monkees are now Maria’s prisoners, and she wants them to steal the Maltese Vulture for her. Micky insists they are not thieves. Maria is actually pretty scary. She threatens to let her sons, especially the very keen Marco, torture the Monkees. Watching this as a five-year-old kid, I believed she would kill the Monkees. To emphasize this point, the camera keeps showing a hot poker on the fire. The Monkees go into a fantasy about being tortured which involves stretching Davy on the rack. It leads to a great site gag and a spin on their favorite “I am standing up” joke about the diminutive Davy.

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Marco gets out the poker to use on them until Mike, giving a deep, faux-macho line-reading, agrees to steal the vulture. He asks the others how his performance was, and they say he was good. Sort of breaking the fourth wall, but not necessarily; it could work in character. The gypsies joyfully leap up and embrace and untie the Monkees; Maria kissing Davy’s face. Hilariously, Vic Tayback picks up and carries Micky. The only one not happy is Marco, who’s bummed he won’t be torturing anyone with a hot poker [Somewhat disturbing – Editor].

Maria shows them the map of the location of the Maltese Vulture in the house where they’ll be playing the party. Maria inquires about how they will steal the Maltese Vulture. As they do in “Monkees a La Carte,” the Monkees start drawing all over her map, each with their own “plan.”

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See, because Charlton Heston played Michelangelo in the 1965 film, The Agony and the Ecstasy. That joke sounds funny, even when I didn’t know that. Maria tells them she’ll be keeping Peter as a hostage and they’ll take Marco, dressed in one of their matching blue Monkees shirts, to help with the robbery. Seems like a fair trade.

The Monkees play “Let’s Dance On” (Boyce/Hart) at the party while daffy Madame Rantha scurries happily around her guests. Marco goes off to check on the guards outside the room where the Vulture is kept, so the Monkees take the chance to find some help. They try Madame Rantha, but she’s clueless. Micky goes out into the crowd and tries to enlist the help of a party guest, played by episode director James Frawley. Frawley’s slightly confused facial expressions are terrific as he listens to Micky. He almost looks like he understands, until he suddenly starts speaking Yugoslavian (or faux Yugoslavian, I’m not sure.) Similar to “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” Micky has once again tried to get aid from someone who doesn’t speak English.

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By the way, I notice Micky drinking the champagne. There’s always some vague notion about the ages of The Monkees. The actors were old enough to drink (except Davy) but in “The Monkees Watch Their Feet” for instance, the writers refer to The Monkees as teenagers.

Mike and Davy meanwhile, have gone the absurdist route. They decide to throw a message in a bottle out the window. An unseen hand gives them back two cents deposit. Thank you, Thing.

Marco marks (pun!) the two guards stationed outside the room with the Vulture. This sets off the funniest sequence in this episode: The bits where they try to steal the Vulture. While Marco stays on stage to “play,” The Monkees sneak off into the hallway and peek around the corner.

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Davy will break into the safe, if Mike and Micky distract the guards. First, Micky pretends to rob Mike. Mike plays scared in the flattest delivery possible: “Help, help. Robbery. Who is this masked man, anyway? Help, help gun. Oh, terror, terror burglar. Burglar, help. Help, help. Wallet, mine, His now.” The guards? Unimpressed. On attempt two, the boys execute an obviously fake fight with boxing gloves. Last, they light matches and shout, “Fire! Fire!” and then drop them on the ground. THAT gets the guards to move, pointing out the hallway trashcan that says “Keep Our City Clean.” The Guard asks, “Can’t you guys read?” Micky explains, “Uh, no. We’re musicians.” With that, Davy has managed to sneak into the room.

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Davy has a big black bag from somewhere. The score accompanying Davy’s actions is this cool, James Bond style riff. I love the incidental music in this entire episode, this and the Romani-style strings used for the scene’s at Maria’s camp. The music is credited to Stu Phillips.

Back to Davy, who goes to the picture where the safe is and under it is…a painting of a safe. With this, and all the other surreal gags from this segment, Davy breaks the fourth wall and looks at us in disbelief. When he gets to the real safe, he pulls an impossible assortment of items out of his bag: bolt cutters, a sledge hammer, a live rabbit, and the little dynamite plunger. He blows up the wrong thing in the room, just like “Monkees a la Carte.” It’s less funny when they just repeat the gag, as opposed to the cool variation in the earlier scene. The explosion draws the attention of the guard, who only takes a cursory look and says it’s okay. Davy gets a stethoscope to listen to the safe and  hears “Last Train to Clarksville,” then puts on a pair of gloves and finds he has another set of hands!

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He doesn’t get too far before Madame Rantha comes in to show her friend the Vulture. Micky and Mike follow behind them. Micky uses that sputtering voice from  “One Man Shy” and tries to create a distraction. More importantly, what is Mike doing to the women? He’s behind them, touching and sniffing both Rantha and her friend’s hair while they ignore him completely. Micky’s acting is so entertaining; I missed this weird Mike business in past viewings.

Micky tells Rantha she can see a flaw in the Vulture if she holds it up to “the midnight.” Midnight brings panic as that’s when Peter will be killed, so Davy steps out, grabs the Vulture and tosses it down to Maria. The gang all have their knives on Peter, so he looks up and says “thank you” when he catches it. His relieved expression and tone of voice are priceless. Madame Rantha thinks they’re the thieves of course, so she has Peter brought in and arrested. The gypsies and The Monkees are now all in the ballroom. Maria says, you can tell Peter’s a thief, it’s written all over him.

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Madame is grateful to Maria and asks what she can do in return? Maria wants the Vulture, so she grabs it and runs. This leads to a romp set to “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond). Monkees and gypsies run around, fight and play football. It’s a lot like the “Dance, Monkees Dance” romp with The Smoothies. The gypsies stand in line while the Monkees launch various attacks, and the guards and party guests do nothing. The gypsies pick-pocket the guests. The guards finally pull guns on the gypsies.

The Monkees performance footage edited into this romp is the “Too Many Girls” footage of the same song, with the four of them in the ivory Monkees shirts. That makes a trio of colors for Monkees shirts in “Son of a Gypsy”; red at the beginning, blue at the party, and ivory here. Also, I really dig “I’m a Believer,” but after hearing it for four episodes in a row, I’m glad to be done with it for the next one coming up. (The producers never envisioned some nut obsessively writing about these shows and watching them over and over fifty years later, I’m sure.)

Maria and sons have decided that showbiz is easier than thievery and will go the route of Bessy and her boys from “Monkees in a Ghost Town.” Maria: “Yes, you boys have showed us that my boys can make a faster dollar in show business.” Marco adds, “And with as little talent, too.” I don’t know why they’re allowed to just leave, but when they do, they’ve taken Mike’s watch, Micky’s wallet and Peter. Peter is just a more sweet-natured version of Marco, does she really need two of those?

A note about the ballroom where this party takes place, this was an often used set on The Monkees. The same space was used in: “Royal Flush” as The Ritz Swank Hotel ballroom, “Monkee See, Monkee Die” as the parlor, the discotheque in “The Spy Who Came In From The Cool,” Pop’s restaurant in “Monkees a la Carte,” Renaldo’s Dance Au Go-Go school in “Dance, Monkee, Dance”, a banquet hall in “The Case Of The Missing Monkee”, a bandstand in Dr. Mendoza’s castle for “I Was A Teenage Monster,” the throne room in “The Prince And The Paupers”, a TV show set in “Captain Crocodile,” the banquet room for “Monkees A La Mode,” a hotel suite in “Everywhere A Sheik Sheik,” an art museum in “Art For Monkee’s Sake,” a gambling casino in “The Monkees On The Wheel,” a department store in “The Monkees Christmas Show,” the setting for The Secretary’s narration in “The Monkees Watch Their Feet,” a nightclub in “The Monkees Paw,” and “The Monkees Blow Their Minds,” and the stage in the KXIW-TV studio for a Rock-a-thon Contest in “Some Like It Lukewarm.” Shout out to The Monkees Film and TV Vault for help with that list.

And a note about the gypsies: I’m well aware that The Monkees writers frequently dealt in cultural stereotypes. Romani (or Gypsy) people were characterized in fiction as associated with occult powers, such as fortune telling, and thievery and cunning as well as having passionate temperaments. Obviously not realistic depictions of Romani people. However, The Monkees were satirizing old movies and TV shows, not real people. Throughout the series, cultural stereotypes are used in “Monkees Chow Mein,” “It’s a Nice Place to Visit,” “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik” and others. If these were being written today, my guess is that it would be done with more awareness and sensitivity [If written today, these examples would only be used to ridicule the culturally “insensitive” – Editor]. Even if they still chose to use the broadest characterizations, there would be a knowing, meta-nod to it, I imagine. However, all comedy somewhere is offending someone. If comedy isn’t risking offense, it’s probably not very funny. “Cultural Appropriation” wasn’t something on people’s minds at the time.

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And finally, I guess everyone is really loving the new Monkees album as much as I am? I really like the title track and “Me and Magdalena.” Who would have thought 50 years later we’d be enjoying such a cool new album?

Dedicated to the memory of Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)

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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.