Monkees vs. Macheen: “The Devil and Peter Tork”

“The Devil Went Down to Hollywood, Looking for a Soul to Steal.”

“The Devil and Peter Tork” is a classic episode, a fan favorite that receives a lot of well-deserved praise. Like the previous episode, “The Monkees’ Paw,” “The Devil and Peter Tork” was inspired by a short story: “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” by Steven Vincent Benét, about a farmer who enters into a contract with “The Stranger” and is in danger of losing his soul. The mythical litigator, Daniel Webster, sets up a court case on behalf of the farmer and wins his soul back for him.

“The Devil and Peter Tork” first aired on February 5, 1968, but was shot nearly a year earlier, in April, 1967. The episode has a first season/early second season feel, due to both the Monkee’s hair and clothing styles and the more innocent (relatively speaking) tone. The reason for the delay, per IMDB trivia, came from the network reacting to the “Hell” lines that mocked NBC’s Standards & Practices division. A alternate rumor about the reason for the delay was that the network objected to the sly drug references in the song “Salesman.”

Story writing credits for this episode go to Robert Kaufman (1931-1991), with the teleplay by Robert Kaufman and Gerald Gardner & Dee Caruso. This was Kaufman’s first and only Monkees episode. He also wrote the story for Divorce, American Style, screenplay for Freebie and the Bean, and Love at First Bite as well as many other film screenplays and television episodes. Episode director was James Frawley.

The episode begins with Peter visiting a pawn shop, admiring the many instruments. It appears to be the same music shop from “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool,” only the set is lit in this episode to appear ominous and shady. Peter calls out to see if anyone is in. Mr. Zero startles Peter, touches his shirt, and smoke rolls off from his touch! It’s not the creepiest thing that ever happened on this show, but it’s pretty scary! Zero explains that the instruments belong to musicians who have fallen on bad times.

Zero invites Peter to look around. Peter immediately notices the harp and approaches it to look more closely. He tells Zero he’s always loved the harp. Zero-the-cynical says he’s sure Peter means “need or desire, no one loves things anymore.” But Peter knows how he feels; he loves the harp. Of course he doesn’t have any money. No problem, Zero simply snaps his fingers and a contract appears, “play now, pay later.” Peter signs it and carries the harp out the door (magically opened for him by Zero). Zero calls someone on a red phone and requests a reservation for one; he’s just purchased the soul of Mr. Peter Tork. Meanwhile, Peter carries the harp down the street on foot.

Back at the pad, Mike patiently explains to Peter that, though the harp is beautiful, he doesn’t know how to play it. Micky and Davy agree that Peter should take it back and they leave him to it. Zero appears in a puff of smoke and asks Peter why he needs Mike now that he has his harp? Zero wants Peter to believe that material possessions are more important than people. Mike wisecracks that he does the sweeping up, etc. Zero disregards his sarcasm by magically popping a broom into Mike’s hand. He goes after his quarry, telling Peter to play his harp. Peter tries it out, and it seems Zero has given him supernatural knowledge of how to play it perfectly. Zero promises to make Peter famous, but Peter is not interested in fame; he’s simply entranced with the beautiful music. Zero puffs away. Monte Landis is appropriately menacing as Zero in this episode. This is my favorite of all of his seven performances on the show. Born in Glasgow, he plays Zero with a British accent. This is a fitting choice, as American movies and television shows love to cast Brits as “evil” characters.

Mike, Micky, and Davy re-enter the scene when they hear Peter playing, curious about how he learned so fast. Peter explains that Mr. Zero taught him. He asks if they could add it to the act, and Micky turns into a newspaper salesman, “Extra, extra, group earns fame and fortune by adding harp into act” Skeptical Mike points out that, “no one was ever an overnight success” as he goes to answer the ringing phone. It’s Harry’s Booking Agency, calling to tell them that with the harp, they’re going to be an overnight success. Ha! Mike is bemused.

The story of their climb to fame and fortune is told with a montage. There are shots of a train, kids screaming from “Monkees on Tour,” and newspaper headlines: “Monkees Intro Harp” “Monkees Harp a Hit!,” and “Monkees Harp Happening.” More Monkees on tour footage with a transparent image of Peter playing “Pleasant Valley Sunday” on the harp superimposed.

Back at the Monkees house, Peter’s still playing. (I’ve got blisters on my fingers!) Micky, Mike and Davy look through the hundreds of offers from the mail. Zero pops in with a puff of smoke. The Monkees are not amazed. I guess when you can materialize props and costumes yourself, nothing surprises you. Zero asks Peter if he’s pleased and likes all the money he’s making. All Peter cares about is making people happy with the music. He is of course the perfect character for Zero to target, because he was always the least likely to look for a catch in any bargain.

It’s time to pay up though, as Zero pulls out his contract. Mike, the type who always looks for the downside, grabs the contract and looks it over. (Peter Tork wise-cracks in the DVD commentary that Mike was always looking at contracts.) He quickly discovers that Peter has sold his soul to the Devil. Peter innocently says he doesn’t believe in devils. Zero says this makes Peter’s soul more interesting because innocence is “at a premium.”

This is an interesting thought. Can the Devil take your soul, if you don’t believe in him/it? Or is it like the film The Usual Suspects, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” [“And like that … he’s gone.” – Editor’s Note] Does disbelief of evil give it great power? Or are you still innocent if you don’t acknowledge the existence of good and evil? As Shakespeare said, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Humans give those concepts power, they aren’t inherently true and don’t come from anyone but us. These are all possibilities to think over anyway.

Micky thinks Zero’s joking, as I would. Zero proves his power by snapping his fingers, shattering the chair that Micky tried to sit on, making Davy’s shirt vanish, and giving Mike that damn broom again. They all are convinced, yep, he’s the devil. That’s their proof? The Monkees themselves have made many a prop and costume appear out of nothing. Come on, impress me Mr. Zero.

According to the contract Zero gets Peter’s soul by midnight. (Shouldn’t it be on Peter’s death?) Mike points out that it’s only 8 p.m., and Peter wants his other four hours thanks. Zero agrees, undoes his mischief, and vanishes. The other three Monkees huddle around Peter, who admits he’s scared. He starts to say, “I don’t want to go to h—” but is cut off by a flash of hell-red lightning and a romp to the song “Salesman” (Craig Vincent Smith).

Woo hoo! I love this song and this romp. Zero sits on a throne with sexy female devils at his feet. The lady devils bring Peter to Zero and jab at the Monkees with devil forks. This is all mixed in with footage of Mike singing the song in the Rainbow Room. The Monkees get their own devil costumes, and they run around and dance etc. This is one of the better romps of the later part of the season. There’s a colorful, cheesy-yet-creepy vibe to it and great editing. I don’t know how this played to people in the 1960s. I’ve seen plenty of Vincent Price movies from that time with this same look.

After the romp is the classic dialogue:
Mike: So that’s uh, that’s what [cuckoo] is all about.
Davy: Yeah, [cuckoo] is pretty scary.
Micky: You know what’s even more scary?
Peter: What?
Micky: You can’t say [cuckoo] on television.

I love Micky’s cocky expression as he delivers the stinger. “Salesman” is on the album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones, Ltd. The riff always reminded me of the Beatles’ “Taxman” and that was probably by design. The lyrics describe the life of a door-to-door salesman in cynical terms. The line that might have scandalized standards and practices is, “There goes salesman and he’s sailing high again /He’s sailing so high, high, sailing so high.” Considering the drug references that got by in episodes like “The Monkees Paw” and “A Coffin Too Frequent,” I doubt this was an issue. The joke above about not being allowed to say “hell” seems the more likely reason for the network delay of the episode.

Apparently “hell” had been said around this time on Star Trek. Captain Kirk said, “Let’s get the hell out of here” in the 1967 episode, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” It’s listed here on TV firsts. I’m guessing it was still considered pretty outrageous at the time. Wow, racy!

As the Monkees discuss what to do, Zero returns. The boys try to stall for time but Zero isn’t having it. He pulls Peter to the door, telling him he’ll like it “down there.” Then comes the most sweetly selfless moment ever on The Monkees:

Every time I see that scene, it gets to me. Davy Jones does it so sincerely. Zero turns him down of course, so Micky and Davy grab Peter and have a tug-of-war with Zero. Mike on the other hand, stands back and uses his brain. He tells Zero that if the contract is valid, there’s nothing the Monkees can do. But, he wants to take that contract to court to test it. Mike is taking more of the Daniel Webster role in this, despite the way the episode is named; he asks for the trial and makes the compelling argument toward the end.

Zero claps his hand and materializes a hellish, red-curtained, fire-lit court. Presided over by Judge Roy Bean, the jury consists of “twelve condemned men from Devil’s Island.” Yeah, I’m sure that’ll be fair. [Don’t they get a voir dire? – Editor’s Question] Roy Bean, if you were wondering, was a famous judge in late 19th Century Texas. He was known for his “unusual rulings” and was portrayed after his death as a “hanging judge” although he only ever sentenced two men to hang.

Zero calls old west gunfighter Billy the Kid as his first witness. Billy agrees that Zero kept his bargain and made him the most famous gunfighter in the West. Mike loses the “choosing fingers” contest with the other Monkees and has to take the first defense. He steps up to question “Mr. Kid” but is easily intimidated and backs off.

Zero wants to wrap it up, but Micky insists they call another witness on the fourth-wall-breaking-grounds that, “the television show’s not over.” Zero swaps out Billy for the renowned pirate, Blackbeard, who recites, “Yo ho ho and a bottle o’ rum, I smell the blood of an Englishman.” Davy takes that as his cue and stands up to question him. Blackbeard sways his rum bottle back and forth until Davy gets seasick.

Zero smugly calls infamous warmonger Attila the Hun. Micky steps up to the challenge, promising to be like Spencer Tracy from Inherit the Wind. (Never without a show-biz reference, that guy.) Attila doesn’t speak English so they start a conversation in faux “foreign” language. Attila backs Micky to the table with his sword until Mike stands up and shouts gibberish that makes Attila back off.

Micky: “What’d you say?”
Mike: “I don’t know!”

The judge is ready to pass sentence, but Mike’s not through. He calls the defense’s first witness: Zero himself. Zero materializes the contract for evidence. He claims in exchange for fame and fortune, Peter gave up his soul. Mike argues that Zero didn’t give Peter anything in exchange for his soul. Peter didn’t want fame and fortune; he just wanted to play the harp. Zero argues, “I gave him the ability to play the harp… in return for his soul.”

Poor Peter. He’s always the most sympathetic Monkee and I really feel for him here. This episode scared me a bit when I was a kid. I was raised Catholic so Hell was a real concept. I’d say this episode and “Son of a Gypsy” (thanks to the hot poker) were the two Monkees episodes that disturbed me the most. But I don’t mind; I like being scared. An episode with any kind of emotional impact is going to stick with me much longer. I was really worried for Peter. But never fear; Mike is here. He argues that Peter’s love of the harp and music gave him the power to play, not Zero. Micky and Davy listen thoughtfully and attentively while Zero laughs at his ideas.

Here’s where Zero makes his mistake. He takes the supernatural power away from Peter and materializes the harp. Mike tells Peter to go play. Peter is frightened, but Mike insists that no one can give Peter the power or take it away. Peter sits down and plays a beautiful instrumental arrangement of “I Wanna Be Free.” Of course, it’s not that simple. You can’t just do something because you love to do it. BUT, for the sake of this being a 30 minute show, let’s say for Peter, “love” equals many, many hours of practice, therefore what Mike says is meaningful and credible.

The jurors and the witnesses are touched; they’re even moved to tears. Zero is no longer laughing. This bit does parallel the original story, if we compare Peter’s playing of the harp to Daniel Webster’s way with words as described here:

“For his voice could search the heart, and that was his gift and his strength. And to one, his voice was like the forest and its secrecy, and to another like the sea and the storms of the sea; and one heard the cry of his lost nation in it, and another saw a little harmless scene he hadn’t remembered for years. But each saw something. And when Dan’l Webster finished he didn’t know whether or not he’d saved Jabez Stone. But he knew he’d done a miracle. For the glitter was gone from the eyes of judge and jury, and, for the moment, they were men again, and knew they were men.”Steven Vincent Benét, “The Devil and Daniel Webster”

Just like Webster, Peter has performed a miracle of restoring the humanity of the judge and these hard, bitter, hell-bound men. With his playing, Peter makes an argument in his own defense, and earns his name in the story title. He finishes playing and the judge declares him “not guilty!” Defeated, Zero snaps himself back to hell. The Monkees hug and celebrate.

This is a truly wonderful episode. Not so many laugh-out-loud moments as I normally expect, but a well done story, sensitively acted. I know it’s not perfect, but I like it so much I don’t feel like picking nits. This is one of the most emotionally engaging stories for me, included with “One Man Shy” and “I’ve Got a Little Song Here.” These are also the episodes that revolve around the non-actor characters, Mike and Peter. Not a coincidence I’m sure; there’s something about their less practiced acting style that makes them relatable, easy to empathize with. Or maybe they just lucked into better stories being written around them.

The last bit of the episode is the bouncy, energetic Rainbow Room performance of “No Time” (Hank Cicalo). This tune has a gospel feel and is therefore a great way to end this particular episode. Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you all have a wonderful 2018 and don’t have to make any deals with the Devil.

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: “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes”

“I Don’t Want to be a Chicken” or “Eastern Promises”

“The Card Carrying Red Shoes” debuted November 6, 1967 and it’s another Cold War, spy-themed episode; along the same lines as “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” and “Monkees Chow Mein.” Of the three, this is my least favorite. Regarding the title, the phrase “card-carrying” can refer to membership in any organization, but it was used to describe members of the Communist party during the 1940s-50s McCarthy era. The second part of the title, “Red Shoes,” alludes to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, later loosely adapted into a film in 1948 about a ballet dancer. The title at least is clever, but they never explore or parody the notion of ballet, spies, or contrast of Eastern/Western ideas; it’s all just a weak device to put the Monkees in a situation.

Directed by James Frawley, the episode begins with a sign letting us know we’re at the Druvanian National Ballet. Inside the theater, Micky, Peter, and Davy stand around the rehearsal space with some odd instruments. Those are the only Monkees you will see this episode; Mike is absent from this one. The two lead dancers, Ivan and Natasha, enter arguing. Ivan keeps checking Natasha’s red ballet shoe and she’s tired of it. Ivan is played by Vincent Beck who was also in the episodes “Royal Flush” and “Son of a Gypsy,” playing similar characters: big dumb thugs with Eastern European accents.

Davy and Micky complain that they lugged their own instruments to the hall but have to play “weird” Druvanian instruments. Nicolai, who seems to be in charge of the ballet company, checks to see that they are ready. Micky can’t figure out which end to put in his mouth. Davy points out that it’s a string instrument, so naturally Micky puts his mouth to the string. Micky seems compelled to reply to Nicolai in imitation of his accent. He claims they’re ready but Nicolai points out that Peter is playing a lamp. I know this is all just to set up Natasha escaping in their instrument trunk, but the jokes could have been better. Especially since hiring the Monkees but not letting them play their own instruments doesn’t make sense. I want to see ballet dancers rock out to “Star Collector” Yeah, baby.

Ivan looks inside the red shoe to make sure the microfilm is still in the toe. Ivan and Nicolai discuss their plan to sneak microfilm out of the country. These spies are from a fictitious country known as Druvania instead of the U.S.S.R. Monkees writers do like making up fictitious nations; we’ve also seen Peruvia, Harmonica, and Nehudia.

The rehearsal begins and Ivan sends Natasha twirling into Peter. She looks up at him and notices, “What a face.” She sneaks into their trunk, which should still be full of instruments. Ivan and Nicolai notice Natasha is missing. The Monkees help look for her but Nicolai yells at them to get out. They leave like cartoon characters, bumping into Nicolai and Ivan on the way out and annoying them as much as possible.

Back at the pad, the Monkees note the increased weight of the trunk. Natasha pops out and threatens to shoot them with a finger gun but then makes a real gun materialize in her hand. She warns that she’ll shoot if they make a false move, except for Peter because of his face. She starts stroking Peter’s hair, kissing his cheek etc. Davy is puzzled since she’s going against the established premise that he always gets the girl. Peter meta-comments, “It can’t be you every week Davy.” Right on, Peter.

The music changes to a “very special episode” instrumental as Micky tries to gently teach Natasha and the audience a lesson on gun violence. “Now look miss, you know guns never really solved anything. They’re not the solution to the problem; they’re only a coward’s way out. Wouldn’t you rather talk it over instead of hiding behind a gun?” Shamed, she hands over the gun to Micky who immediately reverses his attitude, “All right, hands up! You’re taking orders from me!” Bravo, that was the funniest bit of the episode, mostly because of Micky’s acting.

Natasha dramatically poses on the lounge and declares that this was her last chance to stay in America. Peter promises to fight to the death to help her stay. Davy points out that she’s a big star and this could lead to an international incident, war, the whole world could be destroyed, etc. Peter, clearly puffed up by Natasha’s attention says, “Don’t worry, if the world is destroyed, I’ll take the responsibility.” Micky replies, “With a little more ego, he could be president.” [Poom! – Editor’s Note] Peter suggests that Micky and Davy go see the Druvanian ambassador. Wow, look at Peter with the ego and the smarts. I like it. The above scenes with Natasha at the Monkees pad were the best in the episode. It’s a shame because I think there was some wasted potential here; they could’ve developed a story about why she wants to stay in America instead of the MacGuffin microfilm.

Micky and Davy go to the Druvanian embassy and introduce themselves to ambassador Nyetovitch. They explain that they’re there about a ballerina. Nyetovitch describes Natasha to a tee, and then claims he never heard of her and throws them out. In the next scene, he’s on the phone with Ivan and Nicolai, establishing that they’re in on this microfilm-stealing plot together.

At the pad, Natasha chases Peter around, and he resists her affection. He leaps all over the furniture and hides behind a chair. Natasha is impressed: “Such agility, such grace. It makes me love you more!” Peter: “In that case, I take it back.” Editors reverse the film and he moves backwards and ends up in her arms. Peter continues to deny her. I don’t get it. Natasha is an adult woman who really likes him and is alone with him in his own apartment. But he was fine with letting fickle 15-year old Ella Mae kiss him back in Swineville. I like that all these females make the moves though.

They hear a knock. Natasha hides in the trunk while Peter answers the door. On the other side, Ivan decides to break it down and runs at it, just as Peter opens it. Oldest joke in the world. Peter gets bowled over by the two foreigners and hits his head. Ivan and Nicolai don’t look very hard for Natasha; they just resort to kidnapping Peter.

Next scene, Natasha updates Micky and Davy on the situation. Davy wants to go back to the theater but Micky thinks it’s “risky.” Natasha stands up on the furniture to give them a pep talk, bringing up American patriots like Paul Revere, Nathan Hale, and George Washington. Inspired, Micky and Davy march off chanting, “Together we will march, together we will fight, together we will win.” Cut to them marching into the theater, ending the chant with “…together we will find ourselves in places we don’t have any business being…” Just like every episode.

Nyetovitch catches them and Micky covers that they’re investigating the disappearance of Natasha. Nyetovitch asks if they’re from the MKBVD. Davy explains they’re investigators from the BVD. This is a joke reference to the underwear company, made in order to set up a punch line about “under where” from Micky. Even Micky didn’t look like he enjoyed saying it. Meanwhile, Ivan and Nicolai have Peter hostage in a dressing room. Ivan pets Peter’s hair and asks what he knows about the microfilm. The Druvanians really like to pet Peter. Ivan and Nicolai agree to “brainwash” Peter, leading to Peter performing a dish soap commercial and squirting Ivan in the eye for an unfunny sight gag.

Micky and Davy are now dressed in obligatory stereotype Ukrainian dancer costumes and looking for Peter. They talk to a dancer, expressing their worry that Peter might be in front of a firing squad. The dancer goes to a stage door and asks a young man, who is facing a firing squad, if he’s Peter. Finding that he isn’t, the dancer politely apologizes and shuts the door, and the audience hears gunshots. That’s the kind of dark and surreal humor I usually like, but when the episode is so weak there is no build up for it.

Ivan notices Davy and Micky, so Micky uses his Russian accent to explain that they’re “replacement dancers.” Ivan pulls them to the center and demands they dance. They start dancing like they’re at a discotheque. Ivan stops them and demands Russian dancing. They start kicking their legs and dance right out of the theater. Dumb Ivan slowly figures out that they are the musicians. At the pad, the Monkees read a letter warning that Peter will be killed unless Natasha returns to perform. Micky says they will all go to the theater, and he has a plan.

I don’t think he has a plan. It certainly never becomes clear. As I wrote in the recap for “Monkees Marooned,” I like to see the Monkees take over with some crazy scheme of their own and drive the plot. Watching them wander aimlessly backstage and get frightened off is boring. Mike’s absence doesn’t help. According to IMDB trivia, he had a part written but for “reasons unknown” does not appear. “I was a 99-lb Weakling” was still good without Mike, because the story was better. Mike might have helped this episode a bit. He brings a certain connection to the audience with his sarcasm, dry humor, and as the frequent straight man. Whenever things get ridiculous, he’s the one to break the fourth wall and let on that he’s aware of it. It makes it all more relatable and grounds the episode in some way.

In the dressing room, Natasha tells Ivan and Nyetovitch that she refuses to perform unless they let Peter go. Nyetovitch demands she dance her “Chicken Lake.” (Like Swan Lake, only stupid.) He asks about the shoes. Ivan picks up Natasha’s foot and assures Nyetovitch that they’re “really fine.” They carry on like this with lots of suggestive eyebrow wagging. If I were Natasha, I’d be thinking they were two men with a foot fetish, rather than two spies. (I have to supply my own entertainment in this episode.) I don’t think she knows or ever finds out that there is microfilm in her shoe. The microfilm is pointless and not even original since they also used this device in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool.” They leave, and Micky and Davy sneak in. Davy produces a glass out of nowhere for Micky to eavesdrop on the spies.

In the next room, the three bad guys discuss the plan to shoot Peter on the cymbal crash after Ivan’s leap in the performance. Davy tells Natasha they’ll look for Peter but she needs to keep Ivan from leaping. She stands up and immediately sprains her ankle. Someone who knows the plan has to go on in her place, so Davy grabs a chicken costume for Micky, who starts muttering “I don’t want to be a chicken” He breaks the fourth wall to mention The Monkees recently deceased Associate Producer Ward Sylvester with the line “Ward, I don’t want to be a chicken.” Micky comes out in the chicken suit and Ivan arrives to take Micky out onto the stage, never noticing that Micky’s a lot taller than Natasha.

Classical music plays (Tchaikovsky according to Monkees Tripod site). I guess this is the romp as there is no dialog for these next sequences. Micky stops Ivan from leaping with various cartoon tricks: weights, a tire, nailing him down, and laying an egg. Meanwhile, Davy goes to the orchestra pit to distract the cymbal player. Peter is left with Nicolai backstage, where they perform Keystone Cops and Benny Hill type antics with each other, with a girl in a towel, and with girls in chicken outfits. With a little imagination, they could have had some fun parodying Swan Lake or ballet in general. Instead it’s a poor imitation of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Anyway, Natasha ties up Nyetovitch and they stop the naughty spies.

Aftermath: Natasha at the Monkees pad. They discuss that she’s allowed to stay in the country. Peter hopes to date Natasha, but she says she needs more than just a face; she needs someone she has something in common with. She introduces them to Alexa, who looks exactly like Peter in a Ukrainian dancer outfit. For the last few minutes, I get to see one of my favorite performances from the Rainbow Room, Davy singing “She Hangs Out” (Jeff Barry). This is a fun, upbeat song from the album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones with lyrics about underage lust (but harmlessly so). The lyrics remind me a bit of the song Elvis song “Little Sister,” written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

I didn’t mention the writer of the episode at the beginning like I usually do because it relates to my final thoughts. Treva Silverman was the writer, but IMDB trivia tells me Silverman didn’t like how script editors Dee Caruso and Gerald Gardner rewrote the script and decided to use the name Lee Sanford for her credit. In my opinion, Silverman wrote some of the best and wittiest Monkees episodes (“I’ve Got a Little Song Here,” “One Man Shy”) but this one is a dud so I can imagine why she didn’t want credit. I’m curious to know what she originally wrote. The villains in “The Card-Carrying Red Shoes” have little personality. I can’t believe they couldn’t get any comedy out of Leon Askin (Nicolai) from Hogan’s Heroes, for pity’s [Or Pete’s sake, you might say. – Editor’s Note] sake. Ondine Vaughn has a lot of energy but the writers might have done something more with Natasha; based on what we saw of her, she was one of the stronger female characters on The Monkees. Peter could have shown her around America, or compared the life of a young adult in the Eastern block to a typical American youth, or something. I know it’s easy for me to shoot out ideas from 50 years in the future, but ultimately this turned out to be a boring episode that I don’t ever need to watch again.

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.

 

Monkees vs. Macheen: “It’s a Nice Place to Visit”

“Just a Loudmouth Yankee, I went Down to Mexico”

I’m glad season two started with such a bang. “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” was shot May 30-June 2, 1967, except for the musical number, “What Am I Doing Hanging Around?,” which was shot August 2, 1967 as part of the Rainbow Room musical numbers. James Frawley directed this episode, which aired on September 11, 1967. Treva Silverman wrote it. She’s one of my favorite Monkees writers, and in my recap for “Monkee See, Monkee Die,” I mentioned some of her other credits. “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” spoofs the western film and television genre. Westerns were at their peak in popularity from the 1930s-1960s and shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke as well as the less traditional science-fiction fusion, Wild, Wild West were on the air at this time.

The story begins with the Monkees sitting on the broken-down Monkeemobile. They’re stranded on a very familiar set on the Columbia Ranch that was used in “Monkees in a Ghost Town” and other episodes that I mentioned in that recap. Mike reads a sign that says “Welcome to El Monotono, Mex.,” which translated means “monotonous.” Since this is a musical show, it could also be a pun on “monotone.” Despite the other sign that says, “Yankees, Go Home” the Monkees decide to enter the cantina. Either the town hates Americans, or they’re Mets fans.

Mike wears a new version of his green hat, with six buttons, mimicking the Monkees eight-button shirts. He also has a new deeper voice, which I like. On May 23, 1967 Mike went to the hospital for a tonsillectomy. Besides presumably improving his health, the other result was that when he recovered, as Davy Jones put it, “his vocal presentation changed.” (Thanks to the book The Monkees Day-By-Day by Andrew Sandoval for this info and date.)

A pretty waitress, Angelita, comes to the table and Davy instantly falls for her, despite the mockery and annoyed protests of the others. They exchange names and Davy shares that Angelita means “Little Angel.” She asks what David means and Mike snarks from the table, “David means business, baby.” Funny line and unexpected out of Mike’s mouth. Davy asks her out, but the bartender chases the Monkees away because Angelita is El Diablo’s “girl.”

There’s a bandit at the bar, complete with sombrero, poncho, and bandolier, who warns them that El Diablo says they must leave. When did El Diablo say that? The Imdb lists this character name as Jose (Nate Esformes,) and he is the only one of El Diablo’s men who has dialogue. He throws a knife at the Monkees to make them leave.

Season two launches the new opening sequence with different images of them fooling around. This is the opening I remember from syndication and it makes me feel at home. After the opening, there’s some incidental music that sounds like The Magnificent Seven theme. The show goes all out with the references in this one.

Lupe, the mechanic, tells the Monkees that their car will need a new motor. Lupe is played by Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, who performed in many westerns with John Wayne, including Rio Bravo and Wings of the Hawk, as well as western TV shows Laredo and The Texan. Peter Whitney (El Diablo) and Nacho Galindo (bartender) also had many western television and film credits under their belt. The clever casting was a nice touch.

The Monkees don’t have the money to fix their car so they go back and ask the bartender for a job. Despite what happened earlier with Davy and Angelita, he agrees. In the next scene, the Monkees play “What Am I Doing Hangin’ ’Round?” (Michael Martin Murphey, Owen Castleman) in matching blue Monkees shirts. The editors mix in the Rainbow Room performance with the cantina footage from the episode, and though they decorated the background to match the episode, it was clearly shot at a different time. I’ll go into the Rainbow Room in a later recap but here’s some basic info.

The cantina is packed and hopping and the bartender hands them their payment. The Monkees plan to take the money and leave town. But not so fast: Davy wants to say goodbye to Angelita and kisses her many times. An extra runs into the bar shouting, “El Diablo is coming!” There are more extras than usual, giving it a feature film vibe. El Diablo enters wearing the furry vest that we saw on Boris in “The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” and on Marco in “Son of a Gypsy.” Four gun-carrying bandits accompany El Diablo as he strides into the bar while Angelita and Davy are still making out.

Finding Davy with “his woman,” El Diablo makes him dance by shooting at his feet He wants Davy to beg for his life and the other three Monkees come down and join in. Angelita, on the other hand, boldly describes Davy’s finer points to El Diablo: his beautiful mouth and eyes, his “ tiny, tiny ears.” She’s really playing fast and loose with Davy’s life. El Diablo chooses to kidnap Davy instead of killing him.

I’m going to take a moment to mention how gorgeous this episode is. There’s a cinematic quality including some rare aerial shots, for instance when El Diablo enters. We see a lot more tight close-ups than usual, including cool shots of the ceiling fan shadow on the actor’s faces. Irving Lippman was the cinematographer for this; he shot 56 out of 58 Monkees episodes (the exceptions were “The Pilot” and “Monkees on Tour”). Making this resemble a feature film makes the comedy even tastier. If you haven’t seen this one in a while, go pop in that disc and watch it just to appreciate the cinematography.

Davy has now become the “damsel in distress,” and the episode switches from being about Davy’s love life, to a western pursuit and rescue mission. After Micky fails to get help from the townsfolk, they fret outside the cantina. Mike points out they have to sneak into the bandit camp so they instantly pop (Pop! Pop! Pop!) into bandito costumes, complete with mustaches. They look fantastic, but Mike has doubts, “Don’t you think we ought to take something else with us, like a club card or some badges?” 

The original line is from the western, Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) starring Humphrey Bogart, and goes like this, “Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges!” Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles uses Micky’s version. Here’s a link to a video montage with variations on this line.

The Monkees get in the car and drive off. We don’t see them park anywhere; they run on foot into the bandit camp, firing their guns and shouting. El Diablo’s gang ignores them and continues to drink and poke the fire. The Monkees think they’ve intimidated them, but the bandits surround them, guns drawn. Jose (aka the bandit with all the dialogue) takes them to El Diablo. If you’ve ever seen the film Three Amigos (1986) I’m convinced that film took inspiration from this episode. Facing El Diablo, Mike fast-talks that his leader, Micky, “the greatest bandit in the world,” wants to join forces with El Diablo.

Funny dialogue as the Monkees create their “bandit” personas on the fly:

El Diablo: “They call me El Diablo. Also known as the bandit without a heart.”
Micky: “They call me El Dolenzio. Also known as the bandit without a soul.”
Mike: “And they call me El Nesmitho. Also known as the bandit without no…without any conscience.”
Peter: “And they call me El Torko. The bandit without a nickname.”

In an episode with many funny scenes to choose from, this is one of the best. The Monkees are bluffing as usual, and they are so spectacular and awkward at the same time. Of course they’ve done this kind of scene many times in the first season. Peter Whitney makes a funny and intimidating straight man and part of the humor for me is the notion that he’d buy the Monkees as bad-asses. The gorgeous close-ups are a nice touch also. As a topper, Mike and Micky try and fail to execute that cool gun twirling trick, but Peter Tork succeeds.

The Monkees must pass a series of tests for strength, skill, and bravery to join the bandit gang. My favorite part of this sequence is Peter’s mock-diabolical attitude and menace as he beats El Diablo at Go Fish, that game of “skill and determination.” After the Monkees miraculously survive the tests, El Diablo hosts a celebration for the new “bandits” at a long outdoor table. The Monkees don’t want to drink but El Diablo insists, so they toss their wine over their shoulders. When they go to make another toast, they crash cups which somehow still have wine in them. Peter sneaks off to locate Davy; Mike making the excuse to El Diablo that Peter got sick from the wine.

Peter finds Davy is tied up and guarded. He tries in many ways to tell the guard about the party over the hill, but to my tremendous amusement, the guard can’t understand until Peter says, “booze.” Peter needs to free Davy but doesn’t know how to untie a square knot. Repeating a gag used in “I Was a Teenage Monster,” Davy pulls out his supposedly tied-up hand to demonstrate a figure eight for Peter. Back at the party, Mike and Micky tell El Diablo that now they “need some air” and El Diablo is amused at the notion that they can’t handle their liquor.

Micky and Mike come rushing up to Davy and Peter. Micky unties Davy in nothing flat, and they dash for the Monkee mobile. There’s an amusing, surreal bit as they attempt to drive away: A parking lot attendant (played by comedian Godfrey Cambridge) appears out of nowhere and charges them 50 cents for parking. They accidentally run over his foot as they leave. In my mind, it’s a predecessor to the Blazing Saddles gag where the heroes stall the bad guys with a random toll bridge. “Anybody got a dime?”

El Diablo orders Jose to go after the Monkees, but Jose runs into a tree. There’s a lot of drinking and drunk humor. Also, most of the action of this episode takes place outside, a key feature of the western genre.

The Monkees are now back in El Monotono, because the car’s out of gas. Mike deals with Lupe while Davy kisses Angelita some more. Suddenly, Jose rides up and hands Micky a note, declaring that El Diablo wants to challenge him to a duel at high noon. It’s Micky he wants to challenge, even though Davy’s the one currently kissing “his woman.” When it’s a Hollywood spoof, Micky’s your man.

Micky and Mike immediately agree they’re going to “split” rather than fight. One of the sources of humor here is the opposition to real westerns where the hero is always impossibly tough and brave. (Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, etc.) The Monkees, while quick and clever, are not usually tough or brave. (Though pulling off con after con takes some nerve.) As it’s almost noon, they all rush for the car, but Angelita pleads with them.

That’s my favorite joke in the entire series. The line is clever, and Micky’s delivery kills me every time I watch it. He’s one of the all-time funniest television actors.

The Monkees are now all in western-style good-guy clothes with Micky in all white. Notice how handsome Micky is photographed here. He’s switched from bandito to brave western hero. The dialogue combines tough talk with fourth-wall breaking humor:

Peter: Are you scared?
Micky: No, I’m not scared; I’ll welcome this duel. The symbol of good against the symbol of evil, and I know I’m gonna be the victor.
Davy: Because the symbol of good always wins?
Micky: No, because the lead in a television series always wins.

The Monkees bring him all his lucky guns and holsters, and one of them is his lucky “Hobaseeba”–another sound-alike to the “No Time” song lyrics like Davy used in “Monkees in the Ring.” Micky collapses from the weight of so many guns and holsters and the others carry him off.

Now for the showdown, another important plot point in your classic western. Micky walks into the square while a “western” trumpet version of “The Monkees” theme plays. (According to IMDB trivia, the church bell rings only 11 times, not 12.) There’s a lot of witty lines, and then they duel. El Diablo fires about a dozen times and every bullet misses. Micky gets cartoony, mocking him, “You missed!” He runs off as El Rompo to “What am I Doing Hangin’ ‘’Round?” commences.

El Rompo is a gunfight between the two groups: the Monkees and El Diablo’s bandits. It’s a standard Monkees romp and the one weak point in the episode, lots of running around that resolves improbably with tying the bad guys up. Notable moments are when the Monkees are shooting on the same side as the bandits and we can see Davy with a copy of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. There are a couple of shots used in the second season opening such as the holster falling around Davy’s legs, and Mike’s hat getting shot off. The shows ends with credits and the lovely, “For Pete’s Sake” (Peter Tork, Joey Richards) replacing The Monkees theme song

Excellent Monkees comedy, heightened by adherence to western conventions such as: natural settings, good guys vs. bad guys, a chase or pursuit, and a final showdown. The cinematography, the casting, and the writing shows the huge effort put into making this half hour spoof resemble a real western. The production values heighten the comedy of the Monkees antics. The sight gags, dialogue, and the performances were all top notch. I realize this story isn’t profound or complex and I do have other favorite episodes, such as “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” which touches my heart and “Monkees à la Mode” which epitomizes the themes of The Monkees to me. However, “It’s a Nice Place to Visit” is my pick for funniest episode. It’s obvious the episode has had an influence on comedies that came after. Unfortunately, this set the bar high for season two, and many of the later episodes didn’t live up to this level of attention to detail and comic energy.

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.