“Wizardry”

Written by David Lawler
Additional Commentary by Andrew La Ganke
Original Music by Alex Saltz, APS Mastering
Introduction Music: “Twas The Night Before Christmas” (Clement Clarke Moore) by Art Carney.
Audio Clips: “Santa and the Doodle-Li-Boop” (Alan Abel) by Art Carney, Star Trek “Wolf In The Fold”, The Odd Couple “Security Arms”, “Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery” (a 1997 film directed by Jay Roach), “Dust In The Wind (Kerry Livgren) by Kansas (from the 1977 album, “Point Of No Return”), “Night Of The Meek”, “Dust”, “It’s A Good Life, The Honeymooners “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”.

Recorded March 29, 2016

© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2015 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. Original Music © Alex Saltz copyright 2015. This podcast, “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” is not affiliated with CBS Entertainment, the CBS Television Network, or The Rod Serling Estate. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Running Time: 31:33 Direct Download

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Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Son Of A Gypsy”

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“Everybody Wants to be in Showbiz!”

Title

“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.

We-are-standing-up

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.”

No-Michaelangelo2

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.

James-Frawley2

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.

three-stoogesesque

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 his 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. Stu Phillips was the composer.

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.

good-thief

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 same “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.

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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Look-Out-For

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)

Mohamed_ali

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.

“The Cage”

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Written by David Lawler
Additional Commentary by Nicole Phelps
Original Music by Alex Saltz, APS Mastering
Introduction Music: “Outer Space Suite (Space Drift)” Composed & Conducted by Bernard Hermann.
Audio Clips: Star Trek “The Cage”, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle” (Sherwood Schwartz/ George Wyle), “People Are Alike All Over”, “Execution”.

Recorded December 29, 2015

© BlissVille, David Lawler copyright 2015 for all original vocal and audio content featuring David Lawler and selected guests each episode. Original Music © Alex Saltz copyright 2015. This podcast, “That Twilighty Show About That Zone” is not affiliated with CBS Entertainment, the CBS Television Network, or The Rod Serling Estate. Any and all images, audio clips, and dialogue extracts are the property of their respective copyright owners. This blog and podcast was created for criticism, research, and is completely nonprofit, and should be considered Fair Use as stated in the Copyright Act of 1976, 17 U.S.C. section 107. It is not an official product, and it should not be sold nor bought; this is intended for private use, and any public broadcast is not recommended. All music clips appear under Fair Use as well. If you’re thinking of suing because you want a piece of the pie, please remember, there is no actual pie. We at BlissVille have no money, and as such, cannot compensate you. If anything, we’re doing you a favor, so please be kind. I do this ’cause it’s fun, and nothing else.

Running Time: 35:05 Direct Download

Monkees vs. Macheen: “Monkee See, Monkee Die”

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“And Then There Were Four”

Monkee See, Monkee Die

“Monkee See, Monkee Die,” directed by James Frawley, first aired September 19, 1966 on NBC. Episode writer Treva Silverman wrote some other very funny Monkees episodes: “I’ve Got a Little Song Here”, “One Man Shy”, “Son of A Gypsy”, and “A Nice Place to Visit.” According to the IMDB, she wrote “The Card Carrying Red Shoes” as Lee Sanford. Other interesting facts about Silverman: she wrote episodes for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, for which she won an Emmy and created the character of “Georgette”, and she was one of the few working female writers in television at the time of The Monkees.

The story begins with the Monkees rehearsing, which is the first real reference to them as a band. Also appearing for the first time is Mr. Babbitt, who sweeps in accompanied by villainous harpsichord music. Babbitt is demanding the rent, or his lawyer will toss the boys out. Mike ferociously defends them, saying Babbitt is not making any needed repairs to the house. I think I’ve rented from this guy before. Mike quickly comes up with the idea they should pretend not to know the Monkees when the lawyer shows up, so they bring out the costumes and funny voices. The person they end up fooling is a solicitor who came to tell them they’ve been named in the will of an eccentric millionaire. Surely their rent problems are over now?

The Monkees arrive at the late Mr. Cunningham’s spooky house and are immediately startled by an obviously fake bat. The creepy butler, Ralph, takes them to the reading of the will. I love the shot of Ralph leading them to the parlor with Mike in front and the other Monkees hiding behind him.

Next, they meet the fabulous Madame Roselle, Mr. Cunningham’s spiritualist, and Mr. Kingsley, Cunningham’s travelling companion and hack travel author. Last but not least, they meet Ellie, Cunningham’s cute niece. She and Davy fall instantly in love and the editors used the starry-eyes special effect for the first time.

He's in love. For the very first time today.

Ellie was played by Stacy Maxwell, who, before The Monkees, had acted alongside Davy in an episode of a show called The Farmer’s Daughter, in which Davy and Stacy performed a very familiar song to Monkees fans: Boyce/Hart’s “Gonna Buy Me a Dog.”

Young, sweet Ellie will be the one to inherit Cunningham’s mansion, provided she spends one night there. This is an unpleasant surprise for Kingsley, Roselle, and Ralph. Cunningham has left the Monkees his library organ, with the stipulation that they play it once before they take it. They get up to play their inheritance and get out, and it really is an awesome organ because when Peter starts to play it, the “Last Train to Clarksville” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) romp comes out. This was first time the song, and the Monkeemobile, appeared on the show.

Monkeemobile

Ralph tells the Monkees they’re trapped on the island due to the “foggy season,” so they go upstairs to bed. I’d ask where they got their pajamas since they didn’t have any luggage (perhaps they have TARDIS technology), but then I’d have to ask why they wear boots to bed. Peter startles Micky, who utters the first “Don’t do that” line that recurs in many future episodes. After getting frightened out of their room, they run into Madame Roselle who tells them the butler may be dead.

Madame Roselle: “I just had a vision about the butler. Either he’s going to take a long, pleasant journey and enjoy good fortune, or he’s dead.”

Micky: “Well, which is it?”

Mademe Roselle: “Six of one, half a dozen of the other.”

They run downstairs and see a knife in the wall, but no dead Ralph. Micky and Davy act out a Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson fantasy and work on solving the mystery. Failing that, they go back to the room to think of a way to escape. This leads to my favorite scene of the episode: Mike explains his plan to get a message out of the mansion with a carrier pigeon and then a Saint Bernard. Including a link to the clip, because my words can’t do that justice.

The Monkees are trying to sleep all in the same tiny bed, when they hear what sounds like gunshots. Out of nowhere, Roselle appears and dramatically tells them Kingsley has been shot. Those that are left in the house sit downstairs discussing Kingsley’s and Ralph’s missing bodies. Micky gets inspired to get the phones to work and scrambles around attaching the telephone receiver to the tubes on an old radio. He successfully contacts some foreign sailors who only know three words of English: “Yes I do.” It was pretty impressive, all the same.

General Sarnoff

Madame Roselle has them join hands for a séance to reach John Cunningham. The actress playing Roselle is hilarious in this episode, going in and out of her “spiritualist” persona in a snap. She conducts a séance in curlers. Watch the episode one time just keeping an eye on her. Mike is pretty skeptical of this whole thing, and her attempt to reach Cunningham fails. The lights go out, and she disappears. Here’s the first use of Monkee’s running gag “She’s/He’s/It’s gone!” when they see she’s missing. 

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The Monkees and Ellie get out of the mansion as fast as they can before they vanish like the older adults. Mike suggests they play a little music to cheer them up while they wait for the ferry. The song “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” (Tommy Boyce/Steve Venet) plays to a romp, which ends with them in monster masks and a fifth guy in a Monkees shirt and mask who scares them off.

Now we get to the real plot: the three older characters are conning Ellie and the Monkees. Davy, Micky, and Mike sneak back into the house and find a very alive Roselle, Ralph, and Kingsley bragging about driving off Ellie so they can take the mansion. Davy wants to use Micky’s experimental knock-out drop to stop them, so he sneaks off to slip them a mickey, so to speak. Peter and Ellie enter noisily and the villains hear them, each in turn coming out to threaten the Monkees with a gun. Who knew so many old folks in the ’60s were packin’ heat? Peter pulls out an imaginary gun and threatens to shoot Ralph. Conveniently, the knock-out drops kick in on each villain just as Peter aims and fires his finger. The bad guys end up in a heap on the ground. In the tag sequence, the Monkees tell their story to the police.

Monkee-Shirts

This is one of the funniest episodes of the series and one of my favorites. The guest cast, especially Lea Marmer, is excellent. The pigeon sequence and the séance are two stand-out funny bits in an entire episode full of laugh-out-loud scenes and dialogue. It’s a well-written, solid all-around spoof of Agatha Christie type mystery stories. The personalities and dynamics of the Monkees are clearer here than in the first episode with Mike emerging as the leader, Micky the one with the crazy ideas, Davy the young romantic, and Peter the oddball.

In this episode, as well as “Royal Flush,” there is a division between the old and young characters. The bad guys in this episode are all the older adults. Mr. Babbitt wants to throw the young Monkees out on the street, though he is not a responsible (or even reasonable) landlord. The adult villains in the mansion are plotting to rob teenage Ellie of her inheritance and it’s up to the Monkees to figure it out. There’s no wise grown-up to help or guide them, no adult to be trusted. This was the age of the generation gap and “don’t trust anyone over 30.” “The kids are alright,” but they’re on their own.

Happy Thanksgiving, Monkees Fans!

You're Evil

Look out for (guest cast)

Sweet Young Thing

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.

NEW PODCAST: “All Outta Bubble Gum”

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“They Live” is a 1988 American satirical science fiction horror film written and directed by John Carpenter. The film stars Roddy Piper, Keith David and Meg Foster. It follows a nameless drifter (called “John Nada” in the credits), who discovers the ruling class are in fact aliens concealing their appearance and manipulating people to spend money, breed, and accept the status quo with subliminal messages in mass media.

WIKIPEDIA

The first time I saw the movie was on something called the Universal Debut Network; it was a syndicated movie package that Universal Pictures sold to independent networks, I saw it in 1990, it was on Channel 11 here in New York City. The Universal Debut Network was the pre-cursor to all the syndicated series Universal would show, but at first they started with movies like “They Live”, “Prince of Darkness”, “the infamous extended TV version of the movie, “Dune”, where David Lynch took his name off the credits. Apparently Lynch said, “wait a minute, this movie makes sense now, I’m taking my name off the picture!” So after this run of pictures, shows like Hercules and Xena came on the air because they were thinking about putting together a fifth network at the time.

So how do we look on politics, censorship, liberalism, conservative ideology now as opposed to 1988? In Carpenter’s fantasy, these things are just gradual with no tipping point, no rhyme or reason, but I think certain things happened to bring us a “They Live” situation, like 9/11, obviously 9/11 destroyed our country but in a slow, gradual way, like death by a million cuts.

There’s a great line in a sci-fi movie from 1982, “Endangered Species” starring Robert Urich and JoBeth Williams, where Urich says, “If what’s going on around here is organized, you don’t wanna go up against it! The government. The right wing. The left wing. Mercenaries. The mob. It doesn’t make much difference if you get in their way!”

To me, it’s allegory, like all great science fiction. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – in the 50s, it was allegory for the Cold War and Communism. In the 1978 version, it was about the “Me” Generation and pop-psychology. In the ’93 remake, it was allegory for disaffected youth and generation X.

“In Praise Of Harve Bennett (1930-2015)”

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“If I pinch his cheek hard enough, he’ll let me direct!”

 

Two days before Leonard Nimoy’s passing (why are we being told now?), a photon tube was lowered into the torpedo bay and shot into the atmosphere of the Genesis planet. Harve Bennett had extensive science fiction television credits, producing “The Six Million Dollar Man”, “The Bionic Woman” (favorites of mine when I was a kid), and “The Mod Squad”. He came out of nowhere to produce the middle section of Star Trek films – II, III, IV, and V when Paramount executives asked him if he could take over the franchise.

As a producer, he proved he could craft a compelling a story while staying within budget. Although he was a man who brimmed with ideas and ambition, Gene Roddenberry never successfully coped with the rigors of film production, and the first Star Trek movie was not a box office success – at least not the success Paramount was hoping for (in the wake of Star Wars). A string of successful staffing decisions (that of hiring Nicholas Meyer and Leonard Nimoy to direct, contracting Industrial Light & Magic to produce visual effects, and utilizing TV production crews to shoot) led to Star Trek’s most profitable phase in the film franchise up to that point.

In Hollywood though people have short memories and if it isn’t about your past success, it’s about your most recent failure. When the William Shatner-directed Star Trek V: The Final Frontier did not perform up to expectations and Paramount nixed his idea for a reboot, he left the franchise (or was fired, depending upon who tells the story). In addition to producing four Star Trek movies, he came up with the idea of bringing Khan back, he achieved the damn-near-impossible writing the script for Star Trek III:The Search For Spock and bringing Spock back to life in a credible way, and he co-wrote Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Like Gene Coon and Robert Justman before him, Harve Bennett was another unsung hero of the franchise. He was the man who single-handedly saved Star Trek.

Follow-Up Notes: “The Needs Of The Many”

Regan's Vulcan Salute
“Live Long And Prosper”

 

On Saturday, the day after Leonard Nimoy’s passing, we watched Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. This is the definitive “trilogy” of the Star Trek movie franchise, and all of it focuses on either the character of Spock, or the actor who plays him – Leonard Nimoy. Strangely though, upon watching these movies for the umpteenth time, it occurs to me Nimoy has very little screen time in two of them – Star Trek IV being the exception.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is mainly about Kirk, grappling with his mortality. His heroic actions aside, Spock is the focus at the end when he sacrifices his life in order to save the Enterprise after Khan detonates the Genesis torpedo. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is the perfect science fiction, space opera, adventure movie. It has thrills, epic space battles, the naval tradition, philosophical debate, ambition over substance, wit and humor, and of course, pathos and catharsis.

Star Trek III: The Search For Spock is, essentially, a placeholder movie to get us to the fourth installment. It is a much smaller movie, on a smaller scale but it looks great. This is a more intimate story that deals with the lead characters as people, not members of Starfleet. They openly defy orders, steal the Enterprise, and blow it up. KIrk loses his son and his ship. He makes the ultimate sacrifice and changes the rules.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home is just plain silly, but it’s fun. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise went back in time a few times before, but never on this scale. An alien probe causes ecological chaos on planet Earth while trying to communicate with an extinct species of whale. Naturally, Kirk and Spock decide to travel back in time to retrieve these whales, bring them to the future so they can, in McCoy’s words, “tell this alien probe what to go do with itself.”

Nimoy used these movies as a springboard for his directorial career, and as me and Andrew noted, his later work was comprised of unusual choices: Three Man and a Baby, The Good Mother, Funny About Love, and the inexplicable Holy Matrimony, featuring recent Oscar winner Patricia Arquette.

A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP