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.

Advertisements

Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Monkees on Tour”

header_text

“Is It Live or is It Memorex?”

title

“Monkees on Tour” has no storyline; it’s a documentary of the Monkees during their 1966-1967 North American tour. Most of the episode was filmed on January 21 and 22 in Phoenix Arizona and San Francisco. Writer and director credits go to Robert Rafelson and the episode aired April 24, 1967. According to IMDB trivia, Bob Rafelson filmed the concert on his own, without permission from NBC or Columbia studios, because he wanted to end the first season “on a different note from other television shows.”

The episode opens with Davy thanking the viewers for all the things that have happened to them this year. He’s sitting in a rocking chair on the Bewitched set and has shorter hair then we saw in season one. The Monkees set up that we’re going to watch what happens to the Monkees on the night of a concert. Micky, Peter and Mike remove Davy from the set and out the back door. This sequence was shot after the tour portion in March 1967 and was filmed on 35mm. The concert parts of the episode were filmed on 16mm.

bearded-monkees

Micky, Peter, and Davy are wearing fake beards over their real beards. They grew those beards during the recording of the Monkees third album Headquarters which took six weeks to record from Feb-March 1967. According to the VH1 Behind the Music episode on the Monkees, six weeks was a long time by the standards of the day. (Shout-out to John Lorinc for sharing the Behind the Music link with me a few months ago.) The significance of Headquarters is that it was the first album they truly made as a group, writing and playing most of the instruments themselves and away from the influence of former music supervisor Don Kirshner. It was the #1 record on the US charts for one week before being bumped by the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If you are going to be bumped by something, it might as well be that. As a fan, I have to say that many of my favorite Monkees songs are on this album. I’m looking forward to hearing the more of the tracks from Headquarters as I start to recap season two.

Back to the show, the Monkees arrive at their tour destination in a plane. Kids scream, chant for the Monkees, and talk about how excited they are to see them behind a chain link fence. The Monkees stir the crowd up, touching hands and signing autographs before getting into a car and driving away. The audio and the film is really pretty bad. I don’t have the new Blu Ray; I just don’t have that kind of disposable income, so when I say that it’s bad, I’m talking about the DVD version, and what’s available on IFC and Antenna TV. I’ve read that the Blu Ray of this episode in particular is a great improvement. It’s frustrating to have bad audio on an episode that focuses on music.

Next is film of the Monkees doing random things. There are shots of them showering and getting ready and then having breakfast. Micky is sleeping and gets a wake-up call from Peter. In the DVD commentary for this episode, Peter Tork mentions that they were improvising and doing shtick “just as fast as we could.” There’s a cute bit where Davy imitates Roy Kinnear in the “fiendish thingy” scene from Help!:  “I am picking the sandwich up. I am putting the sandwich in my mouth. I am biting the sandwich.” 

More footage. Davy plays with a swan [Editor’s note: You shouldn’t mess with swans!].  Micky signs autographs and imitates a smiling robot. Peter, Davy, and Micky go horseback riding without Mike. Micky is without shoes. Peter asks if the horse is a boy or a girl because “your hair is as long as mine”; a little comment on the type of reactions long-haired young men might have gotten at the time. Davy wants to know if the horse has ever wanted to ride a person.  Mike, Micky, and Davy go to radio station KRUX. This was a Phoenix top-40 radio station back in those days and they sponsored the Monkees concert that evening. At the station, there’s a lot of crazy quick edits, including a shot of the disc jockey tied up on the floor and the Monkees messing with the dials. Mike gives the farm report again, like he did in “Monkees at the Circus.”

monkee-on-your-back

The record, “Mr. Farmer” by The Seeds, spins on the turntable as they cut away from the radio station. More random footage set to music, this time Mike Nesmith’s “The Girl That I Knew Somewhere.” During this sequence, Micky roller skates and gets chased by some kids. Mike takes the Monkeemobile for a spin, and we get to see the license plate number is 57A-MFG-015. He shops at a mall and goes up an escalator backwards. Davy rides a motorcycle through the dirt, shirtless. Between this and Micky riding the horse barefoot, I feel like an old lady for wanting to tell them, “Don’t do that.”

After 10 minutes and 34 seconds of this episode, there is still no live playing.

Back to the radio station, Mike interviews a young woman and asks if she’d hate the Monkees if she found out they couldn’t sing or play. When she says no, Mike is naturally curious as to why not. Her answer, “well because, you’re putting people on pretty good,” makes them and me laugh.

I wanted to talk about that a bit. I remember when I was a teen in the ’80s and the Monkees were popular again. Around that time, my Dad decided to let me know, “You know, the Monkees didn’t play their own instruments.” I’m sure every Monkees fan has experienced getting this “truth” from someone at some point. [Editor’s note: You need a safe space!] Yes, I’m aware that isn’t entirely the case. Getting past the controversy at the time and the way the Monkees felt about it themselves, the more accurate way to say that would be: they didn’t always play every instrument on all of their albums. They didn’t always write all of their songs. You could say it about any band.

I’ve always been drawn to the Monkees as a TV show primarily. That’s how I first saw them, in syndication in the late 1970’s, along with shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, and Lost in Space. I was about five or six years old, so I didn’t know anything about the Monkees songs or records. In 1986, when MTV started showing The Monkees again on the “Pleasant Valley Sunday” marathon, that’s when I discovered the songs and the albums. In the VH1 Behind the Music on the Monkees, Eric Lefcowitz, author of The Monkees Tale, makes the statement that “without Don Kirshner’s involvement you really don’t have the hit songs, and if you don’t have the hit songs, it’s a completely forgettable TV show and I don’t think we’d be talking about it still.” I have to disrespectfully disagree with him. Without the show being as good and memorable as it was, those hit songs would only be present on golden oldies radio stations. It’s the show that I come back to decade after decade. Never, as a tot or a teen, did I worry about the Monkees as a “real band” in the same way I didn’t think that Elizabeth Montgomery or Barbara Eden had magic powers.

fan-at-the-radio-station

This episode however, takes a break from fiction and shows them really playing. Eventually. Next shots are the outside of the venue, Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. The sign shows that they’re on the bill with The Harlem Globetrotters, whom I was lucky enough to see play in person. (Thanks, Dad!)

On stage they play “Last Train to Clarksville” (Boyce/Hart). You can barely make it out over the screaming. This episode does show the popularity and the hype, how excited all the kids were to see the Monkees. The boy band from my day was Duran Duran. By the time I finally got to see them play live in the 1990’s, I just wasn’t a screamer. It’s hard for me to imagine myself reacting this way. My Mom was lucky enough to see the Beatles play live in Las Vegas in the 1960s. She told me she couldn’t hear a note for all the screaming.

screaming-fans

Next they play “Sweet Young Thing” (Goffin/King/Nesmith) and then “Mary, Mary” (Nesmith). Davy swaps out Micky on the drums for this one.  I know I already mentioned this has poor sound. I have a recommendation for something similar recorded around this time. The album, The Monkees Live 1967 which was recorded August 25-27, 1967 in Seattle, Portland, and Spokane. The record wasn’t released until 1987 due to the poor sound quality, but it was cleaned up in the ’80s for CD and the new generation of fans. I bring this up because there’s a fun bit on the record at the end of “Mary, Mary” where Mike drags out the end and forces Micky to keep improvising. Mike keeps promising he’s going to stop, then he starts to play again and Micky has to start again…until Mike plays a twangy “na-na-na na na na” on the guitar. You can see a bit of this in the episode, but it’s not as clear what’s going on as it is on the album.

monkees-live

Back to it, Peter gets a solo spot and plays “Cripple Creek” (Traditional) on the banjo. They unfortunately cut away from the awesomeness for an awkward voiceover of Peter talking about needing some quiet and time away from people, while showing footage of him walking on a beach.

cripple-creek

Mike sings and plays maracas “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” (Bo Diddley). In the middle of this is a cutaway of Mike in a car, talking to someone about sitting on an empty stage, imagining that he’s playing to a full house and saying “someday, someday.” I love Mike’s performance of the song. It sounds much cleaner on The Monkees Live 1967. Davy is introduced as, “the world’s best looking midget.” He sings “I Wanna Be Free” (Boyce/Hart). They cut to him talking to interviewer Bob about losing track of time on the road.

Micky is introduced as the hardest working man in show business, “Micky James Brown Dolenz.” He sings “I Got a Woman” (Ray Charles‎/Renald Richard). Cut to an awkward voice over where Micky wanders around the site of a house a man had built by himself (according to the voiceover) and talks about wanting to make something that will last. Back on stage, Micky parodies a bit James Brown used to do during live performances of the song, “Please, Please, Please”: Micky collapses, and Mike covers him with a black cape and starts to lead him off stage but Micky comes back and finishes the number.

micky-james-brown

The Monkees are all back on stage for “I’m Not Your Steppin’ Stone” (Boyce/Hart). They’re all wearing white sweaters that look like the ones we see in “Star Collector” and “Daily Nightly” performance clips from the show. They take their bows and get bundled back into their car with a police escort.

There is a tag sequence with “I’m a Believer” playing and shots of the Monkees in all the locations we saw in the episode. Mike thanks many musicians of the day and ends with, “But most of all we’d like to thank the Beatles, for starting it all up for us.” I’m happy with the knowledge that the Beatles were fans of The Monkees as well. Here’s a couple of groovy quotes from the Beatles on the Monkees.

“I think you’re the greatest comic talents since the Marx Brothers. I’ve never missed one of your programs.”- John Lennon

“I like their music a lot…and you know, their personalities. I watch their TV show and it is good.”- Paul McCartney

Two days after this episode aired, the Monkees started work on the fourth album, Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. After all I said above about appreciating The Monkees more as a show, I want to note that this record is one of my favorite all time records. I remember my excitement in receiving it for Christmas in the ’80s. I played it over and over again. My favorite tracks are “Salesman,” “Daily, Nightly,” and “She Hangs Out,” but the entire thing is good from start to finish.

Final thoughts on this episode? Obviously I prefer the episodes with comedy and a story line. But it was fun to see the Monkees perform. The “real life” bits all felt a bit staged, and as I said I do think it’s a shame about the audio, given that this episode was about the music.

I’ll be taking a little break, about two months or so, before picking up with the second season. Thank you so much to everyone who has been reading these. It’s wonderful to relive all these great episodes with other Monkees fans. Thank you to all the various Monkees Facebook group members. Your positive and insightful comments and likes encourage me to keep this going.

thank-you

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.

Vintage Cable Box: “Twice Upon A Time”

Vintage-Cable-Box-Cover-Image

“Do I get the job, or should we move right onto the shark infested waters test?”

twice_upon_a_time

“Twice Upon A Time”, 1983 (Lorenzo Music), Warner Bros.

There are strange creatures that appear at night when you sleep. The strange creature bring you sweet dreams. Sometimes those strange creatures, the Figmen of Imagination, are thwarted or subverted by evil creatures from the Murkworks (usually dark-winged birds) that bring you nightmares. Of course because this is a “war” story, the Murkworks are locked in a never-ending battle with the Figmen for domination of the night-time world. The leader of Murkworks, Synonamess Botch (a bizarre hedonistic variation on Salvador Dali), abducts Greensleeves of the Figmen. He sends a message back to Din, the sub-dimensional city that exists between the worlds of reality and fiction.

While on garbage detail after being punished by the Rushers of Din, All-Purpose-Animal Ralph (the voice of Lorenzo Music) and his Harpo-esque sidekick, Mumford, come across Greensleeves’ message. His niece, aspiring actress Flora Fauna plays the part of damsel-in-distress for Bosch’s nightmares. Bosch convinces Ralph and Mum to steal the mainspring from something called a Cosmic Clock. Ralph and Mum do not know that the Cosmic Clock controls all of time … everywhere, thus any alterations will affect the Universe. After liberating the spring from the Cosmic Clock, time freezes. A free-land Fairy Godmother commissions superhero Rod Rescueman, an egotistical muscle-head who spends more time washing his cape than rescuing people, but he is interested in the pretty Flora.

Watching this movie as a kid, I was mesmerized by the animation, which was a mixture of “Yellow Submarine” (the poster art of Klaus Voorman) and Terry Gilliam’s work for Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as well as black & white live-action sequences. I couldn’t follow the convoluted plot, but I enjoyed the (largely) improvised performances of the actors, and remember this was before the advent of “retro-scripting” in later animated works like Dr. Katz, Home Movies, Archer, and Bob’s Burgers. David Fincher and Henry Sellick were among the crew of talented animators who made this movie.

TWICE UPON A TIME, 1983, (c)Warner Bros.
TWICE UPON A TIME, 1983, (c)Warner Bros.

Two versions of this film exist: one with unaltered “adult” language, and the other a “sanitized” version – safe for kids personally approved by the director, John Korty. Korty preferred the “kid” version because it would, presumably, have a wider release at the time. He would be wrong on both counts, as Alan Ladd’s company (which released “Twice Upon A Time”) was nearing bankruptcy. The Ladd Company was (right up there with Cannon) a defining force in early eighties cinema, producing the titles “Outland”, “Night Shift”, “Chariots of Fire”, “Blade Runner”, and “Once Upon a Time in America”.

John Korty animated short films for Sesame Street, and worked for Lucasfilm. George Lucas co-produced “Twice Upon A Time” and used his influence to get a release for the movie. I saw the original cut of the film and snickered at the off-color dialogue. While younger children would not understand most of the adult humor, the movie was most definitely made for kids, but adults could enjoy it too. When Korty learned HBO had aired the “adult” version of the movie, he threatened lawsuits. Later, the cleaned-up version of the movie was substituted, but fans of the movie noticed the changes, and complained. This was an unusual case of mandated censorship, very much in the way George Lucas tends to alter his work (incidentally some of Lucas’ work appears in the movie via Ibor, the robot-gorilla with a television screen for a head – he shows scenes from “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”).

Some thirty years later, the film holds up. In fact, in my advanced years I can actually follow the plot. The film tends to only be available in truncated form, clocking in at a slender one hour and fifteen minute running time. I have a VHS version of the film that runs five minutes longer. I don’t understand the discrepancy, because this release appears to be Korty’s approved version of the film. In addition my version of the movie contains a song by Michael McDonald, which I have been unable to verify with other releases of the film, which contain only his sister, Maureen’s songs. Perhaps there is a third version of the film.

Our first cable box was a non-descript metal contraption with a rotary dial and unlimited potential (with no brand name – weird). We flipped it on, and the first thing we noticed was that the reception was crystal-clear; no ghosting, no snow, no fuzzy images. We had the premium package: HBO, Cinemax, The Movie Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, CNN, The Disney Channel, and the local network affiliates. About $25-$30 a month.  Each week (and sometimes twice a week!), “Vintage Cable Box” explores the wonderful world of premium Cable TV of the early eighties.