Monkees vs. Macheen: “Hitting the High Seas”

“We’ll scuttle the story and run her a-ground!”

“Hitting the High Seas” was directed by James Frawley and written by Jack Winter, who wrote four other episodes that I listed in my recap for “The Picture Frame.”  Fun note about the title: the book, Monkee Magic by Melanie Mitchell, notes that it’s a pun on hitting the high “C’s,” as in the musical note. This episode is included in The Monkees DVD/VHS “Our Favorite Episodes” as Davy Jones’ favorite. Though the Amazon description of that box set notes this may not be entirely the case as he states “Royal Flush” is his favorite on the DVD box set commentary. Jones gives commentary for this episode as well.

Micky, Davy, and Peter sit in a bar discussing their recent firing from a failed gig. They overhear two sailors, Frank and Harry, discuss an available job. Noam Pitlik, whom we saw in an earlier episode, “Everywhere a Sheik, Sheik,” as Shazer, plays Harry. The old sailors describe the perfect men needed for the job, while the Monkees counter with demonstrations of their qualifications. “They’ve got to be strong.” Micky destroys furniture. (Yet he wasn’t able to do so in “Wild Monkees.”) “They’ve got to be able to use their hands.” Davy juggles. “They’ve got to have knowledge of the seven seas.” Peter names random bodies of water. The sailors wonder where to find “hard drinkin’ guys like that.” The Monkees heartily drink their milk. (Yes, milk – it does a body good.) One of the sailors asks, “what about these kids here?” The Monkees magically pop into sailor costumes. Frank and Harry tell the Monkees where and when to meet them if they want the job.

Cut to the sailors on the phone discussing their success in finding the “dumbest suckers” they could. This makes no sense at all because from what we see later, they don’t need the Monkees to execute their plan. Davy Jones mentions on the commentary track that many of the Monkees adventures were about playing the kinds of fantasies kids would have. Pirates would naturally be among kid’s fantasies (I know it was one of mine), so I guess whatever contrivance it takes to get them on the ship will do.

The background music by Stu Phillips is a cheerful sailor cartoon theme. Frank meets all four Monkees on the deck of the ship. Davy Jones mentioned on the commentary that this was a beautiful boat that the four of them actually considered purchasing. The Monkees have no idea how to sail. Frank tosses a million directions at them, and Mike tries to follow along with a book of instructions. Fortunately, someone has labeled the main sail and the ropes needed to adjust it, but they mess it up anyway. Micky, Peter, and Davy get seasick and take pills to cure it. Mike takes one, but like Micky’s bug-attracting insect spray from “Monkees Marooned,” the pill makes him seasick. He goes below deck, never to be seen again.

The Monkees that are still standing meet the Captain, played by Chips Rafferty who, I’m sure was not coincidentally cast as he was in the films The Wackiest Ship in the Army and Mutiny on the Bounty. During roll call he orders them to cut their hair, but they refuse. In response, the Captain plans to have them “keel-hauled and lashed” until Micky identifies Davy as the great-great grandson and heir to Davy Jones’ locker. The Captain is awed to have a Jones on his ship. He lightens the punishment “swabbing the deck” and makes Davy his cabin boy. [“These pipes are CLEEEANN!” – Editor’s note]

Inside the ship, Davy tries to deliver food to the Captain but keeps running into various other fictional captains. First up is Micky, dressed as Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. He also finds Peter as an 18th-century pirate, getting slapped for forcing a kiss on a girl. Micky re-appears as Captain Hornblower and blows a little horn, “groovy, sock it to me, yeah.” Captain Horatio Hornblower was a fictional captain in the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and was the subject of novels, films, and radio. According to his characteristics listed on Wikipedia, Hornblower was tone deaf, so he probably didn’t play the horn or anything else. Also, like Mike, he tended to get seasick.

Davy finally finds the right Captain, who’s now in conference with his parrot, Horace. He overhears the Captain and the parrot discuss a plan to steal gold. In the commentary, Davy Jones mentions that Micky was the actual voice of the parrot. Davy thinks they’re “crackers.” Nice pun. Hanging out in their bunks, Peter and Micky play and sing a little bit of “Tear the Top Right Off My Head” (Peter Tork) on acoustic guitar. Davy rushes in and tells them his fears about the Captain. On the spot, Davy comes up with an idea for them to sneak into the Captain’s room at night. Micky will imitate the parrot so they can find out more about the Captain’s plan.

Cut to the execution of Davy’s plan. Peter tapes the real parrot’s mouth shut and Micky engages the Captain, pretending to be Horace. The Captain used to be captain of a ship called the Queen Anne, and he wants to rob it in revenge for being kicked off the ship. Next day on deck, Micky tries to brush this off as just a fantasy the Captain has created to compensate in his mind for his childhood frustrations. Davy mentions in the commentary that Micky made those lines up. The script just said they should be “talking” so they improvised their own dialogue [Now that’s some solid professional television writing! – Editor’s Note]. The Captain appears on deck in a Jolly Roger hat and pirate costume, and the rest of the crew are suddenly dressed as Hollywood pirates. They hoist the Jolly Roger and reveal the canons. Micky tries to convince himself that the Monkees are now the ones trapped in a fantasy.

Maybe there’s something in that. What if the entire series was just a fantasy in the four Monkees minds, created to compensate for their failure to make it as a band? All the crazy things never really happened; they just imagined being chased by space aliens, international spies, and bank robbers and tangling with corrupt royalty, con-men, and mad scientists. Not to mention the Devil himself. Now that’s a trip!

The Captain shares his plan to rob the Queen Anne of Gold bullion. The Monkees are now in their own version of pirate costumes. My daughter pointed out that they look like Halloween costumes for little kids. (She keeps going on in adoration of Davy’s hat.) There is something very Peter Pan and the Lost Boys about this whole story. The Captain proclaims that anyone afraid to go through with his scheme should step forward; of course the Monkees do, but quickly retreat when told they’ll be dropped off in the middle of the ocean. I still don’t see why Frank and Harry needed to trap the boys into joining the crew for this. They didn’t really need inexperienced extra crewmen to rob the Queen Anne, did they?

The Monkees go back to their bunks to figure out how to stop the Captain from his crazy plan. Micky decides they should follow the Hollywood examples of Munity on the Bounty and Captain Queeg from The Caine Mutiny. Peter goes off to incite mutiny among the rest of the crew. Davy’s still skeptical so Micky convinces him with more references to the 1935 and 1962 versions of Mutiny on the Bounty, “How about, if Clark Gable and Marlon Brando can do it, we can do it?” The look that passes between them is pretty funny, looks like that line was made up too.

Peter whispers to everyone on deck, and you can see David Price and David Pearl are among the crew members. Micky gets up in front of the crew and calls the Captain out on deck. He asks the Captain to turn over his sword, and when he refuses, Micky orders the men to “seize him.” No one moves. Micky asks what Peter said to the men? Turns out it was a general “mrm mrmmmr mer” Davy and Peter deny being part of any mutiny, but Frank identifies them as being with Micky. The Captain orders them all to walk the plank. Horace sits on the Captain’s arm during this bit and he does his own thing, chewing something off the captain’s jacket.

Standing on the plank, quick-thinking Micky stalls by warning that if they jump in, the Captain will never know “the secret.” The Captain almost bites, but Peter ruins it by asking, “Hey guys, what is the secret?” The crew is distracted from drowning the Monkees when the Queen Anne approaches. They turn away from the Monkees and prepare the cannons to attack the other ship. Harry and the Captain crack me up with their little argument about when to fire.

The Monkees decide to save the Queen Anne. This action forms the romp to “Daydream Believer” (Stewart). The Monkees steal the cannons and there’s sword fighting, rope swinging, and pistols. A couple of fun moments include Micky and Peter’s mirror-image eye patch, and Peter driving pirates away with his guitar playing. In the end, the Monkees finally drop a net on the Captain and his men. After the fight, the Captain of the Queen Anne congratulates the Monkees for saving the ship, the gold, and the passengers. A bell keeps ringing and Davy comments on it. Davy Jones mentions in the commentary that the bell wasn’t part of the episode it was actually ringing on some other ship. The captain ignores him and announces they are all First Mates of the ship. Who’s the Captain? It’s Horace the parrot, of course.

Last up is a lip-sync performance of “Star Collector” (Goffin/King), the version of the song that utilizes a Moog synthesizer. Davy Jones mentions the Moog in the commentary and states that Micky owned one of the first existing models. The inventor of the machine, Robert Moog, brought it to the recording session and they played it for this song. In the clip, the Monkees are all in white turtleneck sweaters. It looks like someone made Mike a matching hat, but he never wears it, it just sits on a stand in the front. It’s all very psychedelic with trippy lights, colors, and fast editing. Micky has giant drumsticks and at one point, Mike grabs one to mimic his guitar playing.

This was never a favorite of mine but, paying closer attention for this recap, I discovered some things to appreciate. There are some laugh-out-loud bits, and there’s a storyline that works on that “good clean fun” level. The rugged sailors, Captain, Harry, and Frank, add a believable touch to the fantasy. The episode moves along quickly and is fun and entertaining. On the downside, there’s not as much subversive or Monkees-like humor. It’s almost as though any comic actors from any situation comedy of the time could have made the same episode. It was fun to play the episode with commentary, hearing Davy Jones point out various moments. Clearly he remembered it fondly and had some fun working on the show overall. The three Monkees that are in the episode look like they had a good time, which is always nice. As Davy Jones said, it’s still “bright and light and kind of fun.”

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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