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 behaving 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 the script was like as she originally wrote it. 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.

 

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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 homage 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, the Monkees 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.

Monkees Vs. Macheen: “Son Of A Gypsy”

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“Everybody Wants to be in Showbiz!”

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

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

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

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

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

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.

fire-smile

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!

extra-hands

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.

Evil-Son

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.

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. 

Shes-Gone-web

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.