Friday, October 12, 2012

The Monkees, Season 1, Episode 7: "Monkees in a Ghost Town"

This episode was written by Robert Schlitt and Peter Meyerson, and was directed by James Frawley. The Monkees' songs performed in the episode are "Papa Gene's Blues," written by Michael Nesmith, and "Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day," written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart as well as "(Theme From) The Monkees" by Boyce and Hart. Both are from the Monkees' debut album. In addition, two other songs are performed by the guest cast, "Everybody Loves My Baby" by Spencer Williams and Jack Palmer (it's a jazz standard) and "Hi Neighbor," by Warren Tucker (incidentally, that latter song was first performed in the movie "San Antonio Rose," which had Lon Chaney Jr. as one of the stars!). The guest cast in this episode are Rose Marie as Bessie Kowalski, Lon Chaney Jr. as Lenny, Len Lesser as George, and Hollis Morrison as 1st Cop.

Out of gas in a ghost town!
The episode opens with the Monkees driving the Monkeemobile out of Clarksville to their next gig, but soon are driving through the desert. The dust starts Peter coughing, and Micky tries to use a sextant to figure out where they need to go. Mike jokes, "Man, I've heard of out of town jobs, but this is ridiculous!" Micky asks if they'd passed a certain gas station, and Davy said they did about 150 miles back -- which is, of course, where they needed to turn left. Just then, the Monkeemobile runs out of gas -- right in the middle of a ghost town. Mike quips, "Well, it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here." When a traffic signal changes  to "stop," Peter steps in front and says, "Cross at the green, and not in between!" Davy says Pete's been out in the sun too long, but Micky says he was no bargain in the shade (poor Peter!). They decide to split up, Micky and Peter heading to one end, Davy and Mike to the other, in search of gas.


I have three words for you... six hundred dollars!"
Davy and Mike don't find anything, and it makes Davy nervous -- which prompts a fantasy sequence which has Mike facing off against.. himself, dressed in black, in a gun duel!  Davy (or rather, his alter ego in this fantasy sequence) has paid the evil Mike $500 to kill the good Mike, but when the good Mike offers him $600, the evil Mike shoots Davy! Meanwhile, Micky and Peter come across an old triangle hanging on a rope, and since Peter used to play one in high school, he gives it a ring. What he doesn't realize is that this has alerted two criminals, Lenny and George, who come out of hiding.

07-03After the opening credits, Peter's playing with some hay when he realizes he doesn't know where Micky is! Looking over, he sees a menacing shadow on the ground, that looks like a western gunman with his pistol drawn. Peter ducks behind a wall, but of course, it's only Micky, holding a stick (who knows where he got the hat from). But then, there's real gunfire from a machine gun hitting the ground near Mike and Davy! Davy looks at Mike and says, "If this is a ghost town, what do you call that?" To which Mike replies, "Well, I'd say it's a circle of bullets around our feet!"

"Say your famous line, Lenny!"
Lenny and George come into view, and George, brandishing the machine gun, says, "All right you guys, hoist them!" When Mike and Davy don't understand, George sprays the ground with bullets again. Mike says, "Hey, you think you're pretty tough with a gun in your hand, don't you?" Lenny takes the bait and says they ought to see him with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth, and tells George to give them that mean look when he squints his eyes. Mike and Davy try to leave, but George tells Lenny to say his "famous line," and Lenny bellows, "You ain't going noplace!" George tells Lenny to keep them on ice while he looks around to make sure they aren't alone, which confuses Lenny, because he doesn't know where he's going to get ice in the desert... but then Davy produces a huge block of ice from nowhere! Mike asks Lenny what he wants, and Lenny says, "I want what any man wants -- I want a job, and security, and a home! Yeah, and PTA meetings, and cookouts on weekends! That's what I want! Can you give me all of that?" When Mike says no, Lenny bellows, "Then shut up!" and he pushes them towards the town's jail.

Peter catches us up on the plot.
Meanwhile, George is looking around, and Micky and Peter see him, and hide. George enters the barn they're hiding in, and Peter says, "Gee, first we get lost and run out of gas, then Mike and Davy disappear, then somebody starts shooting off a machine gun, and now this guy is searching the town!" Micky looks into the camera and says, "That's for the benefit of any of you who've tuned in late! Now, back to our story!" At the jail, Lenny's locked Davy and Mike in a cell as George plays solitare. Lenny asks George what it's going to be like when The Big Man comes, and George says, "When the Big Man gets here, we're going to take our cut, and we're gonna scram outta here! Hey, what about the kids?" Mike and Davy chime in, "Yeah, what about us?" to which Lenny asks why they should get a cut, they haven't done nothing! They decide to let the Big Man decide about knocking them off, it's his call.

07-06Lenny then mentions that they've never seen the Big Man, and wonder how come he gave them this job. Outside, Micky and Peter overhear this, and Micky gets an idea (Peter helpfully puts a light bulb above Micky's head). Back in the jail, Mike and Davy wonder what happened to their bandmates. Lenny wishes the Big Man was here, and George says the Big Man will get here when he's ready. Suddenly, the door bursts open, and Peter (in a gravelly voice and gangster clothes) says, "He's ready!" He's followed by Micky, in a pinstripe suit, scar on his right cheek, doing his Cagney impression (this same shot is used in the first season opening credits). When he's asked who he is, Micky acts like they should know, and Lenny asks if he's the Big Man. Peter helpfully replies, "There's no bigger!" Lenny and George are glad to see him, and go to shake his hand, but Peter slaps their hands away, saying, "Nobody touches the Big Man's trigger finger!" Micky asks where the dough is, and who the kids are. Then he tells Spider (aka Peter) to take care of the kids in the cell.

The jig is up!
Suddenly, George realizes he didn't hear any car approach, and how they got there, but Micky says they coasted in to save on gas. Then he tells Peter that they should make sure they didn't leave the motor on. This gets George suspicious, and he has Lenny say his famous line -- and so Lenny grabs them. Peter insists that he shouldn't step on a spider -- because it'll rain. Lenny puts Micky and Peter into the cell with Davy and Mike. George advises them not to try to get out, as there's nothing around but miles of desert.

Romp antics on the beach!
Davy says, "Yeah, fun on the desert, that's all we need," and Peter smiles and says, "Yeah, fun on the desert!" This leads us to a fantasy sequence/romp with the song, "Tomorrow's Gonna Be Another Day," and it opens with the boys in Foreign Legion uniforms (of course, Mike has his wool hat instead of the standard helmet) marching down the desert. Yes, a number of shots from this sequence end up in the opening credits for both seasons! The Foreign Legion shots are interspersed with them playing in the sand at the beach, and some of these shots also end up in the opening credits -- including the second season opening credits when Peter is correctly identified on screen, and smells a flower. At least one shot from this appears to be used from the romp in "Royal Flush," and some of the shots will be used in future episode romps. In fact, I'd say this romp has footage that's used more than from any other episode in opening credits and other episode romps.

"We want to play baseball!"
The sequence ends going back to reality, with the boys walking in their cells, mimicking their Foreign Legion counterparts, walking single file, each with a hand on the shoulder of the one in front of them. After the commercial break, Lenny is playing jacks and not succeeding. He wonders when the real Big Man will get there, and George goes outside to look out for the Big Man. Micky them spots a shovel outside of their cell, but Peter points out that they don't have a sandbox. Micky calls Lenny over, and says they need some exercise, and Lenny says they can just jump up and down if they want exercise. Micky insists they want to play baseball, but when Lenny says he doesn't have a bat, Micky says they can use the shovel instead. When Lenny asks how they can play ball in a cell, Micky says they'll bunt a lot. Lenny hands them the shovel, and when Micky asks if they can use his ball, Lenny reaches into his pockets and pulls out a ball and a white mouse. Lenny gives them the ball.

"I have no more than I did before..."
Micky takes the shovel, and starts digging, but Peter's disappointed, because he thought they were going to play baseball! Mike says they can play after they escape. Davy says they need to cover up the sound of the digging, so Mike suggests that they play, and play they do, with Mike's song, "Papa Gene's Blues." As the song plays, Peter goes down the hole they did, and comes up... at a beach where people are surfing. Davy goes next, and comes up at a cattle stampede. Micky's next, and he emerges in the desert, where Arabs are charging on horses. Interspersed with this are shots of the lads playing the song on a stage in suits (and the logo is actually painted on Micky's bass drum finally!), as well as shots of them playing baseball in the cell (with Lenny sometimes being umpire). Mike's turn is next, and he sees a tiger when he comes up! Davy next comes up in front of a train, Peter sees the band playing, Micky at the pyramids of Egypt, Mike at a baseball game, and then Peter comes up... in the next cell over.

The Big Man... er, Big Woman!
George comes back in and takes the shovel from them, and then outside, they hear a car approach... it's the Big Man! George says the guys will be using the shovel to dig their own graves, and when Lenny asks who's that outside, George says it's the Big Man! The door opens, and in steps... a woman! She says "All right punks, where's the loot?" They don't take her seriously, but she knows who they are, and Lenny says, "You ain't the Big Man?" She says, "No, I'm the Big Woman... the Big Man's wife." She then explains that the Big Man got too big, and now she's the Big Man! George doesn't believe her, so she slaps him several times (that because he called her a mother... or maybe it was "mudder"), and then judo flips him on the floor, to the delight of the Monkees.

07-12The Big Woman notices the boys, and asks who they are, but then decides to just order Lenny and George to get rid of them. George tells Lenny to knock them off before they start singing again, but this makes the Big Man's eyes light up! She asks if they're professionals (Mike says, "Yes, ma'am, we're the Monkees," to which she replies, "Oh, a chimp act, eh?"), and Mike notes that she sounds like she knows show business. She says that, "Thirty years ago, the name Bessie Kowalski brought a throb to millions of hearts." She tells George to go out and shoot them, but the Monkees beg her, from one act to another, one last request -- Micky does a bad Jimmy Durante impression (at least it's not his Cagney again) to convince her to let them have one more encore! She agrees, and Peter asks if she'd perform the number with them, to which she agrees.

Did Davy get through on the phone?
Shortly, at the town saloon (which has a perfectly usable and tuned piano!) Bessie's singing "Everybody Loves My Baby," with the Monkees backing her up (Mike's playing the piano, even though we later only see Peter playing any kind of keyboard instrument -- Mike doesn't fake the piano very well, in fact, I think Micky was faking the drums better before he figured them out). But then, Mike suggests something a bit more current, and they go into "Hi Neighbor," with Lennie and George in the audience. Mike leans back to Davy and says, "There's a telephone over there, go use it!" Davy goes to the phone, and rings up an Indian chief in a teepee who says he can't help them... but then there's another call on the chief's other line, and takes the other call! Meanwhile, George has noticed Davy at the phone, and uses his machine gun to convince him to sit down and listen with the rest of them.

"George, I think I'm falling in love with the Big Man!"
The song ends, and Bessie tells George to rub them out. Mike says, "Don't you know you could get the chair for this?" Bessie thinks about it, then says, "No, I don't think I know that one," and they go back to "Everybody Loves My Baby" again. Lenny leans over to George and says he thinks he's falling in love with The Big Man! George, however, insists that she sang her husband to death! Davy's sent to the phone again, and this time he gets a Chester, a guy with a limp in an old western town (obviously a Gunsmoke reference), and Davy tells him to get help. Chester says he'd better tell Mr. Dillon, and when Davy assumes it's Marshall Dillon, Chester says Bob Dylan, he can write a song about it! George sends Davy away from the phone again.

Mike stalls some more, and hands Bessie the sheet music to their theme song, insisting that she could do that, and Mike hits it, and him playing piano, with Micky on drums, Davy on maracas, and Peter on guitar (no, there's no explanation for where the rest of the instruments came from so suddenly -- although it's north noting that the bass drum doesn't have the Monkees logo on it in any form) with Bessie singing along, they perform the "(Theme From) The Monkees." Bessie and Mike convince Lenny and George to join them, and Davy trades Lenny his maracas for Lenny's gun! Micky realizes this, and tells Davy to use it! Suddenly, Lenny and George dash off to one side of the saloon, and the Monkees to the other -- Bessie keeps singing, because Mike flips a switch to put the piano in player piano mode, playing the Monkees' theme.

07-16As the music starts, Lenny convinces George not to shoot, for fear he'll hit The Big Man. George fires at the bar, and as bottles are smashed, Micky pops up with a straw hat and cane like a carnival barker, but when his cane is hit by the next bullet, he ducks back down again!  Bessie continues singing. Then, the Monkees start running back and forth behind the bar like ducks in a shooting gallery! There's some stock footage of cannons and battleships firing inserted in the midst of this, too. Finally, Davy reaches up and fires the pistol a few times, to no avail. Suddenly, an arrow lands in the wall behind the bar, and Micky notes that's usually when the cavalry shows up. We get some stock footage of the cavalry approaching, playing the Monkees theme on bugle, but apparently they ride on past (Micky: "Don't trust the cavalry!").

"You guys ain't going nowhere!"
Bessie continues to sing, while Davy shoots, and Lenny and George figure they'll wait them out. Peter asks Davy doesn't that gun ever run out of bullets, and Davy says it can't because they're the good guys. Two shots later, it's empty, and Davy says, "I guess we're not so good after all!" He throws the gun over the side of the bar, where one final shot rings out, bounces off a pipe, and hits the machine gun, knocking it out of George's hand! This causes them to give up, and Peter picks up the gun. Micky, going back to Cagney again, says, "Okay, Spider, give them your famous line!" And Peter says, "You guys ain't going nowhere!" with some prompting from Lenny!

"Well, I guess this ought to cover it!"
Later, the police have arrived to take Lenny, George and Bessie away. Bessie tells them that she and her men are going to put together an act while they're in jail, and call themselves "Bessie and the Bullets." The Monkees leave the saloon, instruments in hand, ready to leave, when one of the cops stops them, to hand over a ticket to be redeemed for a reward. But when they get into the Monkeemobile, the cop cites them for parking in a no-parking zone, crossing against the light, and performing in a cabaret without a license. Regretfully, they hand the reward ticket back to take care of it, and look up, saying, "Well, that's show business!" before driving away.

Fun with camera filters.
The episode's a minute short, so some backstage stuff is inserted, Mike's taped the name "Lauren St. David" onto his chair so he won't be recognized. Then, all four Monkees have some fun looking at camera filters. One, Davy's challenged to name, and Davy looks at it and says it's a K (because the filter does have the shape of a K on it). Peter says it's backwards, it's the electronics symbol for a transistor. Mike picks up a pile of filters, and decides it's a deck of cards in disguise, and does a card trick for the rest of them, having Peter pick a card, looks at it, and Mike identifies it, naturally ("It's the only one missing," Mike quips).

Why Lauren St. David? I have no idea. I do know why the gangsters were named Lenny and George, however -- it's a reference to "Of Mice and Men," naturally (as anybody who's up on literature no doubt figured out already). It was a common gag in many old cartoons to have versions of Lenny and George in them, though greatly exaggerated. This is more apt, however, because Lon Chaney Jr. did play Lennie in the film version of the novel, making thi another tie-in with Chaney's background.

Of the episodes I've covered so far, this one is probably my favorite, not only because of how much fun it was to watch an the guest-stars, but also because I feel that each of the Monkees got a chance to shine, rather than one of them being the focus.

OK, here's the scoop on the guest stars, although the first two should be no surprise what they'd done! While Lon Chaney Jr. began his career (using his birth name of Creighton Chaney) mostly doing westerns, his first real genre role was as Capt. Hakur in Undersea Kingdom in 1936, but mostly had bit parts until playing Lennie in Of Mice and Men in 1939. This was followed by playing Akhoba in the 1940 version of One Million B.C., but of course, his greatest genre role was playing the lead in The Wolf Man in 1941, aka Lawrence Talbot (a role he'd reprise in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). He also played the Frankenstein Monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein, the Mummy in The Mummy's Tomb, and Dracula in Son of Dracula. He played the Monster again on a 1951 episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour, as well as in a 1952 episode of Tales of Tomorrow. His movie roles became more and more low-budget affairs, such as I Died a Thousand Times and The Indestructible Man. He played Chingachgook in all 39 episodes of Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans, and continued to mostly play bit parts on TV shows and movies, most of them in westerns. His last role was playing Groton in the 1971 Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, and he died in 1973.

Rose Marie's screen career stretched back to 1936, when she as billed as "Baby Rose Marie," and played a fair number of roles until being cast as Sally Rogers on The Dick Van Dyke Show, a role she'll forever be associated with. She made a second Monkees appearance in the episode "Monkee Mother" the following year. Her last part to date was reprising her role as Sally on The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisted in 2004.

Len Lesser, who played George, may be most recognized for playing Uncle Leo on Seinfeld, but earlier in his career, he'd appeared in two episodes of The Jack Benny Program, an episode each of The Outer Limits, The WIld Wild West, The Munsters, Honey West, two My Favorite Martian episodes, one Mr. Terrific, three Get Smart episodes, and he returned to The Monkees for another role in the episode "Monkees in Texas." He later guested on episodes of Land of the Giants, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, The Ghost Busters, Wonderbug, The Amazing Spider-Man (1977, the pilot), and Amazing Stories before being cast as Uncle Leo on Seinfeld, also appearing in the 1998 movie The Werewolf Reborn! (and its sequel in 2005, Frankenstein & The Werewolf Reborn!), and an episode of Sabrina, The Teenage Witch. He died in 2011.

Next: "Don't Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth"!

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