Monkee See, Monkee Die
The haunted house as booby-trap, to eject an unwanted heir, in this case a girl. There is a medium who conducts a séance and greets strangers this way, “How do you do, you’re very happy to see me.” The rapidity of gags is unparalleled except elsewhere in this series.
The reading of the will gives a harmonium to The Monkees, on the condition that they play a song with it. “Last Train to Clarksville” has thus a poetic import, Freudian train-travel interspersed with aviation disasters of the experimental period.
Various frights culminate in “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day”, Halloween masks for the band (which seems to have acquired another member).
A band contest vs. The Four Swine, publicity is obligatory under the rules, and so The Monkees acquire an agent willy-nilly. “We don’t want to be popular, we just want to be revered by a small minority.” Girls miss Davy at the Vincent A Gogh Gogh and tear off a tourist’s clothes, their hands are fixed in cement in front of a genuine Chinese theater, finally a stunt guaranteed to make them known, the agent hires two actors to kidnap them.
Everyone wants in on it, so it turns into a party. The actors are hoods, the agent works for the Swine. The Monkees escape through Foreign Legion deserts, wagon trails, a gunfight, on unicycles with training wheels, to the sound of “Last Train to Clarksville”, their contest number. The judges are appreciative of their efforts, but Lester Crabtree and the Three Crabs win. Girls tear the clothes from these older gentlemen, The Monkees conclude that therein lies the secret of fame and hastily doff their duds.
The Monkees are not very popular, Davy’s grandfather pays a visit from Jolly Old, a certain front must be presented. Mickey, Mike and Peter are Davy’s chauffeur, chef and houseboy, respectively, in borrowed uniforms and car. The owners come to retrieve their duds and wheels, the game is up.
So it’s back to England for Davy, the other three intervene at the airport as baggage handlers and a counterman for Transoceanic British Airlines and Icarus with a bandaged head (“Don’t fly! Don’t fly!”). Davy’s guardian is mollified, such loyal friends, the future must be bright.
“I Wanna Be Free” (or “Shades of Gray”) accompanies a melancholy walk on the beach, “Sweet Young Thing” an imaginary performance for the elders of Blighty.
Monkees in a Ghost Town
A ghost town with a functioning traffic light, “cross on the green,” says Peter, “not in-between.” They’ve been driving on the desert (past a sign reading “12 mi. to Clarksville”) and run out of gas on the way to a gig, Davy thinks Peter has had too much sun. Mickey observes, “he’s no bargain in the shade, either.”
Two Thirties hoodlums are holed up in the town, waiting for The Big Man, their names are George and Lenny (Len Lesser and Lon Chaney, Jr., reprising his role). They put The Monkees in jail.
The song is “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day”, they are in the Foreign Legion or charge and retreat from a wave. They wangle a shovel and dig out to see surfers or a cattle stampede or Mongols or a tiger or a train or a baseball game, variously (“Papa Gene’s Blues”).
The Big Man’s wife (Rose Marie) arrives, “he got too big, now I’m The Big Man.” They identify themselves, “a chimp act, uh?” She was Bessie Kowalski once, heartthrob. A last request? “I don’t do requests.”
They perform together, Davy slips away to the phone while she sings. “Come on,” says a hood pointing a gun, “you listen with the rest of us.”
“Get rid of ‘em” is the order. “Do you know,” asks Mike, “you can get the chair for this?” The Big Man says, “No, I don’t think I remember that one.”
There is a shootout, the cavalry doesn’t come, but the police do. The Big Man suggests a new name, Bessie and the Bullets.
There’s a reward, but the Monkeemobile is parked illegally, they don’t have a cabaret license, etc.
Hitting the High Seas
The Monkees sign on as common seamen aboard a sailing vessel, “the dumbest, dullest men” the first mate could find. The captain and his parrot have a plan to Jolly Roger the Queen Anne, his berth for thirty years before his colors were struck and he shifted to this tub.
It comes to the walking of planks and the aiming of cannon, and then the boys heroically fight the crew while “Daydream Believer” is played, heroically.
The closing sequence is a psychedelic rendition of “Star Collector”, so much so that the band is overcome by special effects and drifts away amid fog and flashing lights, discomfited.
Monstrous Monkee Mash
A castle, with haunts by the Lorelei, Count Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolf Man and Frankenstein’s monster, in need of a brain.
Count Dracula has a plan, “you know what we shall have?” The Lorelei guesses, “Peter with a monster’s brain.” Dracula corrects her, “no, you fool! The other way around!”
“Don’t make me use my secret power on you,” he tells the snarling Wolf Man, then holds his cape before his face and produces a string of wieners.
“In every show we do a fantasy sequence where we romp around and do what we want and nobody can interrupt.” Thus the Monkees, to which the Count replies, “this show is different,” he is seated by the camera in a director’s chair, “the fantasy is over, this is for keeps!”
The band is observed by Count and Lorelei from the vantage point of a picture frame, keeping very still. She goes on an errand, he readjusts his stance, saying for the benefit of the audience, “better composition.”
Try and Catch Me
The script is a cunning and beautiful arrangement of symbolic attitudes confronting Columbo with a murder mystery writer and (a matter of some importance) a female one, which in contrast to some Columbos permits the director a measure of compositional analysis.
Describing this in operation is rather cumbersome by comparison with the simplicity of means employed. The writer, Abigail Mitchell (Ruth Gordon), is giving a lecture to a women’s group at a hotel, whose Spanish Colonial exterior is established, and Columbo’s position in the scene is set out by a lateral tracking shot from the colonnade. The writer’s foil is a blackmailing young assistant (Mariette Hartley) who offers her terms accompanied by the same tracking shot in front of a hedge of roses Mitchell is trimming. As the scene concludes, a persistent buzzing is heard.
This is precisely the reading of Wyler’s Mrs. Miniver that so inflamed Halliwell’s Film Guide.
Make Me a Perfect Murder
The first experiments in television were greeted by Schoenberg with praise, because he foresaw, decades before the industry began, “a new means of propagating the Word.” The point of view in “Make Me a Perfect Murder” is that of a serious assessment of the commercial medium in full stride, mainly satirical (cp. Network), with television as a unique form still unfulfilled in its potential, and a great sense of diminishment from the cinema.
The major nightmare is the clock. A film is made like anything else, but television is governed by the time slot and the station break. The only thing comparable is the ballet, Stravinsky for example would ask Balanchine for a stopwatch reading on a sequence of steps, so that he could write for them (film scoring is like this), but the fixed and regular motions of the clock determine television time absolutely. This was also true of radio, and it is represented by having the murderess plug a small tape recorder into her ear that plays back the sound of her own voice counting down a four-minute interval, to time her alibi (as she makes her way back to the projection room, she is stopped by the sight of a security guard crossing the lobby, who pauses for a while to peruse a magazine, he's an elderly fellow, the magazine has a centerfold, the seconds are ticking away, finally he puts it down and continues off perpendicular to her line of progress, making an odd little gesture as he goes, and it's a small thing perfectly done and perfectly scaled for television that on radio would have been an enchanting tease, and in a film a rather vast or even cosmic joke).
Then there is Standards & Practices, “the family hour”, and the imprecision caused by rapid shooting schedules. As the victim puts it, “You’re the best at what you do, Kay, the very best. But you don’t make decisions, you make guesses.” This is harsh, coming after the miracles of live television drama and countless superb productions on film, but it serves to express a problem which isn’t always overcome. Kay, the Emmy-winning executive assistant, is shown taking charge of a film for television in post-production, and ruthlessly trimming another on the set. The travails of television directors are many.
There is the film star of musical comedies that aren’t made anymore, and who is frightened by the live cameras. Because she can’t go on, a last-minute substitution is made, the just-finished film is put on unprepared, and fails miserably. This ultimately costs Kay the job she obtained as a consequence of the murder, but a job isn’t the motive (it rarely is, Columbo observes), rather vengeance for being “used”.
Kay’s frantic attempt to get the lieutenant off her screen by fiddling with buttons in the control room on location at the merry-go-round on Santa Monica Pier anticipates the present state of television, furiously disfiguring the image to hide a want of ideas or a failure to take the dilemma into account.
The teleplay and direction are so adept and detailed that background information comes to the forefront in a running gag about a film actor named Clay Gardner, who might be tempted with enough money to appear in A Broad Land. His demographics are studied, his price debated, and a “roll of the dice” agreed to, without the character once being shown.
The television film is called The Professional and stars James Frawley as an assassin who commits suicide in his hotel room. It is a thoroughly professional production and quite in scale with the intensely understated satire throughout.
The opening sequence has Lt. Columbo singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “My Darling Clementine” as he drives along in his Peugeot. A police call goes out, patrol cars assemble on this very street. He adjusts his rear-view mirror to watch out for them, and it falls off in his hand. He stops short at a roadblock and is rear-ended, causing a case of whiplash that necessitates a cushion around his neck for most of the episode.
The murderess first sees him where she left the victim, recumbent on a couch in his network office, reading a script (with a bullet hole in it).
How to Dial a Murder
This is derived from a consideration of William Randolph Hearst in his two most famous or mythic aspects, his supposed murder of Thomas Ince and his supposed incitement of the Spanish-American War. These are viewed through the prism of Citizen Kane, which figures prominently throughout, as at the opening on the famous gate, the darkened house with its snow globe and Rosebud sled.
The game turns on “cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”, but the psychological motivation of jealousy is the main interest from the writers’ point of view. There is, nonetheless, much telling play with images such as a dummy with a loudspeaker, a ghost town with hook and chain and yoke (and another loudspeaker), etc.
Frawley directs this all brilliantly, with his special feature a constant adjustment of the camera so that the film posters in the main set are brought into play descriptively (when Dr. Mason makes his last move, for example, King Kong is advertised behind him).
Patrick Williams’ score is fine, inspired and Bartókian.
Murder, Smoke and Shadows
The special-effects wizard at ACM Studios has left it all behind him and now sucks sodas at his own fountain on the lot.
Confronted with earlier footage from a bygone day lost by accident, he zaps the old buddy, erases his face and dumps the body on the beach.
Hocus-pocus makes it look like a cocaine buy, the way he dumps an actress girlfriend for effect.
Lt. Columbo has the book on him (“a panoramic view”, dropped by the killer, a great prop), feints, lassitudes, reminiscences, blarney, prestidigitations, delusions.
The protector high up is pressed by the board for an Easter hit, no can do.
“You know,” says wizard to lieutenant, “I would like to take this straw, and stick it in your ear, and extract everything you’ve ever thought or felt or seen, or even dreamed about your profession.”
Welles’ train set, Ophuls’ circus.
Sex and the Married
For Lt. Columbo the sunny surrealism of a tuba at the Music Center.
The disguise of a prostitute sets up the murder.
The Russian cleaning woman can’t grasp the lieutenant’s intent, he dashes amongst the office trash cans she’s emptied until he upends the big one she’s rolling, enters and says with satisfaction that he’s found it, a clue. The woman is delighted, “police boy” she says in English.
Cigar in hand, he rides up the elevator with the murderess, who waves away the smoke. The circle-and-slash obliges him to douse, he quietly considers and then drops the cigar into the Styrofoam cup of coffee he’s holding.
Sex clinician, authoress, radio hostess, television celebrity, psychologist, Ph.D., a perfect characterization.
Her lover is simply unfaithful, the clinic staff are merely neurotic, they come to Lt. Columbo for advice.
Admirable cinematography in the muted pastel clinic, bars, Music Center.
The Three Stooges
The best of this farrago would be the re-creation of a famous routine on the set, except that nothing after all can beat hanging around the barbecue on a Southern California afternoon with this bunch of troupers.
A self-proclaimed admirer of The Three Stooges once wrote this writer an angry letter denouncing him for ever once claiming there were any depths at all to them but funny. He replied by calling his correspondent a knucklehead and bidding him say a few syllables.
This might be a spoof on Attenborough’s Chaplin, or a chance for Frawley to go through Jules White’s paces.
A translation into Yuppie, for Mike Eisner, “be there in fifteen!” The acting has a three-second delay, and consists of making faces and striking poses.
Frawley’s contribution is an anthropologist’s dream, like Levi-Strauss’s grub, what you have to swallow to participate in the tribal rites, or even to conduct a scientific observation.
A one-shot deal, not to be compared with a long-term television contract for the services of a professional with better sense, such as Frawley.
There is a difference between knowing looks and the look that knows, and he knows it.