“The Cool War”
“The Spy Who Came in from the Cool” was the first episode written by the team of Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, who wrote a total of 22 Monkees episodes. It was directed by Robert Rafelson and originally aired October 10, 1966. I also want to point out the episode’s cinematographer Irving Lippman and editor Donald W. Starling. I can’t say enough about the behind-the-scenes team that made The Monkees, the director, writers, cinematographer, editors, and all the crew created one entertaining episode after another. I noticed some especially fun post-production techniques in this one, so I wanted to point that out.
The Monkees are driving the Monkeemobile within the actual episode. They get out and park while Davy begs the others to let him buy a new pair of maracas. Inside a music store, the big, Russian-accented Boris is stuffing microfilm into a pair of red maracas. Madame Olinsky tells him their plans: He’s to sell the maracas to a “very short man” who will want them in red and say he can only pay him 50 cents. I think we all see where this is going.
Outside, Davy notes that there’s a man talking to a Popsicle, but this only interests Mike if the Popsicle talks back. The Monkees enter the store and Davy requests the red maracas, accidentally saying the spies’ code phrase. Boris tells him he is “very short.” Davy is too cool to look half as annoyed as I would. They send Davy and the other three out through the “secret exit” in the harp case. Then, the actual short Russian spy enters and asks for the maracas. Poor Boris realizes he’s screwed up.
The Monkees play “The Kind of Girl I Could Love” (Michael Nesmith) at the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh, and we can see Valerie Kairys dancing in the crowd. This is the first episode featuring one of Michael Nesmith’s songs. Davy hears an extra rattle in his maracas and pulls out the microfilm, which he stuffs in his waistband. There’s no room for pockets in those tight pants. Boris and Madame Olinsky enter dressed as teenagers. Although Madame does look hot in these clothes, the couple looks hilariously out of place, and like Vic Tayback in the previous episode, they try to fit in by “dancing.” We have adults trying to infiltrate the teenage world by dressing and behaving like them, and failing. Boris makes the subtle (and subversive for the time I think) suggestion that a teenage boy has hit on him.
The song finishes and the spies threaten the band on the stage with a gun, demanding the film. Peter bursts into tears. Mike gets them out of it by announcing the spies as folk-singing duo “Honey and the Bear,” which suits their appearance very well. Mike forces them on the stage where they are paralyzed with fear at having to face the teenage crowd. The nervous spies sing an anthem called “Blow up the Senate.” Micky starts the crowd booing as well as flinging pillows at them, setting off the theme of kids “following the crowd” in this episode. The Monkees use the distraction to make their exit.
At CIS headquarters (TV version of the CIA), Honeywell (the Popsicle-talker) and the Chief discuss the Monkees possession of the microfilm. Honeywell has been ineptly spying on them. (We wouldn’t need Snowden if the government were this obvious when recording citizens.) Honeywell shows the Chief the film he made of the Monkees. On the film, Honeywell asks political questions of Mike and Peter, who answer in a comically irrelevant way. The more “show-biz” characters, Micky and Davy, also don’t get it and respond with self-interest: Micky pulls out a larger than life head-shot of himself for Honeywell, and Davy breaks into a soft shoe dance performance of “Old Folks at Home” (Stephen Foster), knowing that a camera is on him. This is a very “Davy” moment that I love.
Chief brings the boys into the CIS headquarters and asks for their help. They’re none too enthusiastic about the danger. Micky does a little Don Adams impression as he picks up the phone and asks for “Schwartz, Harold B.” to catch the spies instead of them. Chief says he can save at least three of them, leading to a chair scramble for the three chairs which Peter loses completely. The Monkees reluctantly agree to help.
Back at the pad, they unicycle around the room, with the cameras giving a little fake jolt as they crash into each other. Mike is skeptical and wants to back out, but Micky goes into a spy fantasy, different from the previous costume fantasies where they pull costumes out of nowhere. Here we get a camera dissolve to set up the daydream. This is my favorite bit of the episode, where Micky plays a “Q” from James Bond role and explains equipment and weapons to the other Monkees. He takes them outside to the same park we saw in “Kidnappers” for a fighting demonstration with the very large Yakimoto, who destroys Micky’s gun display. This is also an unusual case where Micky is playing the straight man to the other characters who make all the jokes.
The Monkees meet Honeywell at the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh where he sets them up with an obvious microphone in a table lamp. Their task is to finagle a confession from the spies, and then Honeywell will pop out and arrest them. Davy disturbs the lamp as they walk out and a fake “Genie” dressed in an I Dream of Jeannie costume appears. Davy makes one of television’s first meta-references: “Imagine that, wrong show.”
The band plays “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” (Tommy Boyce/Bobby Hart) on the little stage while Boris and Madame enter. Madame mocks the kid’s western decadence, especially for their lack of individuality or originality in their dancing: “Sheep. They all follow one another.” (The kids are also all wearing the same clothes from the earlier disco scene.) This theme of “following” was seen in the previous episode where the young people all follow each other to rush into the Monkees house, and then rush out again when the music changes.
The spies sit down with the Monkees, and Davy obviously tries to get their confession. When asked if they are really foreign spies, Boris supplies him with a nod. Davy rushes back to check with Honeywell, who rightly points out he can’t hear a nod. On his way back Davy (who is maintaining his cooler, hipper personality from the previous episode) inadvertently kicks the cord out.
Mike stalls by counting the money the spies brought to buy the film. Davy pushes the lamp in front of them but Honeywell isn’t getting anything since it’s unplugged. Madame finally gets tired of these delay tactics, and we’re treated to a Marx Brothers moment from Peter:
Honeywell gets the confession, but Madame pulls out her gun and threatens the boys to give up the film already. Mike bravely taunts her to come get it and throws her out onto the dance floor where she has to dance in order to not make a scene. Davy and Micky desperately try to call Honeywell while Mike fights off Madame. Boris is pulled into the dance by a girl from the crowd. Micky and Peter stand up to subdue Boris, but he effortlessly tosses them to the walls.
Everyone in this scene is dancing to “All the Kings Horses” (Michael Nesmith). This is one of my favorite songs on the show. I love the guitar break and the harmony with Mike and Micky. This song is not listed in the end credits but “Last Train to Clarksville,” which we don’t hear, is listed.
Madame karate chops Mike, who falls and we get the payoff to the earlier line about copying dance steps. The editors give a little help by winding the film back so we see the chop twice. The girls all start karate chopping and the boys all fall to the ground. Last episode, we have the “Kidnap” and now we have the “Karate Chop.” Madame takes the film from Mike’s pants and escapes. Davy bravely jumps on Boris’ back and somehow the three standing Monkees stop the big man from leaving. Honeywell finally comes out and tells Boris he’s going to Leavenworth. Peter sweetly comforts the disappointed Boris who won’t be meeting Madame in Argentina. Aww..Peter.
“Somewhere in China,” Madame tells a room full of men in suits that she has a film of America’s greatest secret weapon. And that weapon is the Monkees fooling around on the beach in their red bathing suits to “Saturday’s Child” (David Gates). Back at the disco, Mike awkwardly dances with Honeywell. Also in this footage is the bit I love from the opening credits with Peter in the bathtub being rolled down the street by the other Monkees, among other fun shots. The Monkees show up at the end of the song in trench coats, hats, and guitar cases that they pretend are weapons and find Madame tied up in the chair.
The episode title is obviously a parody of the John le Carré novel The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The movie of the same name came out the year before this episode. Spy stories were popular at the time. Other notable ’60’s spy series and films included: I Spy, James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E., and Get Smart. The writers, Gerald Gardner and Dee Caruso, wrote eleven episodes of Get Smart so they were experienced at writing spy/comedy material. The cold war would have been on everyone’s mind at the time with the US having entered the Vietnam War in 1965, but I don’t think that The Monkees writers/producers were especially interested in topical humor. The ‘bad guys” could be anyone and it would be understood just as easily if this episode were made today, substituting “terrorists” (or whatever conspiracy the media comes up with next) for “Russian Spies.”
The way the Cold war plays here, the teenagers are detached from it all. They’re into their music, fun, their self-expression. Tension with Russia and China is a grown-up problem. It’s not their fault or their concern but they are expected to fight the war. The Monkees only help when directly confronted by the CIS. The other young people in the episode have no interest or even clue what’s happening around them in the disco scenes. The main source of the comedy in this episode is the cultural divide between the adults and the teens.
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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