Tales Of The Gold Monkey
UK Airdate: From November 1982
Universal DVD Region 2
Tales Of The Gold Monkey was one of my all time favourite TV shows when I was a teenager. A pity, then, that it ran for only one series, broadcast over here in the UK on Monday evenings to pick up a family audience. I believe the reason it only ran for one season, despite winning a load of Emmys for things like set and costume design, is because it was just too darned expensive to produce for the ratings it was earning, being as the whole show was set in 1938. There were also a lot of people saying that it was just trying to ride the Raiders Of The Lost Ark bandwagon, of Spielberg’s big hit from the year before, although the truth was that it was more inspired by certain films from the Golden Age of Hollywood than it was by the 1981 blockbuster (and also a series of ads about a bar called the Brass Monkey in the East... the original working title for the show was Tales Of The Brass Monkey). Although, having said that, I bet it took the popularity of Indiana Jones to get the show green lit by the studio.
So anyway, I was always on the look out for a second series but none ever came. I had a poster magazine and an annual (still have these, I think) but, alas, the brilliance of the show was in vain and it was lost to time. Until about ten years or so ago when a DVD was finally released in this country of all the episodes, including the original pilot film, which had something of a small but important cast change from the full series.
The show followed the exploits of pilot Jake Cutter, played by Stephen Collins (who we all knew over here from his role in Star Trek - The Motion Picture, reviewed here), who piloted cargo for cash in his Grumman Goose G-21 seaplane, named Cutter’s Goose and lived in one of the rooms at the Gold Monkey bar on the island of Boragora. There he had weekly adventures with his trusty, forgetful, comedy sidekick Corky (played by the wonderful Jeff MacKay), his romantic interest Sarah Stickney White (played by Caitlin O' Heaney, who posed as a singer in the bar but was really an undercover government spy) and Jack the dog (played by Leo the dog). I’ll get to Jack in a minute because, as far as I’m concerned, he was the most important character in it.
Other regulars included the bar’s owner, Bon Chance Louie (played by Roddy McDowell... a role played by Ron Moody in the pilot episode), Princess Koji (a formidable Japanese princess played Marta DuBois on a neighbouring island who fancied Jake and was always trying to get him into her hot tub), Todo (the Princess’ loyal bodyguard played by John Fujioka), Gushie (Louie’s wheelchair bound waiter played by Les Jankey... being an interesting concession to actors with disability which you rarely saw on TV in those days) and, last but not least, the Reverend Willie Tenboom (played by John Calvin). This last character was very interesting because I’m not sure you’d get away with him on family TV these days. Reverend Willie Tenboom was actually another undercover spy, a German spy as it happens, who would take the native island ladies into his church to regularly ‘bless’ them. Which was the Gold Monkey euphemism for having sex with them. Many a joke in the show came from situations where young ladies of his congregation would come in for their regular daily 'blessings' and with him almost, but never quite, getting caught in the act. I imagine it might be a little problematic these days but, back then, people were a little less uptight than they seem to be these days about stuff like the mix of sex and religion.
And, yeah, it’s a great show. The first pilot episode really set the scene and showed you the close relationship between Jake, Corky and Jack the dog. It opens with Jake accidentally mistaking his codes with Jack and losing Jack’s fake eyeball in a gambling game. The dog is extremely intelligent, in fact. More so than any of the human cast, it turns out. Intelligent enough that he always barks one woof for no and two woofs for yes. Jack always knows what’s going on and, if you listen to his barks throughout the show, you’ll know when the heroes are chasing a dead end or not.
Jack the dog isn’t just a minor character though. He’s a real co-star and, considering he was a stray found in an alley before the show commenced filming, I’m amazed at the level of training the dog seems to have had. The thing is, though, you have to have been watching the show from day one because the key to Jack’s barks is only mentioned a couple of times, early in the series. And it’s interesting in that a lot of the comedy moments throughout the show come from Jack’s bark. So, for example, Jake Cutter will say something like... “Don’t worry, it will be fine. It’s only etc.” and Jack will bark once, completely contradicting him and undermining his companion’s, not to mention the audience’s, faith in Jake. And like I said, Jack’s never wrong and often solves any mysteries coming their way long before his human co-stars have figured things out. If it wasn’t for Jack, this show would have been a lot duller and it’s a shame the series was so short lived because he deserves to take his place alongside such famous screen dogs as Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and Asta (from The Thin Man films). Some of the sequences with Jack would sometimes get quite surreal too, with occasional Japanese subtitles springing up so a native speaker could understand whether he was barking yes or no. Ah, yes, I loved this show.
And yeah, it was a mostly light hearted series with lots of fist fights (that Monkey Bar saw a lot of action) and gun play. A proper 1930s style action adventure series that, while clunky at times (count the engines on a plane or funnels on a ship and then match them up to the found footage long shots... it’s as bad as the changing horse counts on the stage coaches from long shot to close up in the old Maverick series), it was a real antidote to a lot of the other shows airing at the time. There were, of course, other period set adventures around in the wake of Spielberg’s Raiders but... this was easily the best and most entertaining of them, for sure. There was even, on occasion, a more serious, heavily dramatic episode... such as Last Chance Louie, where Jake races to clear Louie’s name in a self confessed murder and rescue him from the fate of the guillotine (with Collins also meeting one of his future wives on the set... Faye Grant, who people might remember from the original incarnation of V). He just manages to do this but the wonderful surprise reveal in that episode and the motivation behind Louie owning up to the murder, is really tragic and was pretty intense for what was, for the most part, a frothy and fun TV show.
So, well, I don’t want to say too much about this series because, it is around on DVD and, seriously, if you like adventure TV shows then Tales Of The Gold Monkey is definitely the one to watch. I suspect it’s not had a modern revival nowadays because of certain allegations made about the lead actor in 2014 which he more or less admitted but, wow, I’d like to see this show get the recognition it deserves now with a young audience. This was high quality escapism of the finest kind.