Retro Review: Tales of the Gold Monkey

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I have mixed feelings regarding the DVD industry that’s built up to sell us television, which we essentially get for free over the airwaves (at least, mostly free), but I can’t deny that one of the perks is the fact that shows from my childhood are available again.  In some cases, this is a horrible thing because those shows don’t necessarily hold up well.  But there are a few that stand out and deserve to be recognized.

Like Tales of the Gold Monkey.

If you’ve watched television in the 80′s, 90′s or even in the last decade – you should know the name Donald Bellisario.  Let me run through the list for you:

  • Magnum PI
  • Airwolf
  • Quantum Leap
  • JAG
  • NCIS

All of those shows were massively successful, but there was one little show that I still remembered and missed sorely, so imagine my absolute delight when I came across the DVD set on a random excursion through BestBuy: Tales of the Gold Monkey.

Tales of the Gold Monkey followed the adventures of a former Flying Tiger named Jake Cutter who is working and flying in a French controlled area of the South Pacific in 1938.  He is joined by his best friend and mechanic, Corky, and his one eyed dog Jack.  He lives on the island of Bora Gora in the Monkey Bar, an establishment owned by Bon Chance Louie, the local French Magistrate.  Additional characters include Sarah Stickney White, an ‘all American girl’ who sings at the bar but actually works as a spy for the U.S. Government, Reverend Willie Tenboom, on the islands to spread the word of God to the locals (mostly to the local ladies), but is actually a German spy and a (white looking) Japanese princess named Koji who is surrounded by Samurai and who actually runs a criminal empire throughout the islands and who is helping the German spy, Tenboom, with his missions.

Aired in 1983, Tales of the Gold Monkey was obviously an attempt to capitalize on the success and popularity of a little movie you have heard of – it had Harrison Ford playing this adventure seeking archaeologist… Yep, I’m talking about Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Tales definitely had that sort of feel to it, albeit on a television budget.

I’m a little confused by the history and timing; Jake Cutter is supposed to be an ex-Flying Tiger, but it’s set in 1938.  According to the history I’ve read, Claire L. Chennault, the retired United States Army Air Corps tasked with creating the Tigers to help the Chinese resistance against the Japanese, had barely begun.  So the timing seems odd to me.  Still, I guess you’re not supposed to look too closely at these things and just enjoy them, which I did both as a kid, and recently as I picked up the complete series on DVD…

Let’s take a look at the Pilot Episode.

Pilot Episode

The South Pacific, 1938.  Meet Jake Cutter (Stephen Collins – Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 7th Heaven), ex-Flying Tiger now making his way doing cargo and passenger runs using his sea plane, Cutter’s Goose.  He’s a cigar chomping, beer drinking, poker playing hero.  When we first meet him, he has a potentially winning hand in a poker game, but doesn’t have the money to call the bet, so he asks one of his best friends, Jack, for a loan.  Jack is a one-eyed Jack Russel Terrier whose fake eye is actually made of opal and star sapphire and as a result, is worth more than enough to cover the bet.  He barks once for Yes and twice for No and gives Jack the okay to bet his eye, which he does.

Then he loses the hand and the eye and Jack is furious.  Jack also changes his mind and now barks once for No and twice for Yes, then he decides to intercede on a man who is getting grabby with a lady (Sarah Stickney White played by Caitlin O’Heaney) who is waiting on the dock, forcing Jake to get involved as well.  They end up offering Sarah a ride to Bora Gora.  On the way there, one of the engines goes out and they are forced to dump their cargo over some unexplored islands just so they can limp home.

Back on Bora Gora, Jake discovers that someone actually sabotaged his plane but he doesn’t know why but he suspects someone wanted Sarah dead, especially when they receive word that the man from the dock, her manager, is dead.

Meanwhile, Reverend Tenboom visits Princess Koji to make a deal; the fuhrer, interested in items linked to the occult, wants help in retrieving the legendary Gold Monkey; a statue rumored to have been cast in the South Pacific and capable of withstanding the heat from a volcano without melting.  The Germans want the secret of how the Monkey was made and the metallurgy involved so they can use it to build super rockets and they are willing to pay the Princess an exorbitant amount of money to ensure delivery of the Monkey to their agents, which she agrees to do.

The cargo Jack had to ditch belonged to Bon Chance Louie, who is willing to pay to get it back.  Though the islands where they ditched the cargo are volcanic this time of year, Jake agrees to try and find the cargo with Corky and Jack.  Sarah cons her way onto the flight too.

Now you have Jack, Corky, Jake and Sarah on the island along with Nazi’s, Samurai, a Japanese Princess and, of course, giant monkey’s…

Thoughts

Over all, this was a fantastic episode! Nearly 2 hours long, it had a great plot, lots of adventure, excellent acting and decent special effects for the era.  My one exception would be the giant monkeys themselves; although done well enough, we’re not talking Planet of the Apes quality here.

I think the show has held up better than a lot of others from the 80′s, including one listed above – Airwolf (which I absolutely loved – I even watched the USA network version!!!).  It doesn’t have that over the top feeling that a lot of shows had.  The pilot was well written and acted, which is probably why it still holds up today.  There’s a couple of twists, decent ones, and it’s fun to recognize actors from other Bellisario shows in this one.

Also, I like the fact that there’s a character, a wheelchair bound bartender, named Gushie.  If you’re a fan of Quantum Leap, you’ll recognize the name – Gooshie was one of the members of the Quantum Leap project and often the person Al talked to while trying to help Sam and figure out what was going on with Ziggy.  We only saw Gooshie a couple of times but he was always ‘around’ (and possibly stole Tina from Al), now here’s another Gushie, which makes me wonder where the name comes from and what the association is for Bellisario.  Kinda reminds me of Dylan Hunt, a name that Gene Roddenberry used and reused a couple times…

The boxed set

The boxed set is nicely put together.  You have six discs containing all 21 episodes of the show (including the 2 hour pilot) in a single plastic case, a new ‘making of’ documentary with interviews with the cast and producers, audio commentaries on some episodes and a booklet with photos, cast lists and episode synopsis.  Really nice.  You can pick it up for around $40 at your local brick and mortar or for $30 online.

I’m gonna run through some more episodes of Tales of the Gold Monkey in the coming weeks because I really do enjoy this show and want to share.  It’s a blast from the past and you should check it out if you have the opportunity.

Opening Credits:

~P

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