If you think from the title that this week’s episode of Tales of the Gold Monkey is going to be a riff on Devil’s Island and a (probably soft) take on the Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman film, Papillon, you’re bang on the money. I’ve never seen Papillon, though a mate of mine who did was wildly enthusiastic about it, but the influence is obvious.
The set-up is ingenious. Jake, Corky and Jack are flying middle-aged Englishman Arthur Fromby and his seriously dodgy accent to Lagoda Island, better known as Death Island, a French penal colony, with Fromby’s son, Eric (a non-speaking role for a younger Xander Berkeley, of 24 fame) is a prisoner. Eric has been banged up for murder: he’s told his father it was Justifiable Homicide, but as Bonne Chance Louie describes it, it’s more of a crime passionelle (caught his wife in bed with her lover, shot ’em both).
The authorities on Death Island, Colonel Vilgay and Sergeant Roget, are reluctant to even let them land, despite Fromby having all the requisite permissions. Unfortunately, just two weeks earlier (as seen in the open), Eric has led an unsuccessful escape attempt, and is being punished by incarceraion in the Oven, a box in the sun. It is killing him.
The conditions, the maltreatment, the lack of resources, the sadism, infuriate Jake, who allows Fromby to try to smuggle his son out to get medical attention, but they’re all captured, dressed in pink-striped prison pajamas, leg-shackled and set to ‘work’. Eric goes back in the Oven. Jack goes into hiding with Roget determined to shoot him.
Back on Bora Gora, Sara gets infuriated at Louie’s seeming acceptance of their friends’ plight, but is of course completely ineffectual (this is not Caitlin O’Heaney’s week, nor is the ongoing portrait of her as being mainly fury and ineffectiveness particularly edifying). Louie flies out to Death Island and negotiates the trio’s sentence down to a week, not that they appreciate him for it.
But matters come to a head when Corky gets bitten by a water-snake. He’s feverish, desperately in need of medical supplies which won’t be available until the supply ship gets here in several days time. He pleads with Vilgay to be allowed to fly Corky to Bora Gora for treatment, but the Colonel is callous to the last.
So Jake has to escape, which as we’ve seen is not easy, with a middle-aged bloke and a feverish mechanic. On the way, in a twist I hadn’t seen coming but which was gently foreshadowed before the Goose even landed on Lagoda Island, he learns that Vilgay and Roget are imposters: prisoners who have murdered and replaced the real Colonel and Sergeant, and who plan to escape on the supply ship.
In the flight to escape, Jake rescues Jack from a trap-noose, shoots down Roget and gets the Goose into the air with the re-use of some footage from the Pilot, and all’s well that ends well. Vilgay has been captured, the Director of Prisons is flying out from Paris to reform Lagoda, Corky survives. Eric, sadly enough, has died, his only words a message telling his Dad he loves him, scratched out in the dirt of the Oven, but Jake consoles Fromby by telling him that, if Eric hadn’t tried to escape, they would have not seen below the surface of Lagoda and Vilgay and Roget would have gotten away with it: a lot of people are alive because Eric did what he did. It’s not a bad message to remember your dead son by, especially as no-one tells Fromby the true circumstances of Eric’s ‘Justifiable Homicide’.
And there’s a cute sting to freeze-frame upon at the death. Corky’s snake-bite has the unexpected side-effect of clearing his befuddled brain and he starts remembering everything under the sun, down to his High School locker combination. Now, restored to rudish health, when Sara brings this bonus up, Corky looks up in innocent puzzlement: “I don’t remember that,” he says.
To be honest, I doubt there’s going to be anything more that’s new or original that I’ll have to say about Tales of the Gold Monkey. Sara gets short-changed this week, and the German/Japanese Axis are again absent from everything but the credits, but it’s still great fun, with no other intentions. It’s what it says on the tin. And I still enjoy it, thirty-five years on from its first broadcast, and another forty-five years on from its inspiration.