Tales of the Gold Monkey: e03 – Black Pearl


Another week of rumbustuous fun as Sarah shows that she’s not to be taken too seriously as an American spy (after all, she’s only a woman) and Jake goes undercover in the grand tradition of complete unpreparedness as we shift from a private adventure to grand Nazi treachery.

It’s a minor thing but I really do not like how Tales of the Gold Monkey opens each episode with a mini-highlights reel of stuff from the episode. It’s a relic of adventure series, especially American, where the viewer has to be dragged in upfront by a promise of what’s to come, capturing the eyeballs before they can change the channel to something else.

It’s an archaic practice that has died out now but in these days when I take great pains to avoid spoilers ahead of episodes, it’s frustrating to be treated to an inbuilt one. Then again, what can I do about a thirty-five year old series? Just because it did enough to remove most of the element of surprise from the story?

The episode started with some spectacular storm scenes, torrential rain, forked lightning, a gigantic cartoon bomb plastered with swastikas and lacking only the burning fuse being hauled into an underground cavern by native slaves overlooked by arrogant Germans. And the Goose carrying Dr Johnnie Kimball (a forebear of Richard?) to Bora Gora.

Kimball’s the perfect, slightly sleazy American, his face a sheen of sweat (everybody except Sarah and Bonne Chance Louie wears one, under the South Pacific sun), complete with powder blue light suit and panama hat. He looks like a baddie to begin with, precisely because he doesn’t look line anything but the kind of guy traveling the islands, out for himself.

Meanwhile, a quartet of natives have escaped from the slave island, a volcanic lagoon, taking with them one of those shining silver canisters that we instinctively recognise as containing a radioactive isotope, which they have lifted from a safe. The poor primitives think it is God, but if it is God then it is Shiva, the destroyer of worlds. Once the canister is unscrewed, an unearthly blue glow dominates the screen.

We are foreshadowing history here. The German experiment is in trying to build a master bomb, pre-atomic, big enough to destroy an island when detonated. Kimball is a traitor, defecting to the Germans to help them. Sarah has her orders, transmitted by radio from an American destroyer, relaying them from Manilla.

Everything comes together quickly. Jake sees the outrigger in the ocean, lands the Goose (in shark-infested waters!), rescues the last surviving native, the one clutching the cylinder, and with the help of Corky and Kimball, gets him to Bora Gora, but not in time to save him. There’s a ridiculous but amusing little sequence as the cylinder passes from hand to hand: Corky picks it up absent-mindedly, Kimball gets him ‘snottered’ and nicks it, Sarah vamps him back to her room where she promptly Mickey Finn’s him and retrieves it, only for our resident idiot German spy, the Reverend Willie to pilfer it our of the window and return it to the visiting Germans when they come to collect the defecting Dr Kimball (he’s got to be at least an Uncle…)

This is where things shift rapidly. Manilla spills the beans to Sarah that Kimball is actually a double agent, not a real defector. That puts our favourite redhead on the spot. You see, because she’s a woman and therefore not trusted to be efficient, like a man, she’s over-Mickeyed Kimball, giving him not the prescribed thimbleful but a whole jigger’s worth, and now he’s dead to the world. And guess which freelance, unshaven, plane-flying guy has to impersonate Kimball, despite not having any of the skills or knowledge Kimball has to offer (hell, nobody, not even the show, knows what Kimball’s actually there to do)?

So Jake heads off in a power launch, with Corky flying the Goose to track him, and Sarah relaying info to the destroyer, until Jake’s transferred to a U-Boat. Meanwhile, Willie’s spotted that the guy in the powder-blue suit joshing with the Germans is someone he knows and is agonising over whether to dob Jake in, given that our man Cutter will be executed on the spot, and Willie likes Jake (so does Princess Koji, but she’s not in this one). Unfortunately, Louie tips Willie’s hand towards his duty, not knowing what his advice is being sought for.

This information arrives just when Jake is about to be exposed anyway. Our fanatical German scientist is a keen duellist and Kimball only happens to be a former American fencing champion, which Jake is not (I love the way in which Jake is being played as a genuine and imperfect amateur, and not a multi-talented prodigy). Instead of running Jake through, Herr Doktor will leave him on the island, with the natives: the bomb will go off in about forty minutes…

But forty minutes is ample time for a) Corky’s dodgy memory, prodded by Jack’s bark – two barks definitely is ‘yes’ – to backtrack yesterday’s course to find the island, and b) Jake to come up with a plan, prodded by Corky’s chance remark. They can’t defuse the bomb, they can’t evacuate everybody in the Goose, but they can use the plane to haul the Black Pearl far enough out into the bottomless lagoon to spill it into the water. Ninety seconds of tumbling downwards into the depths and the only effect of the bomb is to displace a lot of water skywards, from where it descends to drench everyone. “Oh well,” says Corky, “I needed a bath anyway.”

And that’s it apart from a clearly worried Jake ironically foreshadowing like mad, asking the now-awake Kimball if a bomb of that size really is possible? No, assures Kimball, but we don’t need our knowledge of 1945 to tell us that he isn’t being completely honest…

It’s as I said. It’s a compilation of cliches, given the odd little twist here and there, but it’s a fond and affectionate recreation that gets the balance right of the level of modern irony and too-clever-for-this. Bellisario is no Lorenzo Semple Jr, whose Batman and then-recent Flash Gordon nakedly revealed his contempt for the stupidity of those who loved the original material: we are invited to recognise the flaws and the deliberately ignored logic because these are the fundaments of the form and the aim is recognition and delight.

There are some aspects of the show that have not worn well in the intervening years, and I’ve already alluded to the way Sarah’s being played as ‘a mere woman’, but I’m not going to get into those here, but rather later in the series. It’s enough to recognise that Tales of the Gold Monkey perfectly fits those words of John O’Neil, writing for The Undertones:

Sit down, relax and cancel all other engagements

It’s never too late to enjoy dumb entertainment

See you next Thursday/Saturday morning.

Crap journalism: Best Batman?


It’s been a while since I’ve felt sufficiently irritated by the Guardian‘s patented brand of garbage that I indulge myself myself in one of these kickings, but here we are again, with another piece of egregious stupidity.

The recent death of Adam West has brought forth an outpouring of nostalgia and genuine affection for a man who, by all accounts, was an intelligent, thoughtful and genuinely nice person, whose career was effectively blighted by the one role for which he was known. Most people who worked with him have made it clear that he was a talented actor, capable of much more subtle work than was required by his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne, but which was denied him because of his indelible association with the ‘Biff! Bam! Pow!’ TV series.

People have been falling over themselves to praise West’s portrayal of Batman, and to contrast it with the modern day interpretations that take the character seriously. Naturally, I disagree. But that doesn’t make these people wrong. Nor does it make their affection solely justifiable by nostalgia. I say again, they like that Batman, I don’t, and there is nothing more to be said.

However, a guy named Jack Bernhardt clearly thinks there is much more to be said, and he says it here. Please go read: I’ll still be hear when you return.

At base, it’s the same old story that has inspired many previous ‘Crap Journalism’ posts. Person has Opinion. Person mistakes Opinion for Universal Truth incorporating bitchy put-downs of everyone – usually the overwhelming majority – that disagrees with him or her. Advancement of human knowledge: zero, even if the opinion being offered is of some kind of merit.

In a way, Bernhardt’s contempt for anyone who regards not merely Batman but any superhero in any way remotely seriously is apt for someone defending the 1960’s series, because it exactly mirrors the attitude of the people making Batman for the character, the concept and, most appalling, the audience who bought the comics and wanted to see a decent treatment of the character onscreen.

This is not to say that a less-than-wholly-reverent approach to a character is an abomination before God, or at least that part of the audience that represents the concept. I have seen hundreds of spoofs and parodies and send-ups and absurdist deconstructions and I have seen plenty that I found hilarious. Without exception, the ones that have worked best, for example, The Princess Bride, are done by people who know and understand the subject matter, who can be completely aware of its inherent flaws, weaknesses, absurdities yet still share some level of enjoyment of the original. This gives them the insight to accurately, vividly and perceptively take the piss, without ever extending that disdain to the audience, because they know why people love these stupid, silly and flawed things in the first place.

Producer William Dozier and writer Lorenzo Semple Jr., thought Batman’s fans were morons. They despised them for the crime of liking the character, of seeing something of worth in it, and they set out to effectively fart in that audience’s face. Batman runs unconvincingly around a pier, carrying a bomb so cartoonish it only lacks the word bomb in big white letters painted on it. People get in his way, nuns, a woman with a baby carriage. They are ridiculously oblivious to a man waving a cartoon bomb around. Even a gaggle of fiendishly cute ducklings frustrate Batman’s attempts to dispose of this bomb before it goes off and, guess what, kills everybody horribly.

Bernhardt thinks this makes Batman a likeable, punning character and, get this, genuinely anti-authoritarian. He seems not to notice that by creating this scenario, the people involved are pissing all over a character they cannot sustain belief in for a moment, and which they cannot understand anyone with their level of sophistication, intelligence and taste holding any belief whatsoever. So does Bernhardt, whose piece reeks of superiority.

If he likes this version of Batman, let him. The series was made, it cannot be undone or changed, and I’d be very wary of it if it were. It was a comedy, but there is no real humour, or point, in any comedy that exists simply to say, “You’re all so fucking dumb for liking this.” There is no purpose or comedy to be made from ripping into something you can’t understand because by definition, you’re not so much going to miss the point as going to miss that there ever was a point to begin with.

And as with Dozier and Semple, so too with Berhardt, the only thing remaining from your supposed enthusiasm for your opinion is your overriding smugness at having one.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e25 – Body Parts


This is not what this episode is about

As you know by now, there’s this thing between me and Quark-episodes. I just don’t respond to them, so it doesn’t really matter how good or otherwise they are, I do not have enough interest to grade them.

According to the programme itself, ”Body Parts’ shows how deep and complex a character Quark is, and examines him as to his moral principles and self-examination. According to me, Quark is about as deep as a dried-up puddle, the worst kind of comic relief character, i.e., he isn’t remotely funny, and the story was a complete miss.

For form’s sale, I’ll outline it. Quark is diagnosed as having a rare and fatal Ferenghi disease. In order to raise money to pay off his debts, he sells his vacuum-dessicated body for 500 bars of latinum, a secret purchase by his archenemy,  Brunt, FCA. But by the time Brunt arrives to claim his merchandise, Quark has found out he was misdiagnosed and isn’t dying after all. Brunt, who despises Quark for his un-Ferenghi ways, insists on his goods. Quark hires Garak to kill him (a ‘plot-twist’ that’s left dangling by the crappy and seriously twee ending) but decides he wants to live. So he breaks the contract, causing himself to undergo complete confiscation of assets, not only for himself but his entire family but, in an ending that ignores every implication of the plot in favour of tugging at your heart-strings in the hope that whilst sobbing into whatever strong drink you’re consuming just to get through this heap of tat your brain will be on vacation, all Quark’s ‘friends’ drop by to restock the entire bar with stuff they just happen to need to story somewhere convenient, leaving the Ferenghi businessman speechless at generosity of a kind that, as a determined Ferenghi businessman, he spits on with disgust.

I’m not even going to pick this apart. It’s a crappy idea centred on a crappy characters and written so as to avoid any of the logic of the situation it sets up. It diskards it.

There is a perfunctory B story, forced upon the series by events, namely Nana Visitor’s rapidly advancing pregnancy. Ms Visitor was now at the point where either Kira had to become pregnant or she wouldn’t be filmed below the neck. Fortuitously, Keiko O’Brien was pregnant, so ingeniously the pair and Bashir are off on a brief Gamma Quadrant mission, during which there’s an explosion that injures Keiko, enough so that to save the baby, the Doctor has to transplant him from Keiko’s womb to Kira’s.

From where, Bajoran pregnancies only lasting five months, it can’t be re-transplanted.

It’s a clever device to incorporate Ms Visitor’s real-life enceinment, though given that this is the penultimate episode of season 4, I was unsure as to its necessity. I assume the pregnancy would overlap the start of season 5, in which case it makes more sense. It’s also an intriguing situation, one pregnant (heh heh) with human possibilities, as Keiko suffers from losing her baby to another woman, but the notion deserved more space than that allotted to it as padding in an otherwise turgid affair.

Next week, another season finale. It has to be better than this snorer.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e02 – Shanghaied


You can never assess a new series from the Pilot. It’s had all the resources thrown at it, and months of preparation, and it’s usually an extended episode as wall, so the proof of the pudding doesn’t begin until the series proper starts, the regular shape of the episode is first established, and you get to see how cast, crew and writers cope with producing episodes on a weekly basis.

In that light, ‘Shanghaied’ got Tales of the Gold Monkey off to a bright start, with a fast-paced adventure, with plenty of twists, that allowed the three principals to showcase what they’re going to bring to the series.

Did I say three principals? Make that four, although Jack the one-eyed dog played less of a leading role this week.

The show made a bold move by laying its Saturday Morning Cinema Action Hero, Jake Cutter, low with a recurring bout of malaria right from the start, and keeping him weak throughout. This enabled the plot by first isolating Corky so that he could be shanghaied, requiring the struggling Jake to find and rescue him, and then by facilitating Sara Stickney White’s determination to join the chase by undermining Jake’s refusal to take her with him.

The plot was simple: a mysterious sea captain, with a supposedly English accent and a hook for a right hand, plies Corky with drink, his true weakness, knocks him out and shanghais him into the islands with the aid of a crew of Malay cannibals. Abel – or Sean Phillips as his real name is belatedly revealed to be – is in the slave trade but his ship, up a river on Matuka island, is paid up due to engine failure. Corky may be an aircraft mechanic – and former Chief Mechanic for Pan American as we discover, in those distant days before his alcoholism became the problem it is – but he’s the nearest and best option.

We’re reminded of Corky’s problem in an opening fever dream, a ‘memory’ of Jake fighting in China with the Flying Tigers (as I said before, a gross anachronism, Gold Monkey being set three years before they ever formed). Jake has Jack and Corky with him in the cockpit of his fighter plane, the latter constantly guzzling beer, hemmed in by so many bottles that, when they are shot down, and Jake parachutes out, cradling Jack, Corky can’t move and opts for another bottle, as the plane smashes into a hillside…

It’s both premonition and a reminder of how Jake feels responsible for his pal, and how he’s trying to control Corky’s drinking, to eventually get him off the sauce.

So Jake goes in pursuit, with the concerned and jealous Sara as his co-pilot. This is enforced by Bonne Chance Louie, owner of the Monkey Bar and local magistrate. Sincce the pilot, Ron Moody has given way to Roddie MacDowell, slimmer, slicker and a bit more natural in his overt Frenchness. We learn that Louie has been imprisoned on the notorious Devil’s Island, that he likes to seduce women of a certain age, and that he is the nearest to Authority on Bora Gora.

We also learn that Bora Gora is within the French Mandate, but Matuka is in the Japanese Mandate, and that to enter into Japanese airspace without permission is to invite being shot down as a spy. “But Jake,” Sarah reminds him, ” I am a spy.”

One thing this show doesn’t short its audience on is flight scenes. The thrill and edginess of flying a beaten up flying boat with dubious engines, improvised turn and bank indicators and being shot at by Japanese Zeros, or Zekes as Jake and Corky automatically call them, is an intrinsic part of the show, and the seat-of-the-pants era.

Meanwhile, Corky arrives at the imobilised Pandora and learns his task. Jeff Mackay is brilliant in his role as a character who is simultaneously a figure of (unfair) fun, with his dodgy memory and his anxiety, a pathetic and helpless near-drunk, the cliched sidekick who can’t match up to the hero, and yet someone with his own degree of principles, and Mackay manages the task of balancing these elements extremely  well.

Getting him out from Jake’s shadow was a brilliant move. Corky is trapped, reliant on his pal’s rescue, but his immediate response on learning that the Pandora is a slaveship is utter disgust and a refusal to cooperate, though his resistance is quickly overturned when Sean threatens to have a girl slave crushed to death in front of him.

Having evaded being shot down whilst passed out, with Sara taking the controls and being assisted by God, Jake lands on Princess Koji’s island. Willie is there, in the other wooden hot tub, and the two have already drunk a toast to the ‘dead’ Jake and celebrated his ‘resurrection’. Strange behaviour by enemies, especially as Willie is convinced Jake is an American spy, but sobeit for now. Koji’s response is easily explained by her amused wish to shag Jake’s brains out: she rises naked from her tub in front of his eyes, to the shock and disgust of the jealous Sara.

But Koji can identify Ahab/Sean, and find his whereabouts, arrange for Jake’s legitimate  flying permit in the Japanese mandate, and accompany him to the rescue, convincing the local Mud People to join the raid. So Jake buzzes the ship several times to create a distraction, the Mud People swarm over the sides, Corky is nearly squeezed to death but the salves rescue him, and in a slightly perfunctory ending, the moment Jake comes face to face with Sean, he shoots him (in  self-defence, naturally) and kills him. So the last minute sting, that Sean was Koji’s half-brother, falls flat.

Our final moment is with Corky. He has his Mud People attractive young former slavegirl all over him, contentedly smearing mud gently across his face to cool him down and generally giving all indications of that pleasurable kind of fascination that promises a near future meeting of bodies – and all Corky has eyes for is the bullet-holes in the tail of the Goose, and how Jake’s been so irresponsible as to let her get shot at!

It’s a good start. The third test is how well the series is sustained, how strong the theme is, and can the standard be maintained? It’s as inconsequential as all get out, but the object is purely entertainment, and excitement on a child-like level, and that’s not always a bad thing, as The Undertones once reminded us.

More next week.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e24 – The Quickening


Doctor and Patient

Maybe it’s just the coincidence of approaching the end of a Deep Space Nine season so shortly after the current television season has finished, but I find myself wanting to get season 4 over. Episodes like this one are either a symbol of why I want to get to the end or else a sign of my own staleness.

‘The Quickening’ was basically a two-hander featuring Doctor Bashir and Jardzia Dax, that developed in its last ten minutes into a Bashir solo. Because of the unwritten law that everyone in the cast had to appear, we began with a completely irrelevant, stapled on half-open, so that Odo, Worf, O’Brien and Quark could have a line or two to speak that was so bloody irritating in itself, even before it became totally out of keeping with the episode as a whole that I refuse to even credit it, and a coda with a word or two from Sisko that at least followed the story. Kira fared slightly better: she was the third member of the expedition into the Gamma Quadrant, but she got despatched into hiding from the Jem’Hadar for most of the episode.

I’m only going on about this for so long because I’m getting increasingly irritated at watching stories that are at least perfectly decent being bent out of shape, in an obtrusive manner, just to cram in an otiose line or two from a cast member not required for the story.

It put me in an awkward mood to begin with, which was then exacerbated by the lead-in to the plot. Kira intercepts a distress message from a planet under attack that turns out to be 200 years old. The attack was by the Jem’Hadar, punishing a world that had defied the Dominion by seeding it with a fatal virus that affects the entire population by causing facial and body lesions that, at an unpredictable point, turn red, causing indescribable pain and inevitable death.

The planet’s civilisation has collapsed, it is a ruin, it’s entire existence focused upon death, or rather escaping the death that follows when the lesions quicken.

This is what Bashir and Dax discover when they beam down, although it hurt the episode, at least for me, that they appeared out of nowhere, as complete strangers, dressed radically differently from everyone else, and nobody noticed. The absence of an reaction didn’t sit right, and was yet another example of weak, lazy writing, ducking logic in order to get to the ‘real’ story and thereby undercutting its reality.

At first, that story seemed to hold a tinge of more Federation cultural imperialism. A woman quickened, and Bashir and Dax help her to Trevean, who appears to be revered in the way a Doctor in a plague camp might be. Only he’s not a Doctor in Bashir’s terms because all he does is give those who have quickened a swift-acting poison, and a speedy and relatively pain-free death, as opposed to the drawn-out and agonising one imposed by the virus.

Bashir is convinced he can cure the plague: after all, he’s already saved one plague-ridden planet with just one hour’s diagnosing. He and Dax set up shopped, aided by the heavily-pregnant Ekoria, a sweet and gentle guest appearance by Ellen Wheeler. Trevean (Michael Sarrazin) hangs around making vague threats about liars and what happens to people who arouse false hopes that are never followed up on.

Bashir fails. He seems to be making progress towards a cure but the plague then rapidly and violently mutates, in response to the electrical fields generated by his equipment. Trevean has to step in rapidly to administer his potion, wiping out the entire clinic except for Ekoria, who is unaffected for no better reason than that the plot requires it.

Dax, who has spent most of the episode with her hair distractingly down for no reason other than to make her look different, goes home but Bashir determinedly stays, with Ekoria as his only patient, grimly clinging onto enable her baby boy to be born. There’s a twist coming, we know there’s a twist coming, and even before it’s somewhat blatantly foreshadowed by the total absence of all that antigen from Ekoria’s body, the ending is obvious. Ekoria gives birth, but dies almost immediately. But she lives long enough to see and understand that her baby is born free of the plague: Bashir has inadvertently created not a cure but a vaccine.

And Trevean, after being a slightly low-key heavy throughout, turns saviour, begging to be shown how to administer the vaccine to every pregnant woman. No-one alive will be saved. But within a generation, the plague will be eliminated. It’s a win, but not enough of one to console Bashir, as his distracted response to Sisko’s congratulations shows us.

So. If I were rating episodes, I’d give this a C+ as it is, with prospects of it having been a solid B if not for the strictures of the time. Tighter writing, dumping everyone but Bashir, Dax and Kira, with maybe Sisko to round things off, either tone down on Trevean the threat or else make that a bit more actual, these would have made this a much stronger episode, and me a lot more convinced today.

Adam West – The ‘Best Batman’?


In that long lost country that was 1966, a ten year old boy eagerly encouraged his Mum and Dad to stay at his Granny’s long enough for him to watch the first episode of the Batman TV show. I was ten years old and I was thrilled by American comics despite my parents’ distaste for them, and on Saturday nights I got my way and I hung on every brightly coloured black-and-white image.

I remember things: the ‘Hot-Line’, “To the Batpoles, Dick!”, and that moment near the end when Batman did the ‘Batusi’, which went over my head in so many different directions. My Dad’s vocal shock that Nelson Riddle, who’d worked with Frank Sinatra, was involved as musical arranger on something like this. And then it was “Tune-in next week. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”

That next week wasn’t next Saturday though, it was Sunday night, and I couldn’t wait.

These are the things I remember,  and I find it telling that after fifty years, that’s what I remember. Wasn’t the villain The Penguin? I can only be 50% sure.

Because, let’s face it, the Batman TV Show of the Sixties was shite, and it was written and acted to be shite, because the people who were responsible for it thought that the original material was shite and that the audience that in any way took this shite seriously was laughable and deserving only of these superior souls’ contempt, which came out in every frame of the show.

Absolutely none of which was detectable by a ten year old boy who was thrilled just to see Batman on TV, Batman, and who was even more thrilled one Saturday morning to go off to the Burnage Odeon to see the Batman film, and see everything in colour (though he was very confused to see Lee Meriweather playing Catwoman, instead of Julie Newmar: mind you, looking back, and even allowing for the fact I was then eleven, I am startled that I noticed).

Understandably, I was the only one in our family enthused to watch Batman. Saturday was one thing: I was far more indulged at Granny’s, and anyway the adults were more into talking than watching the box, but twenty-four hours later, at our home, my Dad said what we watched and more often that not the ITV Sunday night film, which started at the same time, was his choice. I was forever doomed to watch Batman and Robin get into a dastardly trap and never find out how they got out of the cliffhanger.

Years later, however many I can’t recall, I went to the cinema to see a revival of the film. The scales fell from my eyes in such profusion that I could barely see the scree over them. I thought the “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb” bit was the nadir, but when we got to Robin’s puzzled, “You mean they won’t be coming back, Batman?” I admit I groaned aloud in pain and wanted to cover my head.

Granada only ever showed the first series. Later, I heard that Batgirl had been introduced into the third series, which surprised me because I’d just assumed they hadn’t been making any more. I was curious, but I accepted that, except in the unlikely event of going to America – and the idea of leaving England was just so outlandish, I never imagined it – I’d never see it.

Once again, let us leap in time. It is the mid-Nineties, I am a responsible houseowner, all sorts of things have happened including Channel 4 and Breakfast TV, and the former are showing Batman, stripped five days a week, at 9.30am. And, what do you know, it’s that third series, with Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. And one of the other things to have happened in the meantime is owning a colour television. And a video-recorder.

It becomes a thing to record Batman, same bat-time, each bat-weekday morning, and watch it when I came home. By now, it’s dropped the cliffhanger bit, the villains get one episode each, and the continuity bit consists of the next villain showing up for the last thirty seconds of the previous episode.

And Miss Craig is a fine figure of a young lady, and I already knew the producers wouldn’t actually let her punch anyone out, especially once Batman and Robin are onscreen, so it comes as no surprise that all she does is ballet-pirouette, and give the occasional ladylike kick, which is not only bloody ridiculous and a complete waste, but which contributes heavily to my immediate impression that series three of Batman makes series one look like ‘War and Peace’.

This is, of course, an initial impression. By the end of series three, the show is making the beginning of series three look like ‘War and Peace’, and Eartha Kitt is no adequate successor to either Julie Newmar or Lee Meriweather.

No, the Sixties Batman TV show was not worth the watching, and my Dad’s refusal to subject himself to it when he had a choice was both understandable and the thing I would have done in his shoes.

You may think that this is a rather mean-spirited way to mark the passing, aged 88, of Adam West, who was both Millionaire Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader, and it may be, but I hold none of this against him, nor do I begrudge the love he had from millions all his life. He did the job asked of him, and there are plenty who could have done a worse job.

And you could say he wasn’t as bad as George Clooney, who really should have known better.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: s01 e01 – Pilot


Cutter’s gang

You just don’t get this kind of thing any more.

Back in the days when television was decidedly the movies’ low-rent younger brother, every big film would inevitably gather a shoal of television hangers-on within the next twelve months, series that inevitably and with markedly little shame set out to capture, if not the precise film itself, then the audience that lapped it up.

If you hadn’t seen the film, it didn’t matter: I was too young for Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid but I lapped up it’s TV knock-off, Alias Smith and Jones (Monday night, BBC2, 8.00pm). I had seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, so I was well aware of what Tales of the Gold Monkeywas trying to do, but I didn’t mind, because it was great, goofy fun, and thirty years later, the double-length pilot film is still exactly that.

I’ve already described the central cast and set-up, but let’s go over things again as set out for us. The film actually starts relatively obliquely, in an island jungle, at a hidden pool beneath a high waterfall. A big monkey eats a fruit. It’s obviously a man in a monkey costume, but its a well-made costume, definitely not cheap, and decently convincing. Enter two unimportant characters, hacking their way through the jungle. They are German officers, as demonstrated by the slightly hackneyed but not overdone accents and the use of terms such as Herr Leutnant. Being of the Master Race, they are contemptuous of mere monkeys and shoot it, bringing down the wrath of an entire tribe of monkeys, who descend and kill them.

We cut to Jake Cutter, playing poker. Stephen Collins looks the part immediately: flying cap, leather jacket, jodhpurs and boots, smoking a cigar, five o’clock shadow on his shiny, sweat-slick face. Among the other players is an unnamed German officer in black naval uniform, complete with monocle, Hitler moustache and, as we will later see, Hitler-haircut. He, played by John Hillerman, better known for Magnum, P.I., will turn out to be a Gestapo agent, as if we couldn’t tell from just one look at him.

Yes, this is already a compendium of cliches, Saturday morning adventure, but completely self-aware and assembled with honest delight.

But creator Belisario (who would go on to things like Quantum Leap and N.C.I.S.) is ready to throw a spanner into the cliche works, by introducing Jake’s partner, Jack, a Jack Russell terrier. Jake consults Jack on his hand and on the next raising of the stakes, by which he means to gamble, not for the first time, with Jack’s artificial eye: an opal with a sapphire centre.

The system is simple: one bark for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’. Jack barks once, Jake fits an eye-patch over Jack’s socket and reveals his hand: three Queens.

He loses. And Jack holds it against him for the rest of the episode, as everyone including the dog squabbles over whether it’s one bark for ‘yes’, two for ‘no’ or vice versa.

The whole idea sounds stupid and there’s grounds for wondering how long the notion can be kept up without becoming intensely irritating, but for the moment it’s simply gloriously silly, with Stephen Collins, to his credit, playing his heart out acting against the dog, who is a superb actor in his own right.

Next we introduce Sara Stickney White, a singer touring the Maravellas (the island chain in the South Pacific where all this is happening). Sara’s having problems with the wanderings hands of Sam, her manager, leading the chivalrous Jake to intervene. Jake, in one of a carefully regulated occasional voiceovers, is a bit of a Knight Errant. On the other hand, in a cheerful undermining of the hero, he’s not the best of scrappers, though he’s gaining the upper hand when Sara chooses to end the fight by smashing a bottle of champagne over, unexpectedly, her rescuer’s head.

Sara, who talks with a British accent despite being, we learn, an American spy, is an independent and resourceful young woman (as well as being a redhead). Her cover is that of a slightly ditzy woman, and it’s not entirely a cover. This is not that encouraging and is definitely of its time: you can’t have a fully independent woman in a boy’s Sarturday matinee story, but Sara is a lot further along the line than she could have been in those days, so chalk this up as positive on balance.

Sam is also an agent, and is shortly after killed by the Monocled man, but by then he’s already abandoned Sara in a huff and Jake is giving her a lift to Bora Gora, where Sam will arrive next. This bit of the story is a touch weak in logic: it’s perfectly in keeping with the cover story but implausible for the pair’s real status as spies working together.

Nevertheless, this is the lead to our full introduction to ‘Cutter’s Goose’, Jake’s charter plane, a beaten-up and patched-up Grumman Goose flying boat. Enter the world of hair-raising flight, though the failure of the port engine en route and the near crash is down to sabotage, not the Goose’s unreliable framework.

The cast of heroes is completed by the bumbling, eager but forgetful Corky, Jake’s mechanic and other best friend, a hopeful but befuddled guy with serious memory problems. The word has rapidly spread that Jake has lost Jack’s eye again, and public opinion sides with the dog, who knows how to best exploit it. Even Jake’s landlord and closest thing to an employer, Bonne Chance Louie, owner of the Monkey Bar – more indelible cliches – takes up with the dog. Louie was played with carefully measured Frenchness by Ron Moody in this pilot, but the role was taken over by Roddy MacDowell for the rest of the series.

We’re nearly there now, only the recurring villains to introduce, though in fact they’ve already appeared onscreen by this point. These are the Reverend Willie Tennbaum, a Wehrmacht officer posing as a Clergymen seeking to convert the native unspoilt islanders and regularly conferring ‘blessings’ on the beauteous Tiki. We’re in cliche-land again, and this is frankly rather embarrassingly patronising, though Tiki appears to be even more eager to be ‘blessed’ than the somewhat fatuous Willie.

But Willie is in partnership with the local Dragon Lady, Princess Koji, played by decidedly caucasian actress Marta DuBois, with her fanatically loyal bushido-master servant Todo (John Fujioka). These are obviously set up to be the recurring villains, and as such were credited weekly as cast, though they were strangely underused.

Willie is excitedly tracking down the legend of an island on which there is a 100 feet tall Gold statue of a Gold Monkey (and there you were, wondering what that scene all the way back at the beginning was about). It’s not the gold his Fuhrer is after, rather that it’s actually an alloy of gold and some other element(s) that is incredibly heat resistant, making it vital for Der Fuhrer’s rocket programme…

To cut a long story short, the island in question is Baku, where, in order to avoid crashing, Jake and Sara dumped most of their cargo. Louie wants his Pom Peron 27 champagne, Willie his bibles, Sara to foil the villains, the villains the gold monkey and Jake to find out why everybody’s lying. So everyone converges on Baku, the dormant volcano,just as it decides not to be dormant any longer.

The episode cheerfully throws its brains out of the window and goes for pure, unadulterated danger and excitement, with guns, snakes, deadly Germans, giant monkey guards, tied-up damsels in distress who get soaked, and a last-minute escape with a three foot tall monkey statuette that, when cleaned up and looking glowingly aureate, turns out to be made of brass (the series was originally going to be called Tales of the Brass Monkey, this latter phrase having a somewhat different meaning over there, but was changed for legal reasons).

So a satisfyingly drama-holing ending and a set-up for an ongoing series. And a final scene for the viewer only, revealing that, on the now-live volcanic island of Baku, the monkeys continue to guard something from which the vegetation and debris of ages has been stripped, and which looks uncommonly like a 100 foot tall gold statue of… a monkey.

This was and, with due allowance for its age, still is a good fun 90 minutes, without any pretention save to be a fun way of spending 90 minutes, at which, as far as I am concerned, it succeeds. But we have all seen multiple instances of a self-contained, extended pilot, with a budget to be impressive, proving to be less sustainable on a reduced budget and a weekly filming schedule.

That’s the true test, and that, for the next twenty weeks, is what I’ll be exploring. Thursdays is Tales of the Gold Monkey day.