Tales of the Gold Monkey: e21: Mourning Becomes Matuka

And thus it ended. The only season of Tales of the Gold Monkey finished with a bit of a bang, and a hand to play for everyone in the cast, except, oddly Roddy McDowell. But for the little-used trio of John Calvin, Marta Dubois and John Fujioki, there was a full part to play in a story set entirely on Princess Koji’s island kingdom of Matuka.

The hook, not that we are told this at first, is that it is the Princess’s birthday, and she has gathered her entire organisation to pay her homage, and give her birthday presents. As representatives of the French Mandate, we have that less-than-French quartet of Jake Cutter, Corky, Sarah Stickney-White and the Reverend Willie Tenbaum (whose role as a German spy has been completely forgotten for over half a series). Not to forget Jack.

It begins with blind zen horseback archers trying to kill each other, until they simultaneously turn and fire at the Dragon Lady… no, sorry, the Princess. But we all know who she’s been. Koji is saved by Todo throwing himself in the way, but with him out of the action, a new bodyguard is needed, and it will be Jake Cutter. Any reluctance he has at playing the part disappears when it transpires that Koji not only knows, but has proof, that Sarah is an American spy. She also has General Ajani, head of Japanese Military Intelligence, on Matuka.

Jake has to play along. And he mustn’t tell anyone, not even Jack.

Nobody believes he’s doing it for the money, not even $10,000. Which he probably won’t get paid since at the present-giving party, when Koji is sat next to her Irish half-sister Shannon Smith (out of deference to a truly atrocious Irish accent, I will not name the guest actress: think Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, only Irish), a clockwork cupid musical box fires a miniature aroow into Koji’s chest barely breaking the skin, but killing her.

I am probably not going to spoil the dramatic tension if I tell you she’s not really dead, even though the Princess lies in ‘state’ for five days before a superfast cremation. Jake still can’t let on what’s going on, even though Corky tries to make out he’s nearly blind in one eye so he can’t fly Sarah and Willie out in the Goose. And Jake’s insistence on wearing his Flying Tigers jacket in front of a horde of Japanese troops and a General who lost a brother to a Tiger is hardly the height of diplomacy.

But, as I always suspected, the whole thing’s a put up designed to get the would-be assassins out into the open. One is, unsurprisingly enough, little Irish sister, who frames Jake as the killer, but it takes the ritual of Seppuku (performed with a collapsible knife) before the General is fingered as her partner. He goes to the piranhas and she goes to the Living Death, which comes over as a more extreme and considerably more creepy version of being sent to Coventry.

Jake has survived to fight another day, but not, sadly, another series. Tales of the Gold Monkey was a hit, especially in Britain, at 8.00pm on Monday nights, BBC1. We would always switch straight over after Coronation Street. But it needed to be a bigger hit to overcome the production costs of filming in the South Pacific and, unlike Lost, a quarter century later, it didn’t reach that level.

And so there was no more. Looking back on it now, I can see a host of flaws, and it really never did know what to do with either Caitlin O’Heaney or Marta Dubois – nor John Calvin for that matter – except to reduce two potentially strong roles to cliches, one insulting, one sexual. but it was still fun, and unpretentious fun as well. It knew what it wanted, it set out to provide that, and it skillfully evoked older and more simple times with its tongue not further in its cheek than it took to play along with the joke. I would have enjoyed more, most definitely then, and even now. Perhaps on Earth-2, they’ve got the second season available on their equivalent of BluRay, and all I have to do is find the exact deserted crossroads, just outside Central City. And the ability of the Flash to alter by body’s vibrational frequency.

Thank you for indulging me. For the next twenty four weeks, Thursday will cease to be Gold Monkey Day and will become ******** ****** Day. Hint: another one season series, bit nearer the present day.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e17: Last Chance Louie

This week’s eye-candy

This was a second strong episode in succession, again concentrating on one of the other members of that cast (no, not Sarah). This week, it’s Bon Chance Louie, as the title gives away, and it’s all about Louie’s past.

Our Magistrate de Justice has always been painted as a man of mystery, and rarely does a week go by without Louie dropping a nostalgic line about something he has done or somewhere he has been, and a right mix’n’match that is: Louie is a bit of a Flashman in that he’s been everywhere and done everything, so it’s perhaps less of a surprise that the appearance of a new arrival on Boragora prompts him to shoot the new guy in the face.

No, he doesn’t kill him, merely nicks his ear and, as Magistrate shuts the case down. Jake, on the other hand, insists on knowing why and, extracting Jake’s word of honour that he will never repeat what he is told, Louie explains.

This relates to an incident of twenty years ago, near the end of the Great War. Louie was part of a unit of French soldiers trapped by the Germans. This man, LaBatier, whose real name is Marcel DeBord, deserted and saved his skin by betraying the unit’s position to the Germans. All, save Louie, were killed, and after he recovered, he found that Marcel, convicted in absentia as a traitor and condemned to death, had fled France with Louie’s lover, Monique. Louie has, understandably and justifiably, sworn to kill the man on sight.

The tension builds. The two men confront each other in the billiards room, with Marcel playing the hey-it-ain’t-like-I’ve-had-a-happy-life-you-know-hounded-as-a-traitor card, which never works. The two prepare to duel until Jake and Corky stop them, but you know what’s coming.

Marcel’s nineteen year old daughter, Genevieve (pronounced in the French style as ‘Jhon-vive’), a hotshot blonde (didn’t see that coming) played by Faye Grant (who would marry Stephen Collins three years later), comes to complain to Jake whilst incidentally dropping that she hates her ‘father’. A shot rings out from the Monkey Bar and everyone bursts into Marcel’s room to find him dead of a single gun-shot, and Louie standing there with a gun and a calm admission that he killed Marcel.

The action then moves to Tagatiya, where Louie is to be tried, convicted and executed by Madame la Guillotine. He’s up against a prejudiced fellow Magistrate played by Henry Darrow (who I’ll always associate with the 1968 Western, The High Chapparal, playing Manolito) who despises Louie as a lower-class excrescence, and his own refusal to defend himself,coupled with his unwavering insistence that Jake keep his word, and his mouth shut.

So Louie is found ‘coupable’ and sentenced to death. Jake cracks and tells the story to both the Magistrate (who dismisses it as a desperate lie, unfounded in fact) and the Governor who eventually grants a two week stay of execution so that Jake – with Genevieve in tow – can fly to Marcel/LaBatier’s base in Saigon and find concrete evidence.

It’s dangerous: Japanese sympathisers are chucking bombs every thirty seconds but Jake and Genevieve, who’s trying to impress on him that she’s not a little girl and should therefore be added to his long list of conquests, get to the Bureau of Records and find the proof. They also discover why Louie has been so determinedly walking to his death, refusing interference. When Genevieve’s mother, Monique, married ‘LaBatier’ in 1918, she was already two months pregnant. Yes, Genevieve says, he was only my stepfather, but he was so cruel. But we should already be ahead of Jake by now, for it’s an old plot, being used at a carefully measured distance: Genevieve’s real father is Bon Chance Louie.

This revelation also confirms the twist that’s only going to be officially revealed at the end, but we’ve got it now. Unfortunately, there’s another complication to be endured, so as to rack up the tension and get Louie’s philosophical head into the actual Guillotine: the bureau is bombed.

Jake wakes up in hospital five days later, badly concussed, and being looked after by Twin Peaks‘s Grace Zabriskie in a cameo role. But there’s sad news: the bomb has killed Genevieve. So, though a limping Jake turns up in the nick of time, using his cane to halt the blade, Louie’s reprieve has a bitter-sweet tinge to it that Roddy MacDowall plays perfectly.

Genevieve’s parentage remains a secret between Jake and Louie, but there is that last, and by now predictable twist. Jake discovers a cushion in Louie’s office, with a hole through it, the sort of hole made by a gun, being muffled. Louie shrugs it off: large moths, he says. He killed Marcel, not anyone else who may or not be related to him and who hated a cruel ‘father’. Louie wasn’t covering up or taking the fall for anyone but himself…

And he has Jake’s word of honour on that.

Curiously, this was one of the few Gold Monkey episodes I remembered from the first time, at least in respect of Louie’s trial for murder. It’s based on a well-used plot, but this is carefully concealed until sufficiently late on that the episode can use Louie’s sang-froid in the face of death, an excellent performance by MacDowall, paralleling Jeff Mackay last week, to great effect to maintain the air of mystery.

As the end draws near, the show seems to be back on track in a way that supports a second season that never was. Now if they could only start giving Caitlin O’Heaney something proper to do…

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e15 – Force of Habit

This is not how she appears in the episode

I really don’t like the way so much of the story of a Tales of the Gold Monkey episode is blown in advance by the pre-credits highlights reel. I know it’s meant to entice the viewer into sticking round and not changing channels, by promising them fun and excitement, but it’s like a saw in a Warner Brothers cartoon, cutting a circle underneath a character who drops through the floor. So we knew before we even knew anything about the story that Jake was going to shock the entire Monkey Bar by kissing – I’m sorry, snogging – a nun.

Said nun was a real nun, or at any rate a novitiate under the care of a more senior Nun, en route to a Shanghai convent into which she would disappear in self-abnegation, but to Jake Cutter, she was his old girlfriend, Brigid Harrington, a bit of a wild girl, fun-loving, tricksy and with a habit (ouch) of dressing up in costumes. An easy mistake to make, I suppose.

Sister Theresa and Mother Agnes were escorting essential medical supplies and cholera vaccine to China, and using that as a cover to transport gold bullion to relieve poverty. Unfortunately, an unscrupulous and anonymous villain stole the Air Clipper with the cargo, and dear, sweet, retiring nun Brigid stole the Goose to follow him and get the supplies back. Jake, and a very much pushed into the background Corky, managed to get on board in the nick of time, and agreed to help, although the storm-damaged Goose was in extremely poor nick and low on fuel too.

And that, basically, was the whole of the story, apart from some amusing byplay when the Goose ran out of fuel and Louie’s 180 percent proof aged rum had to be poured into the tanks to keep it flying. Sarah and Louie are left helpless and ignorant on the island, Mother Agnes still prays in the Reverend Willie Tenbaum’s chapel, even after she learns how he gives ‘blessings’, and Jake and Brigid struggle with the effect their old relationship still has on both of them. Will-she, won’t-she? Her order demands she renounce everything, including acknowledgement of her past, but now she’s seen her old lover again, can she?

Actually, she does. Brigid can’t bring herself to kill the villain who has the drop on Jake, showing that her decision has been taken long before she arrived on Bora Gora, but really it’s Jake, being all Saturday morning hero at his most boyish, unable to be tied down by love, incapable of saying what ought to be said, until she turns away, unable to wait any longer.

What it’s really called is immaturity, and besides, he’s the lead in an adventure series and he has a romantic lead co-starring with him, so guest stars have to move on, though it’s plain for all to see, and if you want to take it on a deeper level than the show is prepared to go, utterly melancholy that Sarah will wait as long as Brigid and longer, renewal willing, for Jake to offer her any kind of commitment.

The hero as overgrown schoolboy. I’m sure that wasn’t what we were meant to think of this episode but it was what I thought. The Nun’s Last Fling could have been the formulaic template, but it was none of it sufficiently convincing to entirely work, as it was a little too deep for the surface on which Gold Monkey operates. Pamela Susan Shoop, showing literally nothing but her face and hands, was good at conveying to us that here was a beautiful young woman.

Three-quarters of the way through this one and only series, it’s time to look a little at its clumsiness. The show runs with a seven person cast, of whom only three play any kind of significant role on a regular basis. The three ‘villains’, the German spy, the Eurasian Princess and her loyal Samurai, barely appear, and the German spy is nothing but a figure of fun: a clear miscalculation on Bellisario’s part.

And the female lead, the romantic interest, who’s supposed to be an American spy, might as well not be there, which is an even bigger waste. Jake Cutter is a deliberately shallow figure, despite his philosophical voiceovers, but it’s disappointing to find him being written as a latter-series Captain Kirk, with the rge to rush after whatever pretty new face swims across his ken, whilst Sarah Stickney White moons around doing nothing, and gets treated like a joke when she is allowed something of the action.

I still like the series, but it’s starting to wear a bit against my memories. In 1983, I was disappointed that it never came back. In 2017, I’m rather more aware of the slow failings of it’s imagination.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e14 – High Stakes Lady

Cute. Jake, Sarah and Jack dolls

There was a point, midway through the latest episode of Gold Monkey, when I thought that the series was being exceedingly unfair to Caitlin O’Heaney, whose Sarah Stickney White is supposed to be a) a US Government Agent and b) third in the cast. The series is exceedingly unfair to her as, once again Sarah is sidelined for nearly all the story, but the introduction of guest star Shelley Smith as Sabrina, a beautiful blonde US Government Agent out to recover precious microfilm from a certain Mr Yamamoto seemed a particularly wasteful snub to our resident spy.

However, I was decidedly wrong on that score, as I began to suspect during the back half of the episode, where twists and turns began to turn up, one after another, until my ultimate suspicion over the beautiful Ms Smith’s true loyalties turned out to be spot on, much to Jake Cutter’s chagrin.

Let us, however, wind back to the beginning to explore the set-up. The beginning is clear across the Pacific, in Shanghai, where Japanese speaking characters kill as associate of Yamamoto, but fail to prevent him and his boat leaving town. Meanwhile, on Bora Gora, Jake, Corky, Sarah and Louie are playing poker with the beautiful and highly-skilful Sabrina, who is getting right up Sarah’s nose, to which the bedazzled Jake is completely oblivious.

We then shift to Tagatiya, and the real high stakes poker match ($20,000 to enter) is being held in Princess Koji’s Casino. Jake’s been hired to fly Sabrina in, and he and Corky, immaculately cleaned up and, in Jake’s case, tuxed up as well, have been hired as escorts. Koji immediately tries to escort Jake to her bed (no female likes a hot shot blonde, there’s some pretty mutual bitchery going on here) but when he puppy dogs after Sabrina, the Princess lets slip a dark hint that our card-weilding doll may not be what she appears to be.

Of course she’s not, she’s a Government Agent. The other players include a complete anonymous Count, there to make up the numbers and not speak, a boorishly stereotypical stetson hatted Texan, who’s been badgering Sabrina for, well, we know what all the way across the South Pacific and… Mr Yamamoto.

Henderson, the Texan, is losing money hand over fist to Yamamoto as a contrived pay-off for the film, because he’s a Government Agent too. Not working with Sabrina, as I originally guessed, but for the Germans: yeah, he’s an obvious German plant…

But Sabrina tries to steal the film, which only gets her and the unknowing Jake kidnapped on Yamamoto’s boat, twenty miles out to sea and counting. Here, Sabrina spills the beans and I start to wonder why they couldn’t have given this story to Sarah.

Because I’m missing something. Jake and Sabrina get out of their cabin, snatch a boat, plan to get clear but wait, she has to go back for her purse, it’s got the film in. Meanwhile, Henderson and Corky are in the Goose, searching, and finding Yamamoto’s boat just in time to see it be torpedoed to splinters. Corky is devastated: he’s lost his best friend, his guide, protector, counsellor, but most of all his best friend. All he has left is drink.

But you and I know Jake’s not dead. He and Sabrina end up castaway on an atoll, wherein she tells him all the spy stuff I’ve just related before shagging his brains out.

Nevertheless, they’re back on Tagatiya before the day’s out. Jake finds Corky before he’s too far gone, Sabrina leaves her poker-winnings in Koji’s safe for ‘safe-keeping’, Henderson is found dead and Jake rushes everyone off, with Sabrina trying to sit in his lap in the pilot’s chair whilst they fly to the night.

Back on Bora Gora, Sabrina’s set up a romantic dinner in Louie’s back room, and she’s bought Jake a tailor-made white three-piece suit as a going away present, the going away meant to be both of them. They have each fallen in love. Here is where Sara does come into her own, with a quiet, reserved dignity from Caitlin O’Heaney, magnifying the emotions by minimising them.

The problem is that Jake, even through his sex-suffused emotion, has worked it all out. Sabrina didn’t go back for her purse with the film, the purse Yamamoto and his goons had turned inside out, it was to radio a Jap sub to torpedo the traitor. Henderson was a US Government Agent, who was buying the plans with his poker losses, and he was murdered by Koji on Sabrina’s instructions. She’s a Government Agent, alright, a German Agent.

And both she and Jake are too much patriots for this to end well. If she really loves him, she’ll give him the film. Instead, she pulls a gun on him. In true deus ex machina fashion, Louie pulls a gun on her but, instead of her handing the film over, she exposes it and scrunches it under her heel. C’est la vie, and la guerre.

Having acted like a twat throughout, Jake tries to make it up to Sarah by invitong her for lunch, to explain. He doesn’t need to, she says, still maintaining that cool and very impressive dignity. He says he knows he doesn’t, but that’s why he’d like to, over lunch. And it’s the same kind of romantic evening meal in the back room, only at lunch, and Sarah does start to show gentle signs of softening but, thankfully, we get the comic ending with Corky assuming its meant to be lunch for three, so the romantic tension between Jake and Sarah that allows Jake to go off and be a twat with any other pretty guest actress because he’s never actually made a commitment to Sarah is impliedly restored, and we don’t have to put up with any male chauvinist bullshittery from Stephen Collins.

I’m sorry, I know I defend some dodgy elements in this series by reference to the time period in which it was made and the time period in which it is set, but sometimes you have to call this stuff out, whenever it was perpetrated. Caitlin O’Heaney was unfairly sidelined during this show, but at least we were spared one degree of humiliation.

And I did like this episode, which was clever and strong in every other respect…


Tales of the Gold Monkey: e12 – Ape Boy

One of the Ape Boy’s apes

From the moment I read the episode title, I had a bad feeling about this week, and I was right: this was a stone-gone clunker, a bad idea so cheap that it makes me fear for the back half of the season if this kind of story is needed to fill the quota. At least Sarah was back, and playing a full part in the story.

It’s Bastille Day on Tagataya, and Jake’s bringing the truffle pate for Bon Chance Louie to present to the Governor of the French Maravellas. Unfortunately, a severe electrical storm has blown up, consisting largely of the same triple-forked bolt of lightning cracking half a dozen times, and forcing the Goose down on an obscure and small island known mainly for its ape colony.

This does not sit well with Sarah who, understandably after the Pilot, has a thing about apes. Which is borne out when the little party is attacked by apes, Jake and Corky are overwhelmed and Sarah is kidnapped, slung kicking and screaming over the shoulder of one particularly hairy specimen.

It’s all-too-cliche already, especially as the apes are only extras in ape-suits (wonder what Roddy McDowall thought of that as a veteran ape from the Planet of the Apes film series?). We then get the obligatory, quasi-sexual menace of the apes surrounding the pretty woman, pawing at her and her dress whilst managing to not actually touch anywhere erogenous or do more than tear a sleeve of her dress and expose a pretty upper arm.

And of course this touching scene is then interrupted by the appearance of the ape colony’s leader, the Ape Boy, our Tarzan-manque. He’s about 14/15, stranded after a shipwreck, brought up by the apes, has never seen humans before, can’t speak (but he can still manage ‘Momma’ and ‘Poppa’.)

There’s no two ways about it, there is nothing you can do with this kind of story any more.

Nevertheless, we have an episode to fill, and for once Princess Koji and Todo are filling it. There’s a somewhat nervous, uptight wheelchair-bound Britisher seeking to explore this very island and being forced into paying the Princess for ‘exploration rights’. He’s given out that he wants this rumoured Ape Boy for a circus, which, after his thuggish men, with Todo, net the confused lad, leads them to doublecross him and try to sell the kid themselves.

Needless to say, Jake puts a stop to this, at which point the suspicion I’d held throughout the episode was confirmed. Our Britisher wasn’t the crass exploiter he’d pretended to be, he was the Ape Boy’s father. At which point, the sentimentality of the moment, however cheap and manipulative it was, overtook the generally mechanical story, and I felt a lump rising in my throat, and I ended the episode a bit better disposed towards it.

But it was still a clunker, and we’d have been better off without it in all honesty, and I’m now worried for next week’s episode. At least this was so far back, the Britisher wasn’t the villain…