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: e20: A Distant Shout of Thunder

It’s the penultimate episode, and one that, for me, frankly didn’t work. The ingredients were there, but they didn’t combine to make the story convincing, and there was no clear indicator as to what let things down.

The basis of this episode was that of the clash of cultures between the native Polynesians and their primitive Gods, in this case Pele (not that one), whose ‘wrath’ was awoken by a total eclipse and the presence of a scientific team studying it. Lucien, the local equivalent of a Hellfire Preacher, protests it. He’s a well-known, indeed tiresome figure, attempting to overturn French colonial rule, and it’s doubtful for most of the episode whether he genuinely believes in Pelle, or whether he’s just the opportunist Jake accuses him of being.

Unfortunately, I could not find guest actor Jose de Vega the least bit adequate for the role. He had nothing of the force the character required, nor could he conjure up the steeliness that might have sufficed in its place. Given that his role is to re-awaken the islanders’ beliefs, stir them to the edge of hysteria and persuade them to sacrifice Sarah to atone to the Gods, he was just a non-starter without which the episode never hung together.

Sarah became involved because, traumatised by old fears deriving from a childhood visit to Cambridge  with her father for an earlier total eclipse during which she got lost, she stumbles over and picks up a small statue of Pele, which marks her as the defiler, and makes her Pele’s target.

And it is at that moment that Bora Gora’s dormant volcano chooses to wake up and threaten the island.

With Lucien sitting in the centre of things calmly arrogating every incident to Pele’s wrath on one side, and Sarah’s (intentionally) unconvincing refusal to accede to superstition on the other, the episode built up to the inevitable sacrifice, with a drugged Sarah seeing molten lava as clear blue sea into which she wanted to slide.

Jake’s coming after her, alone as usual. Not at first: Corky, Louie and the Reverend Willie insist on joining him. It’s a well-played moment: they care for Sarah too, and will not be left behind, until circumstances are contrived to leave them behind.

And the episode doesn’t help itself by having the easily-misled islanders suddenly see sense and turn their backs on Lucien, who sacrifices himself, lost in his own preachings, for no adequate reason other than the plot demands it.

That’s really all, to be honest. Donald Bellisario pops up in a cameo role as a father whose curly-haired little moppet of a son (played by his actual curly-haired little moppet of a son) engages in a raspberry blowing contest with Corky. Special effects are spared by intercutting genuine film of a volcano and its attendant effects, though the glaring difference in the quality of film stocks draws too much attention to the contrivance. But on the plus side, with only an episode left, the show does at least pick up on the genuine nature of the relationship between Jake and Sarah, with lots of unashamed kissing.

I’m hoping for a better send-off next week. But, having seen the plot outline in imdb, I’m expecting another whimper.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e19: Boragora or Bust

It’s getting late. What Saturday Morning staple have we not yet had? A Treasure Mine? Let’s throw one of those in.

The ingredients are familiar: veteran prospector, been digging for decades, faithful creaking mule and eccentric methods, strikes it rich. Old Dowser’s an Aussie with a slightly variable accent and his mule is of course called Matilda, though it’s not gold that he’s struck, it’s platinum, way up in the mountains on Boragora. Forty years he’s been prospecting and on the edge of giving up, dynamiting the mine and himself inside it, and Dowser strikes it rich.

And there was Jake Cutter, who loves the old geezer like a father, complaining that his piloting career in the Maravellas is boring and lacking in excitement and recalling those old days of red hot jazz on a Friday night.

Overnight, Boragora becomes a creditable impression of a boom town, with all sorts of hopeful and ignorant would-be prospectors, and the usual gang of hangers-on, including an outfit offering ‘French’ ladies to entertain the prospectors and arousing the fighting ire of the Reverend Willie Tenbaum when they start using his ‘children’ to supply ‘blessings’.

And what you really need for a story like this is a claim-jumper, and we got one, the unruffled, immaculate smooth-as-snake-oil Mr Hastings. There’s only one problem: he’s in the right. He can take Dowser’s claim, within the law, because Dowser forfeited it thirty years ago for his complete failure to ‘improve’ it.

So, once Dowser is prevented from settling this island-style, with knives, it’s back to plan A: if Dowser can’t have the claim he’s scratched forty years to win, Hastings won’t get it either. He’ll dynamite the mine – with himself in it.

Put like that, the episode can be easily dismissed as a collection of cliches. But first of all, we’ve agreed all along that that is what Tales of the Gold Monkey is, and has always set out to be. It’s about the nostalgic fun of old and hoary adventure stories, played with just the teeniest dose of self-awareness, and tons of gusto. The knockabout fight on the beach starting when Willie dumps the tarts’ tent and ending with him hopping up and down in glee at a great brawl, and roaring in German, in a perfect specimen.

But there was more to this episode than just the fun. There were quieter moments, cameos that addressed, in brief but effective fashion, the emotional realities that lie behind the glorious nonsense. Dowser’s despair at losing what he’s worked for, his emotionalism at the fact his beloved mule won’t be shooed away and will go down with him. Sarah’s for once quiet concern about the risks Jake is taking to try and intercept Dowser, her recognition of the fact that she’s always saying goodbye like a wife, and they haven’t even… Jake’s warm and tender kiss. And in the mine, with Dowser lighting the fuse whilst holding Jake and Corky at bay with his gun, it’s the latter who walks forward, calmly refusing to believe Dowser will shoot him, to cut the fuse and extinguish it.

In the end, the mountain comes down. There’s a death-defying motorcycle leap, the insouciant whistling of a tune I have no hope of recognising, Dowser getting to look aat the face of the legal cheat who failed to rob him. And another boring Friday night in the Monkey Bar, with Jake back to bitching and off to an early bed… until Louie comes up with a stack of red-hot jazz discs, and it’s grab Sarah and let’s cut a rug.

I’m going to miss this show all over again.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e18: Naka Jima Kill

Koji at it again

It’s late in the season, just four episodes left including this week’s vigorous affair. I have no idea when the decision was taken not to renew for a second season and whether or not this was known by now, but I was surprised to see a brand new credits sequence (and a new end credits sequence, comprising scenes from the episode).

Apart from adding Jack to the credits (as Jack, though the dog’s real name was Leo), all it is is new scenes. But even now, with the glorious exception of Person of Interest, series don’t change their credits sequences except when they’re trying to create a new buzz, rebrand, refresh, generate a new audience interest, and even then that’s usually between seasons.

I can only guess it’s a late attempt to create an audience bump for a show threatened with cancellation.

A story like ‘Naka Jima Kill’ oughtn’t to need this kind of artificial aid. It had the benefit of practically all the cast – only the Reverend Willie was missing – and a substantial role for Sarah, plus a vigorous guest appearance from a familiar name, a young Kim Cattrall, playing Newsreel star reporter Whitney Bunting, an old, dear and bitchy friend of Sarah’s from Vassar.

Whitney’s after the interview she was promised with Japanese Defence Minister Naka Jima. This should have taken place in Tokyo but was cancelled after an assassination attempt on the Minister, at close range, by a master of disguise. Naka Jima is coming to Matuka as a guest of Princess Koji, to meet various industrial magnates, and Whitney, who has clearances up the wazoo, needs a pilot to take her there with her camerawoman, Prudy.

And Whitney is bright, go-getting, drops names like a drunk drops empty glasses and patronises poor Sarah – all that promise and stuck singing in a backwater – until our favourite redhead is sorely tempted to reveal she’s an American spy. Whitney also needs the best pilot on the island to fly her and Prudy to Matuka. That’s Jake.

For once, Jake doesn’t get to grips with the female guest star, and it’s not just because Sarah’s along every minute. There’s a faint but tangible distance between him and Whitney, even before she admits that all her copious clearance papers are fakes and she’s heedlessly throwing everyone into danger, that I read as being born out of respect for Sarah, and a refusal to hit on her BFF.

Anyway, once they’ve been part shot down on Matuka, and Jake’s run the gamut of jungle traps, he’s got Koji and her rampant hormones to watch out for. Once again, she’s dropping them for him but Jake manages to avoid more sex with a hot Eurasian bird (why?) by convincing her that Naka Jima’s would-be assassin is on the island, in masterful disguise.

Which is why Sarah’s here, in her secret unofficial capacity.

Unfortunately, this is where I must report the episode’s most serious snag. The master of disguise assassin is the last person you would expect: he’s camerawoman Prudy Wells. And Michael Mullins does a bloody good job of the impersonation, except that the moment Prudy first appeared, I thought she was a man. Then I looked again, once I heard ‘her’ speak, and managed to about 90% convince myself ‘she’ was a woman. But the story’s twist was blown in that instant.

From then on in, things progressed pretty naturally. Forced room-mates Sarah and Whitney bitched at each other, with Whitney coming out tops by a good margin, Corky’s getting romantic about Prudy (though that side of things is kept below the embarrassment threshold), and Jack is sneezing every time he’s near the camerawoman. This is a clue: he’s allergic to the foam-rubber pads that make up ‘her’ curves. Koji wants to shag Jake something rotten,and Todo wants to give him a piece of his sword.

It all boils down to Jake realising ‘Prudy’ has disguised herself as Koji’s top geisha and crashing the tea ceremony just in the nick of time. Todo, having drawn his sword to kill Jake, satisfies its blood honour by slashing up the assassin and that’s mission accomplished. Time only for Whitney’s farewell, a r’approchement for the girls and Whitney’s suddenly envious of Sarah’s ‘peaceful’ life, with friends. Jake steps in for a hug, and that’s it.

I’m enjoying the back half of the run much more now than I expected a few weeks ago., and I’m starting to feel sorry that there isn’t a season 2 to go on to, four weeks from now. Still, I have something else planned to replace Gold Monkey day. That only lasted one season as well.

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: e16 – Cooked Goose

Since she plays a big role this week…

Just when I was thinking that Tales of the Gold Monkey was struggling to maintain its verve, along comes an episode like that to refute that notion. There was a neat little adventure story involving Princess Koji and Todo again, not to mention a hell of a lot of Marta DuBois’s cleavage, and a twist that I suspected only a minute or two before it was revealed, and parts to play for all seven members of the cast, which was a nice change.

But most of all what impressed was a separate strand to the episode, born of the adventure saga but not properly of it, which concerned itself with an emotional point that ignored the usual Saturday Morning shallowness in favour of a very deep look into someone’s psyche, and it was brilliantly enacted by a central character usually known for playing comic relief.

The set-up is conventional enough: newlyweds Alan and Phyllis Shoemate are enjoying her fantasy of spending a honeymoon on a desert island, Petit Bijou, south of Bora Gora. She comes from a rich Hong Kong family, he’s an ex-co-pilot friend of Jake Cutter, who’s flying them in and out. Except that on their final night, they’re attacked by Malay mercenaries, who kidnap Phyllis, badly beat Alan, and leave behind a malay kris that suggests the mastermind to be everybody’s favourite Dragon Lady.

Bon Chance Louie takes a very dim view of such things going on in the French Mandate, he being the local Magistrate de Justice, and arranges to be flown to Tagatiya by Jake. The Goose needs an overhaul, which means the disgruntled Corky has to work on things overnight to make it flyable.

Instead, he gets blind drunk, falls asleep and is still out when the Goose catches fire. Jake has to pile in with the fire extinguisher to prevent it burning out, but it’s not going to Tagatiya any time soon. He’s simultaneously furious and bitterly disappointed with Corky, yet trying to give his friend the fairest treatment he can, given that his drinking has been responsible for this disaster. Sarah tries to plead for the distraught Corky, but Jake lays out the circumstances and has to admit that he can’t think otherwise.

Louie is still determined to get to Tagatiya, and demands Jake go with him, since he’s the Princess’s favourite, which means leaving Corky behind. But not to work on the Goose. This disaster has gone to Corky’s heart, and to what remains of his pride behind the clouded memories and the alcoholism. Corky has seen himself in all too clear a light, and he doesn’t like what he sees. He’s let Jake support him for many years, let him cajole and console him, build him up, cover for too many things, but this is too big and too fundamental for more of that. Corky’s self-loathing drives him to taking full responsibility for what he is and what he’s done. He cannot stand to be around people he’s let down, and he’s packing up and leaving, on the next clipper. He’s going to disappear.

It’s a wonderful performance from Jeff MacKay, demonstrating a range and depth about a thousand miles on every side from what he’s usually asked to do as the bumbling mechanic, and it changes the story by turning what is essentially a cartoon figure, whose genuine illness is usually treated as a near-joke, into a real person, whose life has been undercut by booze.

What’s doubly effective is that, at the one moment Jake wants to devote himself to his self-appointed guardianship, he’s forced away. Corky won’t budge, no-one can change his mind, yet a subdued and genuinely worried Sarah promises Jake that Corky will still be on Bora Gora when Jake returns.

Which she achieves in splendidly comic fashion, with the aid of the Reverend Tenbaum and Gushie, the wheelchair bound waiter. As last call is made for the Clipper, Sarah dramatically denounces Corky for seducing her and running away, leaving her – gasp! – with child. In comes Willie, offering the Church’s ministrations and a fast-track to the altar (whilst copping a swift feel). Corky’s fellow-passengers are looking at him askance when suddenly the generator goes out, requiring Corky to repair it, thanks to Gushie yanking something vital out: Corky’s not leaving Bora Gora yet.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, Alan’s intemperate accusations of the proud Princess on her own island get Jake, Louie and the deprived husband into hot water: literally. Koji threatens to make them pay, but a hot bath with geishas shaving their faces seems to be an unusual punishment. Until, that is, Todo turns up with a goldfish bowl full of piranhas which he starts slowly pouring into the bath…

But between Louie’s determination to make the French Mandate too hot for Koji if she allows innocents to die and the site of Jake’s bare chest, the Princess decides to take charge in her own way. However, before she leads her troops to Petit Bijou to exterminate the mercenaries who have forged her symbol, she’s just going to strip off and climb into Jake’s tub with him where, cornered at long last, he’s just going to have to submit to her fucking his brains out. Still, Pat Ryan never complained…

And so to the island, where the forces split up, and I had the first inkling that I knew exactly why things weren’t entirely kosher. Though for a moment I wavered towards the possibility of the mastermind being the red-headed Phyllis herself, out to screw her family for a cool half-billion bucks, my first suspicion was right: this was all set-up by Alan himself, out to trouser the cheque, and not for the first time either, the lothario.

Having stepped out into the open, Alan does a deal for Princess Koji’s co-operation, half the ransom in return for letting him get away, and kill all the witnesses. Unfortunately, this was where the plot slipped. I mean, it was all pull-the-wool-over-your-eyes, with Jake and Louie having their heads chopped off by Todo in one of those not-quite-in-plain-sight set-ups that’s a dead giveaway that you’re not seeing what you’re supposed to think you’re seeing leading up to a surprise attack from Jake and the cliched grapple-for-the-gun-which goes-off-and-kills-the-baddie, and all because Koji wasn’t going to jeopardise her French Mandate holdings for a measly quarter-million, but the logic was non-existent, since the moment Alan took his knife away from Phyllis’s throat, she could have had Todo stitch him up in a instant without going through this purposeless charade. Take three ticks off your homework there.

Then it’s back to Bora Gora where the still despondent Corky has worked miracles in  restoring, and repainting the Goose. Not even Jake’s pointing out that Corky has, not once but at least twice, built the Goose up from salvaged scrap to a beautiful flying machine, and that it would be wrong to even think of letting another mechanic touch her: Jake is only her pilot, but she’s Corky’s plane: no, none of this will shift him. Come the next Clipper, he’s going. He’s gad enough of being babied and will not burden his friends a moment longer than he has to.

But we all know that things will be reset, and the fact we never saw Corky get boozed up will be the key to it. And Jake now has the explanation that lets Corky off the hut: Alan put him out, with ether stolen from Louie’s medical kit. Let’s face it, there isn’t enough booze in the whole Monkey Bar to get Corky that blitzed!

It’s a decidedly dodgy joke that’s a sign that normal comic relief service is being resumed and that this will never come up again in what remains of the series, but that scene where Corky rejects any more help, and determines to be responsible for what he’s done was still performed, and will stick in the mind as a moment that showed that even the most deliberately shallow of shoes can go into deep water and can swim.


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: e13 – God Save The Queen

After last week’s schtumer, I was a bit fearful of what we’d get next from Tales of the Gold Monkey, but the show was pleasingly back on track with its deliberate box of Saturday morning Cinema cliches.

The Queen of the title is indeed British but she bears no relation to our own dear Queen. She is the Queen Victoria, a luxury cruise-liner, holder of the Blue Riband (fastest crossing of the Atlantic) and the biggest thing in boats. And Jake and Corky are tailing it in the Goose, delivering an aristocratic passenger to join the liner en route to Sydney, Australia.

Just before they arrive, a bomb goes off on the Queen Victoria, bringing it to a halt in mid-ocean, killing one crew-member. Strangely enough, no sooner is he piped aboard than Lord Hedriks (a nicely judged, underplayed performance by Roy Dotrice, all British reserve and conviction) displays complete knowledge of an incident that literally happened only a few minutes ago. But then, why shouldn’t he? He planted the bomb. And two more: one set to go off in a few minutes, as a second demonstration, the other in six hours, which will destroy the ship. Unless, that is, he is given $18,000,000.00 in Royal Jewels…

You see, there’s a passenger on board, one Edward, Duke of Windsor, abdicated King and Emperor. And Lord Hedriks is a cashiered, disgraced ex-Army Officer who has only retained his title because, in 1938, there was no way of removing it. And he’s bitter enough to want to sink the ship, it’s Royal Passenger and all his aristocratic hangers-on anyway.

Where does that leave Jake, Corky and Jack? Well, they’re initially held under suspicion of being henchmen, until their bona fides are established via Louie, back on Bora Gora, but after that they become the vigorous American refusal to bend to a crook, in the face of effete British capitulation. Or, as Captain Townsend puts it, refusal to risk the lives of the 3,000 souls on the ship.

Of course, it’s all veddy British calm, stiff upper lips all over the place, though it’s done with an air of decency, and almost affection, none of the maliciousness we’ve seen since Alan Rickman turned up in Die Hard. It also means the American idea of British accents turning up everywhere, in which the only lower class accent is grating Cockney (sometimes you can long for a bit of Lancy, though none of the native audience would ever understand it).

In order to stretch the episode out and run through the six hours deadline, even though the Home Office in Britain capitulates faster than you could get a radio wire to the Home Country, Jake and Corky go on the run round the ship. After all, Hedriks’ escape plan is for Jake to fly him out of there in the Goose, and nobody imagines Jake is going to fly back…

Corky winds up in the engine room, mistaken for a stowaway by a pair of black grease monkeys with outrageous Jamaican accents and a decent line in sarcastic patter (grease monkey, for the younger among you who may no longer be familiar with such terms, is nautical slang for the engine room crew, and has nothing to do with race at all). He’s been led there by Jack because, you know, that’s where the bomb is and small, one-eyed terrier dogs can sniff these things out…

Jake, meanwhile, runs around a lot on deck, among the generally toney passengers. At one point, he strips down to a mere towel (but he keeps his socks and boots on: why do they always keep their socks on?). Grabbing a handful of suits off a trolley, he invades a cabin only to find a young, single, female passenger (but of course) who, after throwing a flower vase at him (we are milking the cliches today), takes heed of his manly hairy chest and his dropped towel (he has still got his jodhpurs on beneath) and melts into his arms for the kind of kiss that Sarah would kill to get).

After Jake spills the beans about the bomb, Melodie agrees to get him an introduction to the Duke of Windsor or, as she calls him at the last moment, Uncle Eddie: well, she is the Duchess of Fitzhugh, eh, what? It’s a fun, buoyant performance by Kathryn Leigh Scott, better known for her association with the vampiric soap opera, Dark Shadows.

We’re now running towards the end. Corky is captured, Hedriks threatens to make him fly the plane and Jake comes in out of the cold. It’s at this point that our savvy pilot gloms that Hedriks has no intention of handing over the bomb, he wants revenge rather that $18,000,000.00 in jewellery (maybe he should be taken on one side whilst the idea of priorities is discussed rapidly?).

Jake, sussing out that the bomb’s in the engine room, belts Hedriks on the chops, scuffles a bit, and then tells the Captain to tell Hedriks Jake’s getting the bomb. As expected, His Lordship turns up in the engine room to tell our hero exactly where the bomb is because it’s now too late to escape. Everyone will die. Except that, after all his banging on about precision, military timing, being British, etc., thee bomb doesn’t go off when it should do.

Hedriks is flapping somewhat but intends to trigger the bomb by hand. He gets Jake to remove it from its casing (although its being in its casing is where it’s been most precisely calculated to set off the chain reactions that will destroy an 18 deck, thousand feet long liner), which enables Jake to throw the bomb at him, knock him out and then throw the bomb overboard, all in the nick of time. Phew!

Then, at the Victory Cocktail Party, when Captain Townsend is toasting Jake for being unable to hear a slur against the Royal Family without poking Hedriks one in the face, our boy gives the big reveal: he only did it to snatch Hedriks’ pocket-watch and set it forward a few minutes, to make him think the bomb hadn’t gone off on time and rattle him…

Look, I’m well aware it’s hokum, and if I wanted to be inveterately British about it, I could list a dozen or more instances where the show gets things wrong about us, the Monarchy, the Army, etc., but this isn’t the point. The show deliberately plays fast and loose with veracity. It doesn’t go as far into spoof as it easily could, preferring to lay the comedy and the very gently mockery very lightly upon a dramatic structure, but it likes its source material. It is free from contempt about it.

Which is why I give it a pass. Of course it’s a nonsense, but it’s a nonsense that never tries to pretend it’s anything more than a nonsense, and the fun is rollicking if rather unreal.

Where I would criticise is in things like the treatment of Sarah Stickney White, who is laughed at all the time, and worse, in this episode allowed only a token appearance, back on Bora Gora, carrying shopping parcels and talking to Bon Chance Louie. She’s once again wasted, especially when all this scene does is to serve up a punchline about yet another aspect of Louie’s past history. An egregiously missed opportunity, I keep calling it.

But I am reassured that the rest of the series won’t necessarily be a decline into poorly-thought-out stories. At least until next week.

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…