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.
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.
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.
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…
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…
A change of scene this week, as the Monkey gang move 3,000 miles west (3,251, to be precise) to the Philippines, where it’s raining, and where General MacArthur is negotiating with the Moro guerillas. Why are we here? As the title suggests, our favourite red-headed spy is on a mission in the Philippines, to determine who’s leaking information to the (never defined) other side, and a telegram to Bora Gora has announced that she is dead, of hepatitis.
You’d think that an episode abut Sarah would be full of her, but Caitlin O’Heaney doesn’t have much to do at all this week. She’s in the undergrowth, taking photos of a MacArthur meeting with the Moros, for no easily discernible reason if she’s supposed to be finding the leaker that’s trying to ruin such negotiations, when the meeting is shelled and she’s last seen about to scream, with a machete at her throat.
And that’s it until the final scene, when Jake, Corky, Jack and Johnny Kimble (remember him from episode 4?) are captured trying to warn the Moros that a fake MacArthur with a truck of fake US troops is about to arrive and slaughter them. And who pops up, dressed in a sleeveless top with the Moro red bandanna around her forehead? Our favourite spy, of course, who has never been dead at all.
In between, it’s once again Jake’s show. Like everyone else on Bora Gora, he’s devastated by the wire announcing Sarah’s death, with the crucial difference being that, of course, he doesn’t believe it. In any other circumstances, this would be a clear case of wishful thinking, but of course heroes are always right about such things, and it’s Philippines ho!
It’s not a good time for Americans in the Philippines right now. They’re responsible for the islands’ security, though by this point MacArthur had resigned from the US Army, and was responsible to the Philippines government as a civilian advisor to the Army he’d organised. Jake and Corky are fobbed off by the Assistant American Attache, Horace Simmons (the bad guy), attacked in both street and bar, set to running and pulled aside by Kimble, who explains what is going on and what Sarah was doing.
Immediately prior to this, there’s an odd and utterly irrelevant cameo from Marta DuBois as Princess Koji, who may be a cast member but who usually only appears in the credits. Koji happens to own the bar where Sarah had been singing whilst under cover, which enables her to haul Jake and Corky out of the kind of brawl that, at home, sends Jake’s debt to Bonne Chane Louie soaring. But she provides no useful information, and does little more than unsuccessfully throw herself at Jake, with her deep plunge neck-line and her wraparound skirt unwrapping itself all the way to her thighs: the woman in seriously gagging for it. But you really do have to question why Miss DuBois is on board as cast when it’s obvious no-one has any idea what to do with her?
It’s finally proven that Jake’s gut feelings are right when Kimble helps disinter the coffin which has got a body in it alright, but it’s not Sarah’s, but that of a bloke who’s been shot (and who, despite having been in the ground for nearly a week, in the tropics, is astonishingly undecomposed).
So it’s down to the race against time that is naturally successful, and here’s Dougie!, i.e., the ‘real’ MacArthur, to continue negotiations with guerillas grateful for having been saved by friendly Americanos. Oh yes.
I’ve barely mentioned Jack so far. There’s a running gag all episode, with a distinctly risque twist, that he’s suffering from an allergy, and Leo the Dog is called upon to perform his new party-piece of sneezing at will over and over, to various choruses of ‘Bless you!’ and ‘Salut!’. Turns out it’s not an allergy but rather a sign that Jack needs a bit of doggie-style nookie. And despite Koji’s state of undress, and Sarah’s fetching close-fitting top, that’s the nearest you’re getting to sex this week.
The title suggested that this episode was going to be about Princess Koji, but although Marta DuBois appeared for the first time in half a dozen episodes, this weeks Tales of the Gold Monkey was about a lady of a completely different stripe, oh, and an actual tiger.
You may already be about to point out that tigers are not indigenous to the South Pacific, but if you haven’t already realised that such nit-picking is irrelevant, Jake Cutter does raise the question for you and gets as good an answer as any: the Japanese imported it. Sorted.
‘The Lady and the Tiger’ prefigured Harrison Ford’s film, Witness, by three years in marooning Jake in an Amish colony. This time it’s accidental: both engines blow out on the Goose when Jake buys contaminated petrol and he crash-lands on an island just inside the Japanese mandate, where the military are trying to lever out an Amish colony who have been licenced in perpetuity by the Emperor.
The slightly banged-about Jake is taken in, and provided with Amish clothes by, Martha (Anne Lockhart), mother of ten year old Paul (Jerry Supiran), an attractive young woman aged around thirty. Paul is an angelic little boy with a blond pudding bowl haircut and a penchant for sneaking off into the woods with his father’s shotgun to kill the tiger. After all, it killed his father.
So we know what to expect there, all of which duly follows: Paul adopts Jake as a father-figure, Martha starts falling for him, and actually gets close enough that he admits to her that he never knew his father and that his parents weren’t married, and there is in due course a snog.
But there’s never any intimation that Jake is going to stay even if we didn’t know we were watching a series. Since Paul has managed to shoot the Goose’s radio, Jake has to allow himself to be goaded into first a game of checkers and then a duel with the local Japanese Army blowhard, who’s so fixated on American B-picture westerns he’s even named after Buck Jones, just to get a radio message out for help and a pair of magnetos.
The rest of the cast are back on Bora Gora, doing their thing. Corky’s torturing himself over the fact that he can just about remember every leg of Jake’s flight plan except the crucial last one on which the Goose has been lost. Sarah’s alternating between contempt for the wacky enthusiasm the Monkey Bar patrons have for fights, concern for Jake and a jealous hissy fit at Princess Koji, because she has to get Corky into the Japanese Mandate to rescue Jake, and a hard bargain she drives of it. Still, the cost of her concession will just be added to Jake’s bill by Louie: it’s only a million francs…
So we drive towards the big climax. Jake faces ‘Buck Jones’ as Jake Cutter, Flying Tiger, rather than Martha’s brother Ezekiel, Paul, sent to the Goose to await assistance, faces the Tiger. Both shoot, simultaneously. The episode teases us with the possibility, which we don’t believe for a second, that one or both might have missed, but of course they’ve killed their respective opponents. Corky’s arrived, offstage, with the magnetos, the Goose is fixed and despite both of them aching for Jake to stay, Martha and Paul recognise that Jake’s going home to his real life (though not without a most un-Amish snog first).
Paul does bravely promises his mother that Jake will be back, but a quick glance at imdb confirms that that must have been in the never-commissioned season 2.
And what could they have done with a follow-up? ‘The Lady and the Tiger’ pretty much mined all the cliches about the Amish and the clash of cultures and left no new territory on which to build a return visit. Witness was better and had more depth, but it was also twice as long and didn’t have to turn up next Tuesday night at 8.30pm with another episode.
To be honest, this one felt like a bit of a stretch for once. By sending Jake off on a solo adventure, the show lost the energy of the usual interactions and the imposition of a caricature Japenese cowboy who didn’t even achieve the cliche of a life, it’s main protagonist never began to be plausible. A miss, then.
Still, it came out of it with a neat zinger. In the cockpit in the air, going back out among the English, Corky gets Jake to tell him what was the last leg. It’s a great relief, and Corky immediately starts punishing himself again over why he couldn’t remember. That’s because I didn’t tell you, says Jake…
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.
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.