Tales of the Gold Monkey: e21: Mourning Becomes Matuka


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e17: Last Chance Louie


This week’s eye-candy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e15 – Force of Habit


This is not how she appears in the episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e14 – High Stakes Lady


Cute. Jake, Sarah and Jack dolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e12 – Ape Boy


One of the Ape Boy’s apes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e09 – The Lady and the Tiger


Just because she was in it 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…

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e08 – Honor thy Brother


I remember Tales of the Gold Monkey more for its set-up and atmosphere rather than its specific stories, but ‘Honor thy Brother’ is one of only a couple of exceptions (the one in which Bonne Chance Louie is put on trial for something I don’t recall is the other).

I recognised it immediately from the open, and its foreshadowing scenes, and confirmed my recollection from the opening scene, another flashback to Jake’s (bogus) time in the Flying Tigers. This was a dogfight scene: Jake, cigar firmly clenched in teeth, was stooging around on patrol when he was ambushed by two ‘Zekes’, Japanese Zeros (another deliberate error: these were never used against the AVG). The planes are piloted by two brothers, the younger on his first mission. Jake shoots both planes down though, unknowingly, the elder brother survives, and, by rite of hontu nagiri (sp?) determines to kill Jake in revenge.

Back at the base, everyone’s playing it cool around Jake, until Gandy Dancer (a welcome if brief return for  William Lucking) starts a celebration that mainly consists of pouring beer over Jake’s head. His two Zekes take him to five ‘kills’ and he joins Gandy as an ‘Ace’.

Cut to a year later, in the Maravellas, and Jake’s seeing a Japanese bomber that the Tigers nick-name a ‘Betty’ for the third time, only he’s the only one who sees it and no-one believes him, not even Jack. This leads us into an oddly disjointed story that doesn’t feel as if it hangs together, and yet was still perfectly enjoyable.

A bunch of German sailors are getting drunk in the bar and planning to put to shame Mapuhe’s exceedingly pretty daughter (not that she seems to be objecting). Mapuhe, a Polynesian patriarch and an obvious wheeler-dealer, explains to Corky that he needs 100 francs to mend his net: no net, no fish, no food. A horribly embarrassed Corky lends him the money to spare the poor child the ordeal (yeah, right), incurring the ire of the boorish, square-headed Kraut. There’s just one complication: the sailor has got Jack’s eye.

Jake’s entirely reasonable attempts to peacably negotiate for the purchase of the eye lead to the inevitable: a massive brawl that demolishes the bar, and for which Louie blames him, even though Jake didn’t start it. Sarah’s prepared to believe he was responsible, even as she applies the iodine, and to get very stroppy until she hears about the ‘Betty’ – until Jake explains he’s talking about bombers, whereupon the spy in Sarah rises to the fore.

Meanwhile, Jake has stolen back his eye which Jake refuses to fit until it’s been sterilised, putting the dog into an even bigger huff than usual.

Meanwhile, someone’s setting traps to kill Jake – a cobra in his bedroom, a crossbow in the woods – except that they’re gimmicked to fail whilst demonstrating how easily they could have succeeded.

Meanwhile, again (you can see what I mean about disjointed), Corky has discovered that his 100 francs loan to Mapuhe has been accepted in payment for Mapuhe’s daughter’s hand (and all the rest of her) in marriage. Only it’s not the pretty one, it’s the eldest daughter, and wouldn’t you know it? She’s the fat one, who’s constantly eating, constantly giggling and constantly wailing every second that Corky expresses less than perfect enthusiasm for giving her lots and lots of babies (mind you, she’s got child-bearing hips).

Last week, I discussed the show’s flaws, and this is another one. It’s a demeaning cultural stereotype, both of the Polynesian primitives and the the fat girl no-one in their right mind would want to marry, let alone, you know, well, yeuch. There’s no justifying it, even if it is characteristic of the Saturday Morning Cinema experience.

So Jake, whilst being pursued to his death, has to get Corky out of a hole again (you know, you have a filthy mind at times). By a curious coincidence, Mapuhe’s island of Keneroo happens to be practically next door to the Japanese island of Torihado, where there’s a secret airbase of fighter planes, everybody knows that. Sarah’s along for the ride, having reported everything to Washington (except Jake’s name…).

And then everything comes awkwardly together as Mapuhe happily accepts Tafara back, except there’s a guy in a Japanese pilot’s uniform waiting, with a white headband decorated with the Rising Sun on his forehead, and guys with machetes up around Corky and Sarah’s necks, because Kenji, who has been pursuing honju nagiri, has arranged all this, including Corky’s ‘marriage’ to draw Jake to the island (see how it all fits together now?). They must duel to the death.

Jake has choice of weapons. Thinking he’s clever, he selects fighter planes. Kenji however is clever. He knew what Jake would choose and has already familiarised himself with how to slip past the Torihado security and steal two Zekes…

Despite the overall silliness, and the unconvincing way this has been built up, it’s all been good fun so far, but I remember the dogfight being perfunctory and Jake winning far too quickly and far too easily, and so it was. Kenji crash dives into the ocean, Jake bales out with parachute but no lifejacket. Of course, a rescue could be made, if only Mapuhe had something of value to make it worth the risk. And who’s eye is an emerald…?

So we’re back to square one (no notion of exactly how Jake and co managed to get away from there without any consequences for stealing and destroying two Imperial Japanese Airforce fighter planes with nobody suffering any loss of face). Jack has got his patch back on, Mapuhe’s rowed off, Washington is very pleased with their Agent Sarah Stickney White and still ignorant of the name of Jake Cutter. And they’d still like pictures…

It’s an interesting example of how a show made up of pieces that don’t fit alongside each other, and in one case are extremely insulting, can nevertheless be enjoyable, though the brevity of the ending after all that build up is disappointing. Nostalgia to some extent, and the show’s unselfconscious commitment to delivering a fun experience disarms a lot of the valid criticism, but I would like something a bit stronger next week.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: s05 – Escape from Death Island


If you think from the title that this week’s episode of Tales of the Gold Monkey is going to be a riff on Devil’s Island and a (probably soft) take on the Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman film, Papillon, you’re bang on the money. I’ve never seen Papillon, though a mate of mine who did was wildly enthusiastic about it, but the influence is obvious.

The set-up is ingenious. Jake, Corky and Jack are flying middle-aged Englishman Arthur Fromby and his seriously dodgy accent to Lagoda Island, better known as Death Island, a French penal colony, with Fromby’s son, Eric (a non-speaking role for a younger Xander Berkeley, of 24 fame) is a prisoner. Eric has been banged up for murder: he’s told his father it was Justifiable Homicide, but as Bonne Chance Louie describes it, it’s more of a crime passionelle (caught his wife in bed with her lover, shot ’em both).

The authorities on Death Island, Colonel Vilgay and Sergeant Roget, are reluctant to even let them land, despite Fromby having all the requisite permissions. Unfortunately, just two weeks earlier (as seen in the open), Eric has led an unsuccessful escape attempt, and is being punished by incarceraion in the Oven, a box in the sun. It is killing him.

The conditions, the maltreatment, the lack of resources, the sadism, infuriate Jake, who allows Fromby to try to smuggle his son out to get medical attention, but they’re all captured, dressed in pink-striped prison pajamas, leg-shackled and set to ‘work’. Eric goes back in the Oven. Jack goes into hiding with Roget determined to shoot him.

Back on Bora Gora, Sara gets infuriated at Louie’s seeming acceptance of their friends’ plight, but is of course completely ineffectual (this is not Caitlin O’Heaney’s week, nor is the ongoing portrait of her as being mainly fury and ineffectiveness particularly edifying). Louie flies out to Death Island and negotiates the trio’s sentence down to a week, not that they appreciate him for it.

But matters come to a head when Corky gets bitten by a water-snake. He’s feverish, desperately in need of medical supplies which won’t be available until the supply ship gets here in several days time. He pleads with Vilgay to be allowed to fly Corky to Bora Gora for treatment, but the Colonel is callous to the last.

So Jake has to escape, which as we’ve seen is not easy, with a middle-aged bloke and a feverish mechanic. On the way, in a twist I hadn’t seen coming but which was gently foreshadowed before the Goose even landed on Lagoda Island, he learns that Vilgay and Roget are imposters: prisoners who have murdered and replaced the real Colonel and Sergeant, and who plan to escape on the supply ship.

In the flight to escape, Jake rescues Jack from a trap-noose, shoots down Roget and gets the Goose into the air with the re-use of some footage from the Pilot, and all’s well that ends well. Vilgay has been captured, the Director of Prisons is flying out from Paris to reform Lagoda, Corky survives. Eric, sadly enough, has died, his only words a message telling his Dad he loves him, scratched out in the dirt of the Oven, but Jake consoles Fromby by telling him that, if Eric hadn’t tried to escape, they would have not seen below the surface of Lagoda and Vilgay and Roget would have gotten away with it: a lot of people are alive because Eric did what he did. It’s not a bad message to remember your dead son by, especially as no-one tells Fromby the true circumstances of Eric’s ‘Justifiable Homicide’.

And there’s a cute sting to freeze-frame upon at the death. Corky’s snake-bite has the unexpected side-effect of clearing his befuddled brain and he starts remembering everything under the sun, down to his High School locker combination. Now, restored to rudish health, when Sara brings this bonus up, Corky looks up in innocent puzzlement: “I don’t remember that,” he says.

To be honest, I doubt there’s going to be anything more that’s new or original that I’ll have to say about Tales of the Gold Monkey. Sara gets short-changed this week, and the German/Japanese Axis are again absent from everything but the credits, but it’s still great fun, with no other intentions. It’s what it says on the tin. And I still enjoy it, thirty-five years on from its first broadcast, and another forty-five years on from its inspiration.

 

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e04 – Legends are Forever


Never kill off a great guest star

This week’s episode was a great, gleeful collection of cliche and thrill that fit in surprisingly well with my recent contention over opinions as to the Sixties Batman  TV show. As I’ve already said, there’s nothing of any great depth to Tales of the Gold Monkey, it’s about fun and simplicity, bundled together into the recognition that the early films and serials it echoes were cheap and naive, but Monkey is in tune with its subject matter, and at heart sides with it.

There’s cliche a-plenty this week, not least in the adventure brought by guest star Gandy Dancer, played by William Lucking. Gandy’s introduced in a medium long flashback to a year earlier, over China. He’s an older, looser, loucher version of Jake, the big-hearted Texan (actually, he’s from Pennsylvania), forever warbling ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas’ on his mouth organ, a grifter and a likable con artist whose biggest cons are all on himself.

It’s immediately clear that he and Jake have knocked about a lot, and that Gandy can pull the wool over Jake’s eyes, no matter how wary he gets. They’re flying booze, under cloud cover, to a Chinese warlord, a mission that Gandy has suckered Jake into flying in the belief they’re under orders, when he’s used Jake’s clean-cut reputation to suggest this to the General…

Because there’s a legend out there, of gold and riches, and Gandy’s a sucker for legends and treasure. Believes ’em all, implicitly, chases ’em all, looking for that score, sucking the unsuspecting, and even the suspecting who can be misled, into his wake. Which, in this instance is persuading Jake to jump, with Jack, when they’re being shot at by Japanese Zeros, leaving good ol’ boy Gandy to fly on into the cloud…

Cut back to ‘now’, in 1938, and Jake returns from a solo, transporting nuns, to find Gandy’s turned up on Bora Gora. The old partnership is back, the boys are reunited, and Jake has only one greeting for his old buddy: I’m gonna kill you! Cue a glorious, destructive barfight, knocking over tables, chairs, smashing bottles and glasses, jumping over the piano, all set to the background of the imperturbable Bonne Chance Louie tidily totting up the cost of the damage (920 francs, to be precise).

It appears Gandy is there on a mission of mercy, at the behest of the tall, coal-black skinned Mr Umopwa, bringing quinine for a lost tribe of transplanted Watusi Africans on a remote, formerly volcanic island, who are suffering from malaria. Everyone believes Gandy except Jake, who refuses to get involved. Next shot: the Goose in flight and Jack giving up the co-pilot’s seat. t to allow Gandy to chat with Jake.

There’s no Sara this week, which is a shame, but her place is taking by the unflappable Louie, as the French magistrate, which allows further development of Louie’s past. In true ‘Flashman’ style, Louie it seems has been everywhere that was everywhere to the drama world of 1938. To last week’s reference to Devil’s Island., we now add George Mallory’s Everest expedition of 1924, not to mention Beau Geste’s Fort Zinderneuf.

There’s another romantic literary reference coming up before long, but first we have the Goose putting down on a rather small lake, we have mysterious natives hiding in the jungle, and we have a glorious suspension bridge over a precipitous gorge with the statutory waterfall in the background – oh, this show knows its iconography – and we have blowpipes and poison darts, one of wich strikes Gandy in the shoulder…

And we know where this is set to go.

The tribe and the malaria are, to Jake’s  surprise, true, and Umopwa turns into a dignified king, but Gandy turns out to be Gandy, as we knew all along he would. Gandy’s read ‘King Solomon’s Mine’ and believe’s it’s true, that Haggard based it on real legends, and that the treasure was moved from Africa to an island across a great sea…

And Gandy’s tired. Perhaps it’s just the poison talking, but he’s had enough.  There’s a little girl back home, a motherless child called Molly, back in Pennsylvania, a daughter he’s not seen since she was two: five years, and it’s time she had a father. One score, one last adventure for Gandy so we can give Molly the life she should have.

It’s just never going to happen. Jake can scare the threatening Bogras off the island by terrifying them with the Goose, he can save the Watusi, but nothing can save Gandy Dancer, and Jake’s parting gift to his old sparring partner is a vision of lies, of the treasure Gandy believes in, recounted as a litany of gold and diamonds that Jake has ‘seen’ and can attest that Gandy was right, after all…

It’s sentimental, but it’s very effective, and affecting. Not that it does little Molly any good, though everyone, Louie himself, agrees to chip in money for the orphaned girl. And a grateful Umopwa has given Jake a bonus, a little bag… which turns out to be full of raw, uncut diamonds. Molly Dancer’s going to be rich. And Corky has the last word, or rather question: “Jake, you don’t think…?”

I loved this. I don’t say I remember, though the name of Gandy Dancer stuck in my head over thirty five years, and I recognised him immediately I saw William Lucking, and that he died in this episode, though he does make one further appearance later on, briefly, in another flashback. Lucking, with his innocent shiftiness, made an ideal Gandy and a more rounded cliche than he need have been. And the series takes me back, to 1981, and who I was and where I was, and was it Thursday nights, on BBC1 at about 7.35pm?

Roll on the next one.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e03 – Black Pearl


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sit down, relax and cancel all other engagements

It’s never too late to enjoy dumb entertainment

See you next Thursday/Saturday morning.