Film 2019: All The President’s Men


I’m surprised, and in a way a little ashamed, that I haven’t had this film in my collection long before now. After all, it marked a turning point in my life, perhaps not as extensively as did JusticeLeague of America 37, but certainly as much as starting to read The Lord of the Rings from Didsbury Library.

From 1980 to 1983 I worked in my first job as a fully-qualified Solicitor, at a small, two-man branch office in Romiley, a village-like part of Stockport, to the south east of the centre. Early in 1981, and at my expense, we started renting an old, top-loading VHS video recorder from Granada, from whom our TV was also rented. Towards the back end of that year, a video rental shop opened up in Romiley, and I became a member, in order to hire a film for each weekend. My first choice was All The President’s Men.

I was not, then, the political enthusiast I became. I had lived through Watergate, and Nixon’s resignation, but they had been background noise rather than anything I was interested in. My first, nascent sense of American politics came indirectly through comics: I kept reading references to something incredibly hip called Doonesbury, which intrigued me. In the summer of 1981, I saw a Doonesbury omnibus volume in Wilshaws (a much-missed City Centre bookshop), at only £2.95, enough of a snip in an era when expenses were few and salary decent, to take a flyer on. I loved it, but it was full of references to things I knew nothing about.

All three of us sat down to watch All The President’s Men, and all three of us were impressed. This might have been October/November.

In theJanuary of 1982, I found a good condition paperback of the book in a long-vanished second-hand bookshop on Shudehill, just down from the bookstalls. I read it, surprised firstly to learn that the book went on some distance beyond the period of the film, but not as far as Nixon’s resignation. For that, I needed thesequel, ‘The Final Days’ and for that I went back to Wilshaws. I have those copies still.

And they contained references to things I was still ignorant of, not least to the famous ‘Joe Welch moment’. So I started hunting in the American History section of the Library, most often at Central Ref, where the selection was more widespread. My first choice, a book about the McCarthy era, was dull and dry, but I struck gold with my second choice, David Halberstam’s classic ‘The Best and the Brightest’, a long but absorbing account of the generation of men who took America into the Vietnam War. In time, I would suck that section dry.

All because I rented this film on VHS.

I know a tremendous amount about the making of All The President’s Men. The screenplay was by William Goldman, and I had heard of but not yet read his legendaey ‘Adventures in the Screen Trade’, which I urge on anyone with the least interest in the film industry. There’s a very lengthy section in that book about this film, so I know a lot of the twists and turns.

What I know most of all is that Goldman was passionate, almost obsessive, about not ‘Hollywooding-up’ the material. The Watergate Affair, and what it revealed about the conduct of Government in those years (which is of direct relevance to the antics of the current incumbent, even if only to demonstrate how much smarter Tricky Dickie was in comparison) was of massive importance to the history of any country and not least of America, the self-proclaimed (and sometimes actual) bastion of democracy. With all the power a scriptwriter can have, i.e., bugger all, he was insistent that the film be true to the material, that it be accurate, that none of it should be sensationalised, that it stand as close to the historical record as the reduction of nearly six months’ patient, detailed and often frustrating investigation could be.

For the benefit of anyone under forty, let me summarise Watergate. In thesummer of 1972, with President Richard Nixon certain to be nominated by the Republican Party as their candidate for re-election in November, five men were arrested trying to break-in to the Democratic Party Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington. Junior Washington Post reporter, Bob Woodward, was assigned to cover  routine arraignment, but became interested in some unusual details. Working in collaboration with fellow junior reporter, Carl Bernstein, Woodstein (asthe two were bracketed at the paper) doggedly pursued a non-story until it revealed a massive story of corruption, manipulation, and undermining of the Constitution that eventually led all the way to the top. All the way.

Woodstein’s investigations ultimately led to the revelation that President Richard Nixon had knowingly ordered the cover-up of criminal acts (of which he probably did not know in advance) in direct violation of his Oath of Office. Despite resistance and denial stretching across two years, Nixon eventually became th first and only President to resign his office.

Thanks to two nobodies, regarded by their paper as no-hopers.

The film was directed by Alan J Pakula, and starred two of the biggest film stars of the time, Robert Redford as Woodward and Dustin Hoffman as Bernstein. Jason Robards performs a show-stealing supporting role as Post Editor Ben Bradlee.

The film is, indeed, what Goldman wanted of it. Though you’re always conscious that these are *Robert Redford* and *Dustin Hoffman*, they do inhabit their roles comfortably, without histrionics or emoting. The entire film is naturalistic, and the intercutting of television scenes showing the real-life politicians is markedly grainy in contrast, but not excessively so.

It’s a mark of the film’s intentions that, when the Post refused permission to film in their newsroom, the film’s designers measured everything to the last inch and constructed an exact replica in Burbank, complete with the identical brand of desks, repainted, and reconstructions of out-of-date telephone directories from the time period in question.

Neither Hoffman nor Redford, and definitely not the script, goes deep into Woodstein as people. Both actors play then ccorsing to the details they giveof themselves in the book, but the investigation is the thing. That is the story, that is the film, and nobody is going off-reservation to blur the essentials.

At Goldman’s decision, the film cuts out the entire, incomplete second half of the book. The film needs a structue and the structure needs an ending, not a tailing off. The story ends on the pair’s biggest mistake, a revelation that is actually true in fact but predicated on a mistake of attribution. It might seem a strange place to stop, but Goldman argued that the audience knew it wasn’t the end, just a set back, and it’s the nearest thing to a conclusion this side of Nixon’s resignation.

But what the film does end on is Woodstein and the Post’s decision to carry on. A shot of the pair, typing at separate desks, alone at night in the newsroom, merges into the same newsroom by day, full of people. It’s Nixon’s re-inauguration, playing live on the newsroom TVs, and everyone stops work and gathers to watch, except Woodstein, at their desks, the camera edging in so that we see Nixon swear on a bible in the left of the screen and thereporters type in the right.

Then that telex shot of guilty pleas and verdicts, of names we’ve heard throughout the film. Pakula and Goldman kept all the watergate conspirators off-screen, voices at the ends of telephones, a superb decision not to distract the audience with actors playing faces they know.

Is it true? The film is faithful to the book, which most people regard as being faithful to the facts, a position emphasised by that list of convictions. One scene isn’t, imported from an alternate script by Carl Bernstein and Nora Ephron, where Bernstein fakes his way into a secretary’shouse to worm answers out of her. Nor is the famous phrase, now  trope, ‘Follow the Money’.

But it feels true. As true as a film can ever be. It feels solid, grounded, rooted. It feels like what it must have been like, and without having lived that history as a fly on the wall, you can’t say more than that. These were the people, these were the times, these were the events. Watch them, learn from them, be thankful that a time existed when something like this could be done, because there won’t be anything of this quality or verisimilitude about the current President of the United States of America.

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e21: Mourning Becomes Matuka


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e20: A Distant Shout of Thunder


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e19: Boragora or Bust


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e18: Naka Jima Kill


Koji at it again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e17: Last Chance Louie


This week’s eye-candy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales of the Gold Monkey: e16 – Cooked Goose


Since she plays a big role this week…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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