Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.10 – The Late Sarah White

Yes, Princess Koji is so much more interesting than Sarah, who spends this episode presumed dead at the hands of one of the stupidest villains I can think of this evening. This annoys me because the story is otherwise remarkably intelligent and literate. It’s set amid the backdrop of extreme anti-American sentiment in the Philippines, while General MacArthur tries to negotiate a treaty with an important guerrilla force in the jungle. It even concocts a perfectly rational reason to bring Sarah, who is an undercover radio operator with very, very little field training or experience, into the action in the first place.

I also like how much money they spent on this. It has piles of extras, lots of speaking parts, backlots we’ve never seen before, and a lot of time on location. If the baddie wasn’t so dumb as to try to fake Sarah’s death by notifying her friends and family in the first place, I wouldn’t have a problem with it at all.

The funny running subplot this time: Jack has, according to his humans, developed an allergy to something and spends the episode making little doggie sneezes. Jake and Corky try to diagnose what’s triggered his allergies only to have him constantly bark no to everything they suggest. Jack is our son’s favorite part of every episode anyway. The doggie sneezes had him chuckling loudly in sympathy. Also, not content with knowing Japanese last week, he understands Spanish this time.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.9 – The Lady and the Tiger

One of Monkey‘s running “gags” is that Corky’s alcoholism has destroyed his memory. This time, he’s desperately trying to remember what Jake’s flight plan was, because Jake never files one, and so when he goes down with only a half-heard mayday call, Corky can’t figure out where he could be.

As it turns out, Jake has fallen into a remarkably silly situation. He’s crash-landed on a small island in the Japanese mandate where the emperor, inexplicably, has allowed a small colony of Amish Americans, including one played by Anne Lockhart, to live. The small military garrison on the island, whose sergeant is, inexplicably, obsessed with the Western actor Buck Jones, wants the Amish out. Rather than disobey their emperor’s edict, the sergeant has, inexplicably, just let a tiger loose on the island in the hopes it will eat everybody. It’s a better hour than you’d think with a premise like that. Lockhart and the other main guest star, Richard Morita, are both really entertaining in their roles, and Marta Dubois, who’s been credited in each episode but absent since the second one, returns for a small scene.

Also, the subtitles tell us that Jack barks in hiragana. What a great dog.

Our son was confused by the Amish characters, so I reminded him that we’d seen an episode of MacGyver where Mac crashes into a small community of Amish Americans. He didn’t remember it. After the episode, he asked where we were having lunch, despite us telling him about four times since last night that we were going to our usual Saturday spot, Zarzour’s. Sighing, I said, “Honestly, kid, your memory’s as bad as Corky’s!” And I don’t think our kid can blame the beer…

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.8 – Honor Thy Brother

I’ve often said that while I really, genuinely and sincerely do not like dogs, I can put up with three: Uga, Snoopy, and K9. I’m going to have to add Jack from Tales of the Gold Monkey. He steals this show every week and of course our son just adores him. There’s a running gag that Jake is looking out for his dog’s missing eye. It’s made from opal and sapphire and in the pilot film, Jake lost it – not, apparently, for the first time – in a poker game. This time, they come achingly close to getting it back for good, but of course all hearts are broken in the end.

The rest of the episode is pretty aggravating. Soon-Tek Oh guest stars as a zero pilot with a score to settle with Jake, but the machinations that he employs to force Jake into a trial by combat involve getting Corky married to — and I’ll be blunt, because this is where the episode goes for “humor” — a fat chick. I mean, that’s the level of the comedy: she’s fat and eats a lot and immediately starts crying when Corky says he doesn’t want to be married to her, so they shove more food at her. Bringing her back to her father brings our heroes right into the fighter pilot’s trap.

We paused the show literally in the middle of a fat joke to point out to our son that this precise scenario could have played out with any actress and no stupid jokes about eating everything simply because Corky doesn’t want to get married to anybody. There was a lot of this going around in the media of 1982. I’d like to hope that we’re a little better now.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.7 – Once a Tiger…

Our son pointed out the most remarkable thing about this episode, because he wanted an explanation and one wasn’t forthcoming: there’s a giant, tentacled lake monster in this episode. It lives in a swamp on a remote Pacific island, and we only catch glimpses of its tentacles. It’s onscreen for maybe a combined twenty seconds and it takes two victims. It’s not treated as a mystery to solve, it’s just another blasted thing on this island that can kill you.

The other really interesting thing about this one is that it involves a cargo cult. They painted these islanders in really, really broad strokes to simplify it for teevee, but what I’ve read on the subject is incredibly interesting and is far too complex to be explored with nuance in an action-adventure show. Did you know that there’s a small village in Vanuatu where the locals worship Prince Philip – of all people – as a deity?

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.6 – Trunk from the Past

Waitaminnit, I thought Stargate was last night?

Anyway, that wasn’t bad! Regrettably, I find myself not enjoying Caitlin O’Heaney’s performance very much, but that was the only sour note in this story of ghosts and gods and ancient cults. Two episodes ago, we established that an African tribe moved to a south Pacific island several decades previously. This time, we learn that a bunch of Anubis-worshipers from Egypt made their way here about 4000 years ago, pyramid, tomb, the works. It’s a little unlikely, but so’s the standard trope of every supernatural thing getting a rational explanation, except one. You always have to leave one.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.5 – Escape from Death Island

Our son observed that Corky has “an interesting character trait. He only remembers things when he has a fever!” He’s right; that is a cute quirk.

Afraid this was the second hour of TV that we watched today that I didn’t enjoy very much. There’s a MacGyver about a hell-prison run by corrupt officials that we suffered through a couple of years ago and I immediately rolled my eyes when I realized this was going to the same place. The MacGyver episode has a solitary-confinement-death-trap called the Box. This one has the same roasting-in-the-hot-sun deal called the Oven. I don’t know much of anything about the genre of hell-prison movies – not even that one with Sid Haig and Pam Grier that I’m sure to enjoy when nobody’s watching – but I’m betting most of them have Boxes or Ovens.

There was a familiar name in the guest credits. “Hey, Mickey Morton,” I said. “Who’s he?” our son asked. “He’ll be the the big guy,” I said. And indeed he was. That brought to mind another, much, much better episode of MacGyver, “The Secret of Parker House,” when I spotted Ray Young in the credits and waited for the big guy.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.4 – Legends are Forever

“Legends are Forever” is pretty much exactly what I thought this show would be like when firing on all cylinders. I know it can’t be as silly and fun as this every week, but, with the caveat that the television of forty years ago was a little more willing to embrace stereotypes, this was really watchable and entertaining.

This time, an old pal of Jake’s shows up in Boragora with a very unlikely story: there’s an African tribe that resettled on a nearby island several decades ago. One of their representatives has been looking for help shipping medical supplies and quinine to combat an outbreak of malaria. This seems so very unlikely that Bon Chance Louie decides to join the expedition. What they find is really neat: the narrative of one of those H. Rider Haggard books about King Solomon’s Mines is true, and a tribe did move from Africa to live in a Pacific Island volcano among the clouds, accessible only by a long bridge. However, this tribe has been in a very long war of attrition with a local tribe called the Bogas, who resent the Africans moving into their islands. Since the malaria has several of the tribe’s warriors too sick to fight, the Bogas are starting to get the upper hand, and just getting the supplies up the mountain looks impossible.

Perhaps it’s just my 21st Century eyes, but I really didn’t like the Bogas being portrayed as violent ooga-booga types armed with an infinite supply of poisoned darts. It seemed too much like they were mindlessly violent just so our “modern” heroes are justified in gunning them down. So that feels like it’s aged really, really badly, even if some of the few remaining uncontacted tribes on our planet are also known in reality to be really aggressive toward interlopers. We talked a little with our son about this.

One downside about taking inspiration from larger-than-life heroes and treasure hunters like Allan Quartermain – as both Raiders of the Lost Ark and this series did – is that those heroes came from a world of colonialism and patronizing attitudes toward “lost world” natives. You can’t really get the search for lost gold without the attitude within the narrative that it’s the white educated man’s mission to find it. It entertained, but it also aggravated. Getting older’s like that sometimes.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.3 – Black Pearl

Well, that was something like sixty million times better than the previous episode, which was so lousy I’ve honestly spent the last two days questioning whether I wanted to keep watching this program. Happily, this was exactly the level of lighthearted derring-do that I was expecting, full of Nazi schemes and double agents and a big superweapon being tested on Boragora’s doorstep. And in two big pluses over the previous episode, Sarah wasn’t written as a stereotypical jealous control freak, and the bad guys aren’t so unpleasant they made my skin crawl. They’re played for laughs; one ostensibly undercover SS officer can’t stop goose-stepping even in civilian clothes. If they keep it at this level every time, the episodes may not be art, but they’ll provide an amusing distraction with some fun actors, including Barrie Ingham as one of the Nazis.

According to IMDB, this appears to be Barrie Ingham’s first American acting job. He’d been in small roles in all sorts of British shows that I enjoy throughout the sixties and seventies before coming to the United States and spending the eighties playing the valets and villains whenever Christopher Neame or Ian Ogilvy weren’t available. A few years after this, he played John Barrymore in a CBS TV-movie about the life of Errol Flynn which sounds like huge fun.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.2 – Shanghaied

So with the first hour-long episode of Tales, Roddy McDowall takes over the role of Bon Chance Louie. I like McDowall a lot, as I’m sure everyone does, but I do kind of wish Ron Moody had been able to continue in the part. There’s a fun scene pictured here where Louie insists that Jake fly with a co-pilot and Jack does not qualify. That’s not because he’s a dog, but because he only has one eye. And that’s the only fun thing about this hour, honestly.

I’ll give the script credit: it doesn’t back down from or make light of Corky’s alcoholism, and the villains are slavers and it’s played really seriously as well. But I think at its core, this show wants to be a light adventure series and this episode is directed and edited as heavily as lead. I think it’s early and the show’s finding its feet, but even the music works against this adventure. It’s just ponderous. The kid enjoyed a “distraction” where Jake draws fire from the slavers’ big machine gun, but I didn’t enjoy much of anything here.

We’re watching these episodes in transmission order, as they appear on Fabulous Films’ collection. Either these were shown out of production order or they just never filmed a story where Sarah meets Princess Koji and her bad guy cohorts, because she knows who they are here. I have a feeling that the dynamic between these two characters is going to annoy me, because the villain is far, far more interesting than the female lead, who isn’t written very well at all so far.

Tales of the Gold Monkey 1.1 (pilot)

When I was ten or eleven years old, in the wake of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a lot of my outdoor play started revolving around forgotten idols and the relics of ancient civilizations. Most particularly, there were some woods behind my house where we had an ongoing science fiction-themed “war” storyline, as opposed to the more – ahem – “realistic war” storyline that we played out in the “Big Woods” down at the end of the neighborhood. After Raiders, when we went behind our house, we were always finding the ancient weapons of some forgotten planet for use against the newest menace, and there were tunnels and traps and giant pits and climbing along ropes and barely winning fights, just like Indiana Jones.

It was for kids like me that ABC commissioned Tales of the Gold Monkey from Donald P. Bellisario at Universal, but what seems amazing in retrospect is that I never once watched this show and was only loosely aware that it existed. It aired Wednesday nights at 8, opposite the hit Real People on NBC, and not many other people watched it either. It apparently finished the season ranked # 69 of 99 shows. Another Raiders copycat called Bring ’em Back Alive was on CBS on Tuesdays in an even worse slot, crushed by The A-Team on one channel and Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on the other. (See ratings info here.)

Monkey, which is set in 1938, starred Stephen Collins as Jake Cutter, a pilot based out of Bora Gora in the South Seas. His pals include a resentful and really intelligent dog named Jack, an absent-minded mechanic called Corky played by Jeff MacKay, and Sarah Stickney White, a spy for Uncle Sam played by Caitlin O’Heaney. Their adventures seem to start from a bar run by Bon Chance Louie. In the pilot film, Louie is played by Ron Moody. When ABC ordered this to series, Roddy McDowell took over the part.

Interestingly, I had wondered why Ron Moody had not returned to play the wizard Rothgo in the third series of Into the Labyrinth for HTV, and the reason was simply that he was working in the United States at the time that they would have made that show. He was doing guest shots on things like this and Strike Force and Hart to Hart.

Anyway, so the first episode really underlines just how much of a Raiders copycat this is. It’s a search for a legendary gold monkey that’s said to be about the size of a house and made of some amalgamation of gold and metal that can withstand molten lava, and which Hitler wants for the German war machine. They even mention that he’s after the Ark of the Covenant, which is cute. John Hillerman, taking a break from his regular part in Bellisario’s Magnum PI, is the main Nazi villain, but there are a trio of other baddies on the fringes of the story who show up semi-regularly from here. They’re led by Marta DuBois as Princess Koji, a character who has some history with Jake, although strangely they do not share any screen time in this story and Jake has no idea by the end of the adventure that she was involved at all.

I think that ten or eleven year old me might have enjoyed this. I’m sure I would have wanted to tune in if ABC had run some ads on Saturday mornings, you know, when kids were watching their network. As an adult, yeah, it’s pretty tame. The most impressive thing about it is actually a mammoth jungle waterfall set for the actors to have their big brawl, and for some stuntmen in monkey costumes that sport hideous razor-sharp teeth to swing around, but at no point does it ever look like anything other than a mammoth set in Universal Studios. Weirdly, they obviously spent a heck of a lot of money on this, what with all the location filming in Hawaii, and then they went and had Stephen Collins react to forty year-old black and white stock footage of a plane taking off.

And as for our favorite eight year-old critic, he wasn’t blown away, but there was a lot here for him to enjoy and he said that he liked it. There are fights and airplanes and an erupting volcano, after all. But his favorite character was, unsurprisingly, the dog. I think Jack’s going to steal every episode from his human co-stars.