The year after Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, a couple of television series tried to cash in on the action period piece serial vibe, there was Bring Em Back Alive with Bruce Boxleitner, and then there was Donald Bellisario who has gave me two of my favorite television shows Quantum Leap and Magnum P.I. and he created a little show that sadly lasted only one season… Tales of the Gold Monkey.
Filmed in the studio and on location in Hawaii, the series is set in the South Pacific in 1938, and follows the adventures of roguish pilot, Jake Cutter (Stephen Collins) his one-eyed dog Jack (who can hold a grudge like you wouldn’t believe). Using the small fictional island of Boragora as their launching point, and with a fun cast of supporting characters operating out of The Monkey Bar, Jake finds adventure, romance, mystery and excitement as an America ex-pat flying his worn but well-loved Grumman Goose.
He puts himself out for hire, flying cargo, people and in the double episode that composed the pilot movie, he and an American agent posing as a singer, Sarah Stickney White (Caitlin O’Heaney) get embroiled in a Nazi plot to recover a 100 foot tall gold monkey statue with mystical powers.
Aiding the Nazis in their quest is a Gestapo officer, only known as The Monocle (played by Higgins himself, John Hillerman) a Nazi masquerading as a preacher, Reverend Willie Tenboom (John Calvin) and Princess Koji (Marta DuBois) and her army of samurai.
On Jake’s side is his forgetful, but loyal mechanic Corky (Jeff MacKay – who had a recurring role as Mac on Magnum), and the proprietor of the Monkey Bar, Bon Chance Louie (played by Ron Moody in the pilot, but then replaced by the awesome Roddy McDowall for the remainder of the series).
The race is on to recover the statue which, as legend has it, is on a volcanic island, guarded by man-sized monkeys (the effects of which are fun, very man in a suit, and yet there’s something kinda creepy about them).
Along the way Jake loses Jack’s eye (again), gets stuck between a runaway wife and her angry husband, Corky’s bar bill, and the looming threat of war.
It’s wonderful, escapist fun, and it brought back so many memories of my childhood…
I remembered loving this show as a kid, and even before I picked up the complete series on DVD, wonderfully released by SHOUT! Factory, I was whistling the theme music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter – it’s amazing the things that stay with you.
The series is fun, full of humor, cliffhangers, romance, and a poor dog who keeps losing his glass eye, and often seems smarter than his owner, and inherently knows who the bad guy is, even if Jake doesn’t.
Also, very characteristic of Bellisario shows… Jake has a fun little inner monologue much like Sam’s from leap and Thomas’ from Magnum. It’s very fun, and embraces its heritage, but there’s always the hint of something a little more serious under all the characters and the stories.
I’ve always loved the Grumman goose as a plane, and I think this is probably where that love came from, I remember sitting at the desk I had in my bedroom, pretending to reach over my head to throttle up the engines as I looked out the windows of my bedroom at the blue sky beyond, humming a mix of the Gold Monkey theme and the Raiders theme, or running around through the forest, and clambering over rocks, imagining I was an adventurer in the vein of Indiana Jones and Jake Cutter – they both had cool hats, leather jackets, seemed to be living in an amazing time when there was adventure everywhere and amazing mysteries and treasures.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who loved it, as it has often been cited by the creators of Disney’s Talespin as the show’s inspiration.
It’s sad that the show only lasted the one season, and I think something like this could be reworked a little (still keeping the time period and the general story idea) and find a lot of success today.
Did you ever see it? I am gonna have a great time rewatching these adventures!