John Fujioka, Leo the Dog
The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
V series that last for a single season have a tendency to quickly disappear off people’s pop culture radar and be forgotten, but you never know who’s been affected by them and who remembers them fondly. For instance, half of my favorite TV series from childhood only lasted for a single season – some of them didn’t even survive that long – but I’m still waiting for the day when “Automan,” “Manimal,” and “The Powers of Matthew Star” make it to DVD. Fortunately, Shout Factory, along with the folks at Fabulous Films, have made at least one of my dreams come true by releasing “Tales from the Gold Monkey: The Complete Series.”
In the wake of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” all of the television networks were scrambling to find a way to capitalize on its success with a small-screen approximation. All I remember about CBS’s “Bring ‘Em Back Alive” is that Bruce Boxleitner played a pith-hat-wearing adventurer named Frank Buck, but man did I love “Tales from the Gold Monkey.” To put it in proper perspective, I’m an obsessive Trekkie, but even though Stephen Collins played Commander Willard Decker in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” I still can’t look at the guy without seeing Jake Cutter in his aviator’s cap, and not even 11 seasons of playing Rev. Eric Camden on “7th Heaven” can change that.
Since only those who happened to be studying ABC primetime schedule between 1982 and 1983 probably even remember “Tales of the Gold Monkey,” a quick history lesson is probably in order. Jake Cutter, y’see, was a former Flying Tiger, and now he’s based on the island of Bora Gora and flies a plane called Cutter’s Goose around the South Seas, serving as a deliveryman if and when the price is right. He’s got a one-eyed Jack Russell terrier named – what else? – Jack, and it’s a running joke through the series that Jake keeps losing Jack’s eye (it’s made of opal) in various poker games. Also part of the proceedings is Corky (Jeff MacKay), who serves as the semi-official mechanic for Cutter’s Goose, although he’s generally pretty well lubricated as a result of his prolific intake of alcohol; he gets most of his beverages from the Monkey Bar, owned by Bon Chance Louie, played by Ron Moody in the pilot, then by Roddy McDowell for the run of the series.
In the two-hour pilot of “Tales of the Gold Monkey,” we’re introduced to nightclub singer Sarah Stickney White (Caitlin O’Heaney), a gorgeous gal who initially seems to be a typical showbiz type until it’s revealed that she’s a spy for the U.S. Government in her spare time. This is only fair, as the local man of the cloth, Rev. Willie Tenboom (John Calvin), is actually an undercover Nazi who, to make matters worse, is occasionally working with Koji (Marta DuBois), a Japanese princess who’s rarely up to any good. These two serve as the resident villains of the series, but during the too-short run of the series, Jake finds himself up against plenty of other no-goodniks as well.
When you first start watching “Gold Monkey,” you’re liable to be struck by how cheap some of the production values look, particularly the monkeys themselves, but the series quickly falls into a comfortable groove inspired by the classic adventure serials of the 1930s and 1940s. Collins plays Cutter’s aw-shucks characteristics well, and he’s got great romantic banter with O’Heaney, presenting a relationship that’s not terribly far removed from Brennan and Booth on Fox’s “Bones.” McDowell brings a touch of class to all of his scenes, often coming across a bit like Claude Rains in “Casablanca,” and MacKay, God rest his soul, plays the part of the confused schlub to perfection.
“Tales of the Gold Monkey” doesn’t necessarily seem as awesome as it did back in 1982, but it’s a relief to find that it still holds up as well as many of the old serials that inspired it, making it a perfect Saturday afternoon escape.
Special Features: Without a magnifying glass, you’ll likely struggle to figure out what kind bonus material is included on this set, thanks to the size and color of the font in the “Special Features” text box on the back of the case, so allow us to remedy that problem for you. First and foremost, there’s a brand new 36-minute documentary about the making of the series, with contributions from Stephen Collins, Caitlin O’Heaney, writer/producer Tom Greene, and director Harvey Laidman. (Creator Don Bellisario is suspiciously absent from the proceedings.) In addition, there are a quintet of audio commentaries, cast and character biographies, galleries of show stills, costumes and artifacts, and a nice, thick booklet which details the plots of all 20 episodes.