In 1981, Steven Spielberg gave us Raiders of the Lost Ark. In 1982, ABC Television gave us Tales of the Gold Monkey. I was a huge fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark and I was only nine years old when Tales of the Gold Monkey started airing. Back in 1982, if you saw something at the movies or something on television there wasn’t the option of going to a video store and renting it or buying it. You pretty much had to wait until it aired again as a rerun or until it got to syndication.
So it’s been 30 years since I’ve seen Tales of the Gold Monkey and it’s been out on DVD for a while now. I thought about buying it when it first came out but it was very expensive. I put it on my Netflix queue and it’s been sitting there for a few years. Recently Amazon.com has lowered the price of the series so I decided to queue it up at Netflix and give it a shot.
With most old shows that you watched when you were a kid, you tend to think they’re very good shows until you see them again as an adult. So I just finished watching the two-part pilot episode, and I’m ready to see more.
For those of you not familiar with the show, it takes place in the South Pacific in 1938. It features Stephan Collins as Jake Cutter, a freelance pilot living on Boragora with his dog Jack and his mechanic Corky. In the first episode Jake meets Sarah Stickney White who appears to be a damsel in distress but turns out to be an American spy. Because it’s set in the South Pacific and bears a very close resemblance to Raiders of the Lost Ark, they don’t shy away from (at least it looks like) homages to the first Indiana Jones movie and to Casablanca.
GOOD: Jake Cutter and his dog, Jack, have a very interesting relationship. Even 30 years later I remembered that one bark meant “no” and two barks meant yes. Stephen Collins is a convincing action star and I’m not sure why he didn’t get a lot of opportunities to show that on the big screen. It reminds me of Nathan Fillion who was extremely powerful as the captain in Firefly but is now relegated to a show where he’s not an action hero. It would be great to see either one of them in roles where they got to punch people in the face on a regular basis. Also I’d forgotten how good Corky was. As Jake’s mechanic, they both served together in the military and Corky had saved Jake’s life. But clearly Corky isn’t good at remembering things or controlling his drinking so while Corky fixes the plane Jake takes care of him.
There’s a fantastic appearance from Jonathan Hillerman who plays Fritz. He and the show’s main German spy, who is posing as the minister in town, disagree about who is in charge and Fritz stands in front of a painting of Adolf Hitler and takes off his hat. While they never directly say he is Hitler, the resemblance is uncanny.
In one of the discussions about the legend of the Gold Monkey, they mention a number of the things that Hitler is looking for including the Lost Ark of the Covenant which was a nice Raiders of the Lost Ark reference.
BAD: This is an 80’s show the way I remember them: crappy special-effects and despite the gunfire no one ever gets hit. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just something I wanted to point out. Sarah Stickney White comes off as the damsel in distress until it’s revealed that she’s an American spy and then she still comes off as the damsel in distress. I’ve read a couple of articles about how Buffy the Vampire Slayer ushered in the era of strong female characters. And I quietly disagreed though I had no proof and thought about old shows like Battlestar Galactica and Tales of the Gold Monkey. In the first episode she gets tied to a tree and when something threatens her she screams for help. I know it was 1982, but even Amy Allen in the A-Team never screamed at any sign of danger. I don’t know she was weak character because it was 1982 or because it was set in 1938.
Also the villains might have scared me as a kid, but as an adult they’re pretty silly. Especially the German soldier who hires Princess Kogi to help him find the Gold Monkey and spends the episode looking terrified of things.