This 1982 adventure series was green lit by ABC to capitalize on the success of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Donald Bellisario, the uber producer who also created a little show named Magnum P.I., then Quantum Leap, Jag, and something called NCIS, was the force behind this show that mixed a little of Indiana Jones adventure and mysticism with a little bit of Casablanca thrown in for fun. Interestingly enough, Bellisario had shopped the show around to networks years before the classic Lucas/Spielberg film. But once Harrison Ford became an idol to millions of little kids, ABC quickly sought out Bellisario to shoot a pilot for Tales of the Gold Monkey.
Set in 1938 on a backwater island called Boragora, Tales of the Gold Monkey follows the exploits of Jake Cutter (Stephen Collins), an expatriate American who pilots an aging plane, the Grumman Goose. Always in need of money, Jake flies any cargo that comes his way, be it fine wine or weapons. He also shuttles around a variety of people- tourists, Nazi’s, French Magistrates. When you’re located on a remote island in the South Pacific, you can’t be choosy.
When he isn’t flying his plane or getting into adventures fighting guerillas, Japanese soldiers, thwarting assassination plots, or fighting gorillas, Jake hangs out at the Monkey Bar, a central gathering place for all of the sailors and soldiers who occupy the island. The bar is run by a mysterious Frenchman, Bon Chance Louie. He’s indiscriminate to the people he lets in his bar, as long as they’re spending money. Louie is played by Roddy McDowall, who makes the most of the role and his French accent. Jake’s best bud is Corky (Jeff MacKay) a hard drinking mechanic who seems to be the only one who can keep Jake’s plane together. The love interest on Tales of the Gold Monkey is Sarah Stickney White (Caitlin O’Heaney), who appears stranded on the island, but is soon revealed to be a secret American agent, keeping an eye on the many activities happening on Boragora.
Jake also has a one eyed dog named Jack. Jake lost Jack’s eye in a poker game when he misunderstood the spunky canine’s barks. He thought one bark meant ”yes,” and he gambled away the poor mutt’s glass eye.
Tales of the Gold Monkey is innocent fun and you have to approach it with the mindset that this show was never meant to be taken seriously. The acting is a little heightened, reminiscent of the movie serials the show was emulating. The writing and jokes are kind of hokey, and the action is never too intense. For anyone unfamiliar with Stephen Collins besides his time spent on 7th Heaven, you’ll be pleased to know that the guy could be a solid action hero. He’s goofy, charming and comes across as a suitable hero. MacKay plays second fiddle to Collins quite nicely, and there seems to be some sparkle between Collins and O’Heaney throughout the 21 episodes that made up the entire series.
Fans of the original show will be overjoyed that this cult hit is finally available to purchase. Unfortunately, no major restoration seems to have been done to these filmed episodes. Furthermore, the bonus features are kind of sparse. In particularly, the documentary about the making of the show seems throw together last minute, compiling random interviews with Collins and O’Heaney, as well as one of the directors and one of the writers. Noticeably missing is anything from Bellisario. Too bad. It would have been nice to hear what such a successful producer felt about a show with so much potential that didn’t become a big hit.