Tales of the Gold Monkey

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It had the romance of the 1930s, the bigger-than-life hero with the leather jacket, and the elements of intrigue of that time period. It was a lot of fun. That plane [the Goose] was a magic carpet and it could take you anywhere.
—Donald A. Baer, director, on Tales of the Gold Monkey

Tropical islands, high-flying adventure, political intrigue, "talking" dogs and legends come alive! This is the world of Tales of the Gold Monkey, a one-season adventure series that aired on ABC in 1982. Set in the mythical South Pacific island of Bora Gora (in the equally mythical Marivellas archipelago) in The Thirties, it follows the adventures of Jake Cutter, pilot of a Grumman Goose flying boat named Cutter's Goose, his one-eyed canine sidekick Jack, and his various allies and associates as they battle the villainous schemes of Princess Koji and other ne'er-do-wells. Jake, a former Pan Am pilot and former member of the Flying Tigers American Volunteer Group, just wants to settle in to a quiet life as a legitimate pilot-for-hire. Needless to say, adventure tends to find him.

An early Belisarius Production, it shares many of the traits common with his works, such as action/adventure, Camp, Rule of Cool, and a former military protagonist (Jake Cutter, former Flying Tigers AVG pilot) who narrates his own life through an inner voice. It ran for but a single season (Sept. 1982-July 1983) for a total of 21 episodes, counting the 2 hour pilot, but built up a large cult following that kept circulating the tapes for decades before it finally made its way to DVD in 2009 (UK/Australia) and 2010 (US/Canada). While many assume the show was a Spiritual Successor of Indiana Jones, Bellisario originally pitched the idea in the late 1970s and always claimed the inspiration to be the 1939 film Only Angels Have Wings.

While short-lived, Tales of the Gold Monkey was critically acclaimed (winning several Emmys) and had a notable influence on future shows, including the animated Spiritual Successor Disney's Tale Spin.

The cast included:

  • Stephen Collins as Jake Cutter, our Ace Pilot and main protagonist, pilot of Cutter's Goose
  • Jeff MacKay as Corky, Jake's alcoholic mechanic and occasional co-pilot
  • Caitlin O'Heaney as Sarah Stickney White, an American spy undercover as a bar singer and Jake's quasi-Love Interest
  • Roddy McDowall (Ron Moody in the Pilot) as Bon Chance Louie, French magistrate and owner of the Monkey Bar
  • John Calvin as Rev. Willie Tenboom, a Dutch priest and German spy with more devotion to his libido than to the Reich
  • Marta DuBois as Princess Koji, half-Japanese Dragon Lady and main antagonist
  • John Fujioka as Todo, Koji's samurai henchman
  • Les Jankey as Gushie, Louie's wheelchair-bound partner and The Bartender
  • "Leo" as Jack, Jake's impossibly intelligent one-eyed bull terrier
Tropes used in Tales of the Gold Monkey include:
  • Ace Pilot: Jake, of the Plugger variety (rather necessary in an unarmed flying boat). He was also a literal Ace, having scored five confirmed kills against the Japanese while with the Flying Tigers.
  • The Alcoholic: Corky
  • All Myths Are True
  • Anachronism Stew: mostly averted (save for the hairstyles and other giveaways of its 1982 origins) but has a few notable anachronisms:
    • Though set in 1938, it features Japanese Zeros (not developed until 1939 and not operational until 1940)
    • Jake is a former member of the American Volunteer Group (Flying Tigers), which didn't exist until 1941.
    • Samurai in full O'Yoroi armor (possibly justified as ceremonial)
  • Animal Athlete Loophole: Jake is told he can't fly without a co-pilot, and attempts to claim that Jack is his co-pilot, using Ain't No Rule. While there isn't a rule saying a dog can't be a co-pilot, there is a rule saying that your co-pilot has to have two working eyes, regardless of species.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: Todo's Samurai armor
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Jake and Corky go into this routine during a brawl in a Philippine bar.
  • Badass Preacher: The one time Reverend Tenboom involves himself in a brawl, he shows himself to be very good at it.
  • Bar Brawl: a staple of the show, naturally, along with a Running Gag of Louie doing up the bill for damages as the fight takes place.
  • The Bartender: Gushie and to a lesser degree Louie
  • Big Bad: Princess Koji
  • Big Damn Heroes
  • Bottle Episode: Force of Habit. Half the episode takes place in the Goose's cockpit, and it was written to be an episode that could be filmed in half the time of the normal episodes, because they were behind schedule.
  • Camp: volcanoes, Bigfoot, native rituals, samurai, and a "talking" dog
  • Chased by Angry Natives: African ones...in the South Pacific!
  • Chivalrous Pervert: Rev. Willy Tenboom will sleep with any and all of the attractive female population on the island, but when one of those girls is coerced into prostitution, he responds by tearing down the pimp's tent and brawling with his enforcers.
  • Cool Plane: Subverted by Cutter's Goose, a vintage Grumman Goose flying boat. She's temperamental, requires regular maintenance, and certainly isn't sleek and futuristic, even for the time portrayed in the show. But she'll surprise you. Note: while totally a cool plane in the subjective sense, the Trope itself doesn't really apply to the Goose. See the main entry.
  • Creator Cameo: Donald P. Bellisario appears, along with his son, as a man and child being evacuated from Boragora when its volcano is erupting in the episode A Distant Shout of Thunder.
  • Crew of One: Averted; Jake relies on Corky and others for repairs, co-piloting, emergency damage control, etc.
  • Did Not Do the Research: The Grumman Goose was introduced in 1938... as a brand new model. Even the first prototype flew less than a year before the setting of the show. However, this may not be an issue as the Goose wasn't necessarily presented as old, but as a salvage they had to repair.
    • In addition, Jake could not have been a veteran of the Flying Tigers, given that they first saw combat in 1941.
  • The Dragon: Todo
  • Dragon Lady: Princess Koji
  • Dream Sequence
  • Donald P. Bellisario
  • Double Meaning Title and Pun-Based Title: Evoked in some episodes, ex: "Force of Habit", "Last Chance Louie", and "Cooked Goose"
    • The original name for the series, "Tales of the Brass Monkey" applies as well...
  • Edited for Syndication: In the late 80s two episodes were edited together to form a "movie" retitled "Curse of the Gold Monkey"
  • Everything's Better with Samurai: Todo
  • Everything's Better with Princesses: Koji
  • Executive Meddling: the studio kept trying to make the series Lighter and Softer and more kid-oriented, not to mention ease up on the intrigue and plot turns.

Donald Baer (director): The network didn't like the lush look of the series. They wanted it to be light and sunny, like a kid's show. They saw it as bright. The villains had to be clear cut and the very idea that characters might speak with foreign accents really bothered them. It was unbelievable. Everything had to be articulated and clear and the intrigue was not what they were looking for, so the show was considered controversial. Right after the pilot, we had a meeting with network staff in Bellisaro's office, and Don was reciting some of the developing story lines. We were all nodding our heads...it was great stuff. But the network staff just sat there and said, "No, that's wrong. Don't do that."
Tom Greene (writer): The studio kept pushing for mud people and monkey people and other elements that would play up the similarities [to 'Raiders of the Lost Ark].

Jeff MacKay: Between the time we finished shooting the season and were waiting to hear about renewal, I had contacts at the other networks, and they all told me that CBS and NBC were programming against our show. The other networks were assuming Gold Monkey would be a successful part of the ABC line-up for the next five years or so. But ABC didn't have the same confidence in us that our competition did. The word asshole leaps to mind.

  • Shoot the Dog: "narrowly averted" literal example in "Escape from Death Island". Admittedly more of a Kick the Dog case, but yeah...
  • Sinister Minister: Reverend Tenboom, sinner, womanizer, and German spy!
  • Spiritual Successor: Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and other depression-era adventure and noir films (despite assumptions to the contrary, it was not a Spiritual Successor of Raiders of the Lost Ark, having been originally pitched and rejected in 1979...though the idea was finally accepted following the success of Raiders.
    • Influenced its own Spiritual Successor in Disney's Tale Spin.
  • Stock Footage:
    • No they didn't destroy their expensive main set in the dramatic conclusion of "The Distant Sound of Thunder", that was footage from the 1961 Spencer Tracy/Frank Sinatra film The Devil at 4 O'Clock, whose bar plans were copied when building the Monkey Bar!
    • Some very conspicuous stock footage shows up whenever they showed the Pan Am clipper in flight -- suddenly the show's in black and white.
  • Stupid Jetpack Hitler: in "Black Pearl" Those Wacky Nazis make an atomic bomb, in 1938!
  • Thememobile: Cutter's Goose
  • The Thirties: 1938, to be specific.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: "monocle guy" Fritz in the pilot and the scientists building an atomic bomb in "Black Pearl."
    • While Reverend Tenboom is German, he is not a Nazi.
  • Two-Fisted Tales and/or Dieselpunk
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Jake and Sarah, Jake and Koji...well, Jake and about any unrelated female
  • What a Piece of Junk!: Cutter's Goose