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TheRaider.net Research Indy's Influences Legacy Tales of the Gold Monkey
 
Tales of the Gold Monkey
 

Released by Universal TV - 1982

Created by: Donald P. Bellisario
Written by: Dennis Capps, Tom Greene,
Allison Hock, Milt Rosen, Michael Scheff
Produced by: Donald P. Bellisario & Tom Greene

Starring:
Stephen Collins .... Jake Cutter
Jeff MacKay .... Corky
Caitlin O'Heaney .... Sarah Stickney White
Roddy McDowall .... Bon Chance Louis
John Calvin .... Reverend Willie Tenboom
Marta DuBois .... Princess Koji
Leo The Dog .... Jack

 

If not for the internet I would probably think back twenty-some years and wonder if it was just a dream…
Hollywood in the 1980’s, led by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, rediscovered the fun of movies from the 1930’s. I was young and wide-eyed at the time and at the movies every weekend eating up these films with an appetite impossible to satiate. And then all of a sudden there it was on my TV screen. An unshaven hero in worn leather jacket. At his side was a dog with an eye-patch. The dog’s name was Jack and the hero’s name was Jake. Jake Cutter. Jake flew flying tigers defending the Chinese from their neighbors but as this story began, he was flying a seaplane called Cutter’s Goose. Jake was a noble adventurer, pilot for hire and friend to the decent wherever danger lurked.


Jack & Jake Cutter.

I also remember a singer named Sarah White, dispatched to the South Seas as a spy for the American government. The 1930’s were ending with the world at war and the South Pacific was a volatile region. Sidekick to Jake was a comical airplane mechanic who had the suitable name of Corky and there was a French Magistrate with the name of Bon Chance Louie; he was given the name Bon Chance because he had earlier survived a beheading by guillotine. There was a German priest, strangely attentive to the beautiful female islanders, and a manipulative Eurasian Princess who openly lusted after Jake. This colorful cast of characters as well as other inhabitants of Boragora would spend their time at a cozy place of wicker peacock chairs and ceiling fans called the Monkey Bar.

Tales of the Gold Monkey was a brilliantly conceived television series and tribute to many of Hollywood’s best works from its golden years. Sadly, the series was short-lived but thanks to the dedication of fans, a couple clicks on Google and it all comes back. It was not a dream, I am certain. But in the context of modern sensibilities and tastes, and as so much time has gone by, it now seems a very rare bird, its breed extinct from studio backlots and writer’s conference rooms forever.


TV-series opening title.

Reportedly, Donald P. Bellisario approached networks with his Tales of the Gold Monkey concept in the very late 1970’s. He had a hit series called Magnum P.I. starring Tom Selleck but still the networks rejected his Gold Monkey project, believing there would be no public interest, and then Raiders of the Lost Ark changed their minds. To many, Gold Monkey seemed a shrewd rip-off of Indiana Jones. However, Raiders did not inspire Gold Monkey. The films and literary works that inspired Lucas and Spielberg are the same films and literary works that inspired Bellisario.

Pulp authors, serial stars and classic adventure films of the 30’ and 40’s, combined with an open cash box for anything Indiana Jones-ish, gave Tales of the Gold Monkey its foundation and chance in the competitive world of prime time television. The year was 1982 and it lasted one season only. And yet, evidence of the concept’s strength could be found in the way it threaded references throughout to such classics as Tarzan, Lost Horizon, King Solomon’s Mines, Casablanca and Only Angels Have Wings. All the while tributes were called out to these giants of adventure, Gold Monkey never lost a lasting identity of its own. References to the show today call it a cult classic and in 1997 there was a fifteenth year anniversary celebration, which reunited cast members and allowed fans to reminisce.


Jake, Corky & Sarah.

Hopes are slim for Hollywood to once again return to the product of its
much-celebrated past. Executives are forward-minded folks desperate to cater to a hip and hyper-critical crowd. One recent example of old fashioned fare, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, seemed so self-conscious of it’s geekiness that attempts at humor had to be hammered over anything resembling a heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping or poignant moment, effectively killing off any possibility to register on an emotional level with audiences. It seemed the filmmakers were geeky enough to like the look of old fashioned adventure films but not geeky enough to like the sentiments expressed.

Public tastes and the industry’s fervent desire to follow them are not all that have changed. The demand for sensitivity when writing and casting bad guys has dramatically altered the look of Hollywood product over the years. It is unfortunate Hollywood has decided that the majority of the population can not distinguish between national and moral identity because fear of offending a few – and offense has rarely been meant – has trumped the limitless boundaries of storytelling for the masses. Tales of the Gold Monkey could not possibly exist in today’s television world of homogenized cultures. Casablanca, possibly the greatest movie ever made, would face harsh criticism if released today for its stereotypes. Painfully aware of that, Hollywood simply would not produce it.


All leads together.

The best of adventure films and literary works serve to remind us of the extraordinary wonders present and potential in all our lives. One episode of Gold Monkey involved an old friend of Jake who spent his life pursuing myths he believed were real. He became convinced that he knew the path to King Solomon’s Mines and Jake was skeptical but moved by the possibility of ancient discovery. Toward the end, Jake’s friend lay poisoned and Jake embellished their unremarkable journey in his final words to his dying friend, convincing him they had in fact found the mines and extraordinary treasure. The courageous and noble Cutter, with a cheroot clamped tightly between his teeth, clearly identified with his friend’s allure to mysterious and enchanting lands. He identified with the promise of romance, the promise of fortune and glory, the promise of good’s great triumph over evil and the promise of unending adventures. Jake didn’t find the treasure but then at the very end there was an indication to the audience that Jake may have found it without realizing it. Hardly the contrived ending typical of Hollywood product of this sort; here it served to remind viewers again that anything is possible.

Tales of the Gold Monkey did more than pay homage to Hollywood’s classic adventures. In drawing inspiration from the sentiments expressed in those stories it replicated the values of those times. 1930’s America needed heroes with amazing courage to face the world’s darkest days. Popular pulp hero, Doc Savage, swashbuckled through story after story of high adventure with exotic enemies, faithful sidekicks and unusual locales. Jake Cutter, like Doc Savage and Rick Blaine and Indiana Jones and so many others, was a hero advocating self-sacrifice and bonding with other cultures to achieve a greater good. Perhaps these values are the secret strength to Gold Monkey’s lasting legacy. (Stephen Jared)

 

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