The 1982-83 ABC adventure series Tales Of The Gold Monkey owed its existence to the success of Raiders Of The Lost Ark the year before, though creator Donald Bellisario always said he had a different model in mind: the films of Howard Hawks, specifically Only Angels Have Wings and To Have And Have Not. Set on the fictional South Sea island of Boragora in 1938 and starring Stephen Collins as rakish cargo pilot Jake Cutter, Tales Of The Gold Monkey was less about wild jungle adventures than about hanging around in beachside bars with hard-bitten men and women of varying nationalities, each trying to do a job. Gold Monkey drew decent ratings and good reviews, but it only ran for one season, mainly due to network politics. ABC wanted more Raiders-style stunts and campy villains; Bellisario wanted to keep paying homage to the Hollywood action movies of the ’30s and ’40s.
Bellisario had the right idea. The 21 episodes on the Tales Of The Gold Monkey: The Complete Series DVD set are at their weakest when Jake Cutter and his one-eyed dog Jack are encountering exotic tribes, nefarious Nazis, and mysterious artifacts, like some knockoff Indiana Jones. The show hits its stride later in the season, once it focuses more on the characters: Caitlin O’Heaney as a can-do actress/singer/spy, Jeff MacKay as Jake’s drunken sidekick, Roddy McDowall as a French nightclub owner/magistrate, John Calvin as a halfhearted Nazi posing as a womanizing reverend, Marta DuBois as a ruthless princess who pines for Jake, and the string of guest stars whose business in Boragora crosses our heroes’ paths. Tales Of The Gold Monkey looks cheap (though it was one of ABC’s most expensive shows at the time), and it bears the distinct aroma of early-’80s TV cheese. But its location and cast were unlike anything else on the air in 1982. It’s like a classic newspaper adventure strip come to life.
Key features: An overly fawning half-hour retrospective documentary and commentaries on selected episodes.