Monday, June 28, 2010

Episode 3: Black Pearl

This episode begins with Jake once again flying in bad weather. This time his passenger is an American scientist, Johnny Kimble, who Sarah believes is defecting to the Nazis. En route to Boragora they spot an outrigger full of dead or dying natives. They stop to help, and Jake swims through shark-infested water to save the lone survivor who is clutching a metal canister (containing glowing radioactive S-90). The native later dies (of radiation burns) and Kimble steals the canister from Corky. Sarah is determined to stop Kimble from meeting the Germans, so she gets him drunk and lures him to her room. There she slips him a mickey and takes the canister. Jake come to the door, inadvertently allowing Reverend Willie to steal the canister. Sarah later finds out the Kimble is an American agent, not a defecting scientist. However, he's still out cold. Jake offers to pose as Kimble for the meeting with the Germans. He accompanies them back to the island where they are conducting secret experiments to make an atomic bomb, the "Black Pearl." Willie sees Jake go with them and regretfully informs the Nazis that he's an impostor. It's time to detonate the bomb, so they leave Jake on the island. Corky and Sarah show up in the nick of time and they tow the bomb to the lagoon which just happens to be the deepest part of the Pacific. The bomb safely detonates, and they return to Boragora to fill-in the now-conscious Kimble on the bomb.

The plot of this episode is a lot more sophisticated than many other episodes, and the writing and acting are steadily improving. Also, this episode once again presented an opportunity for Jake to disrobe, this time as he changes into Kimble's clothes. Sarah looks demurely away, but the rest of us can pause the DVD for as long as we like.

Science fact: The S-90 of the episode is really Strontium-90 (Sr-90). S-90 would be Sulfur-90, which doesn't exist. However, there are radioactive isotopes of Sulfur such as S-35 which I've used many times in DNA sequencing. It doesn't glow blue.

 The episode ends at the Monkey Bar with Sarah singing a bit of "Am I Blue" while wearing a dress Jake bought for her in Tagataya. Incidentally, the white dress reminds me of my wedding dress and the dress Belloq gives Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Episode 2: Shanghaied

Episode 2 starts with Jake flying a P-40 as he is pursued by 2 Japanese planes. A flashback to his Flying Tiger days? Not likely since Corky is sitting behind him calmly swilling beer during the dogfight (P-40s are single-seat fighters, anyway). Jake and Jack parachute to safety while Corky crashes with the plane. It’s in fact a malaria-induced nightmare. When the fever breaks, Jake finds something has indeed happened to Corky. The mechanic been shanghaied by a mysterious one-armed sea captain to fix his ship, which turns out to be carrying a cargo of Mud People captured as slaves. Although Jack is the only witness, Jake and the gang reason that Princess Koji is involved and brave a trip to Matuka. During the flight Jake passes out from malaria, leaving Sarah to pilot the Goose during a thunderstorm. Oh yes, and they’re chased by a couple of Zeros. Princess Koji does have some information: the sea captain is none other than her half brother. The gang finds the island of the Mud People, enlists their help, and attacks the ship, freeing Corky and the Mud People (that would be a good name for a band). In the process Jake kill’s Koji’s brother, which doesn’t bother her much.

In this second episode we learn a bit more about Jake, finding out that he was pilot with the Flying Tigers in China under General Claire Chennault. This is a bit of an inaccuracy since the Flying Tigers (more properly called the American Volunteer Group, “AVG”) were not actually formed until 1941. However, Chennault himself was in China in the late ‘30s, and apparently there were some mercenaries, including Americans, flying for the Chinese as part of the “International Squadron.” So I’m willing to believe Jake was part of that original group and overlook the inaccuracy. Perhaps producer Bellisario wanted to work a Flying Tigers connection in because of his earlier series Baa Baa Black Sheep (AKA Black Sheep Squadron), a fictionalized account of the exploits of Marine pilot Major Gregory Boyington who had, in fact, flown with the Flying Tigers.

In this episode we see the continuation of a theme begun in the pilot: poor Cutter's Goose takes a terrible beating. In the pilot the Goose suffered sugar in the gas and now her instrument panel is smashed. Later she gets shot up by Zeros. And it seems she always has to fly in terrible weather. But she's up for the challenge. We also learn that Jake has a strong attachment to a woman named Elizabeth. He calls out to her in his malarial fever, much to Sarah's chagrin. And Elizabeth is not Jake's mother. We also find out that Corky was a mechanic for the Pan Pacific Clipper.

For me there are several highlights in this episode. First was seeing Jake shirtless and drenched with sweat. A second, more wholesome bright spot was Sarah singing Rodgers and Hart’s “The Lady is a Tramp” to Corky’s piano playing at the Monkey Bar. She’s not particularly good, but what do you want for the middle of the South Pacific? Also, Louie mysteriously mentioning he was on Devil’s Island and Todo stoking the fire for the hot tub where Rev. Willie was hiding while Koji talked to Jake and Sarah was a hoot!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Episode 1: Pilot

In the 2 hour series premiere we meet Jake Cutter as he is about to lose Jack’s opal and sapphire eye in a card game due to a misunderstanding (one bark means no, not yes). Jack, followed by Jake, comes to the aid of a singer, Sarah Stickney White, apparently being harassed by her manager. The first of many fights ensues. Sarah misses the boat to Boragora, which happens to be where Jake is headed, so she comes along. The Goose develops engine problems (thanks to a Gestapo agent played by John Hillerman who subsequently kills Sarah’s “manager” who is really a spy), forcing them to jettison their cargo of champagne and bibles. They land at Boragora where we meet Corky the mechanic and Bon Chance Louie (played by Ron Moody in this episode only), proprietor of the Monkey Bar Hotel. Louis agrees to give Sarah a job singing at the Monkey Bar, which is a perfect cover for her real mission as an American spy. The loss of the cargo causes some concern to Louie (for the champagne) and Reverend Willie (for the bibles). Willie is in fact a German spy (although a Wermacht soldier, not a Nazi), and the bibles hold the key to finding a volcanic island inhabited by monkeys which is said to have a giant monkey idol made of a heat-resistant gold alloy of interest to the German government. It just so happens that the cargo was dumped over that island, so Jake and the gang return to the island. After an encounter with the monkeys and the Gestapo agent, they find a small idol which subsequently turns out to be made of brass. Meanwhile, the real golden idol remains on the island.

I enjoyed seeing this as much now as I did in 1982. Sure the monkey costumes are cheesy, and the writing/directing/acting isn’t the best ever, but it’s entertaining. You know the good guys will always win, and I like that. I also enjoyed the stock footage of the Pan Am Clipper that was spliced in. I thought it was neat to see that even if it was in black and white. The picture quality of the DVD has been a pleasant surprise, although it’s in full screen, not widescreen.

A lot of people have dismissed the show as a Raiders of the Lost Ark knockoff. In fact, the producer, Donald Bellisario, pitched the idea in 1979, but it wasn’t picked up until after the success of Raiders. Personally, I never saw them as the same beyond the late ‘30s setting. An archaeologist and a cargo pilot are very different to me. Sure, they both fought Nazis and looked for treasures... I hadn’t seen Raiders before Gold Monkey, so maybe I didn’t have the same bias most people did. They obviously both owe a lot to the adventure serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Bellisario has cited the 1939 Cary Grant movie Only Angels Have Wings as an inspiration. I’ve never seen it mentioned, but I think the Turk Madden stories of Louis L’Amour must have also been an inspiration.

Welcome to Boragora

Although I've been neglecting my other blogs, and I actually resolved not to start another blog this year, and blogging itself is apparently passé, I've decided to start a new blog devoted to my favorite television show of all time, Tales of the Gold Monkey. Set in 1938, the series starred Stephen Collins as Jake Cutter, a former Flying Tiger turned cargo pilot who flies a Grumman Goose seaplane throughout the fictional Marivellas island chain of the South Pacific along with his mechanic Corky (Jeff MacKay), singer/spy Sarah Stickney White (Caitlin O’Heaney) and one-eyed dog Jack (Leo the dog). Home base is Boragora where Bon Chance Louie (Roddy McDowall) runs the Monkey Bar and German-spy-masquerading-as-Dutch-minister Reverend Willie (John Calvin) gives “blessings” to the island girls. Nearby Matuka is home to the evil Princess Koji (Marta Dubois) and her faithful Samurai (John Fujioka).

The series premiered in the fall of 1982 and lasted just one season. I had just started 5th grade and was almost 11 years old when the series began. I was already interested in the South Pacific due to the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific which my parents had introduced to me at an early age. Plus my father, who had travelled extensively in South East Asia and was rather nostalgic for the 30s and 40s, was also very interested in watching the series (as well as the competing series Bring ‘Em Back Alive). So we eagerly watched the 2-hour series pilot and all 20 subsequent episodes. I was enthralled from the start. It had everything: a dashing, handsome hero, a beautiful and smart heroine (who wasn’t blond), adventure, intrigue, romance, excitement, humor, singing, Nazis, you name it! It quickly became the highlight of my week. Naturally I was very disappointed that it was cancelled after just one season. A few years later it was in syndication on cable. We didn’t have cable, but I managed to see a few episodes here and there. About 10 years ago a few episodes were shown on TV Land, which I taped. I had been tempted to purchase unofficial VHS tapes and later DVDs of the series, but always hesitated, first because it just wasn’t right, and because the picture quality was quite poor.

Well, my almost 28 years (28 years?!) of waiting finally paid off when the official complete series was released on DVD this week. I pre-ordered months in advance from Amazon and was delighted when my copy arrived yesterday. I’ve watched the pilot episode, and the picture quality is very good, better than I expected, really. I’ve decided to blog about each episode and also post some of my Gold Monkey memorabilia. So tune in for each episode, and welcome to Boragora!