DVD Review: TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY: The Complete Series

U.S. release date: June 8, 2010
Fabulous Films/Shout! Factory
MSRP: $49.97
Starring: Stephen Collins, Jeff MacKay, Caitlin O’Heaney, and Roddy McDowall
Created by Donald P. Bellisario

Tales of the Gold Monkey is often mislabeled a Raiders of the Lost Ark ripoff. Don Bellisario (Magnum, P.I., Quantum Leap, JAG, NCIS) originally shopped the series around to the networks in 1979, but none of them wanted to take a chance on a period drama (set in 1938). After Raiders‘ huge success in 1981, ABC bought the series and aired it for one season in 1982.

Stephen Collins played Jake Cutter, former Flying Tiger stranded by luck as a charter pilot in the South Pacific. Jake and his loyal mechanic Corky (MacKay) frequented the Monkey Bar, owned by shady Frenchman Bon Chance Louie (McDowall). In the pilot episode, Jake becomes smitten with songstress and American spy Sarah Stickney White (O’Heaney).

Though I was only eight years old when the series first aired, it seeped into my consciousness and stayed, influencing my own writing in ways I’m so glad to be able to revisit now. The picture and sound while not spectacular, probably surpass any surviving tapes you may have. The characters and atmosphere hold up, thanks to Bellisario’s meticulous eye for detail and human interest.

Monkey‘s only flaw is that ABC kept wanting it to be a Raiders ripoff, leading to an uneven season. In the end, Monkey was canceled because Bellisario refused to turn it into what ABC wanted. Fortunately, a handful of late-season episodes live up to the writers’ vision.

The six-disc set includes all 22 episodes (five with audio commentary), a 36-minute making-of featurette, character and actor bios, a fact file, stills galleries, and a 24-page episode guide. Well worth the price for Monkey fans and fans of old-fashioned adventure in general.

–Gerald So