Sunday, September 12, 2010

TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY - THE COMPLETE SERIES

When this DVD set was announced last spring, I was ecstatic. I was a huge fan of TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY when it aired on ABC back in 1982, and still loved it whenever I managed to catch reruns of the show on cable over the last few decades. But when the discs came out in June, I didn't have the cash to pick 'em up. I only got my hands on them a couple nights ago... and immediately started watching the episodes back-to-back.

Set in and around a fictional group of South Pacific islands in 1938, TALES chronicled the adventures of ex-Flying Tiger/soldier of fortune Jake Cutter (Stephen Collins, STAR TREK - THE MOTION PICTURE), his alcoholic mechanic Corky (the late Jeff Mckay), their charismatic, one-eyed Jack Russell Terrier, Jack, and a pretty American secret agent named Sarah Stickney-White (Caitlin O'Heaney) as they hunted for treasure, found lost civilizations, fought pirates and slavers, and foiled the plots of Nazis and Imperial Japanese in the years leading up to WWII. In between hair-raising exploits, the gang hung out at the Monkey Bar, a saloon run by expatriate Frenchman Bon Chance Louie (the late, great Roddy McDowell, PLANET OF THE APES) on the island of Bora-Gora.

The show suffered from a few anachronisms - for one thing, the Flying Tigers weren't even formed 'til about three years after the show's time period - and the tone could, on occasion, slide dangerously close to camp, but it was a pretty fair attempt at a classic adventure show.

Considering that ABC wanted an action epic like RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (which had been a HUGE box office hit the previous Summer) on a TV budget(!) while creator Donald Bellasario wanted a manly, Howard Hawks-ian period character study along the lines of ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT, it's somewhat remarkable that the show usually managed to strike a fair balance of both. Too bad the conflict between creator and network ultimately led to the show's premature cancellation. The cast was solid, the writing was pretty good (and improved considerably as the show went on), and it had generally decent production values, even if some of the special effects and use of obvious stock footage may look a bit crude by modern standards.

The 6-disc DVD set from Shout! Factory and the UK's Fabulous Films is a pretty fair package, containing the 2-hour pilot and all 20 regular episodes. The 1.33:1 full-frame transfers are quite watchable, if a bit soft and weathered, and since it was transferred from the PAL discs that came out in the UK a couple years ago, the episodes run about 4% too fast, making everyone sound a little bit like chipmunks. But it's not too distracting, and many viewers won't even notice. The 2.0 audio is a bit muffled, and there have been some music replacements; most noticeably, the removal of the standard, "As Time Goes By," from the pilot episode.

Bonus features include commentaries on four episodes by writer/producer Tom Greene, an enjoyable retrospective documentary featuring on-screen interviews with Collins and O'Heaney, trivia "Fact Files," actor and character biographies, still galleries and a 24-page booklet with extensive liner notes.

I'm a long-time fan of the show, so I'm thrilled to have it on DVD, even with the technical issues I mentioned above, which frankly, don't interfere at all with my enjoyment of these fun, pulp-styled adventures. If you're a fan yourself, then I highly recommend picking it up. On the other hand, if you've never seen the series - or haven't seen it since '82 - you might want to give it a rental from Netflix first.

BUY: Tales of the Gold Monkey: Complete Series