ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS
(director: Byron Haskin; screenwriters: Ib Melchior/John C. Higgins/from the book by Daniel DeFoe “Robinson Crusoe”; cinematographer: Winton Hoch; editor: Terry Morse; music: Van Cleave; cast: Paul Mantee (Cmdr. Christopher “Kit” Draper), Vic Lundin (Friday), Adam West (Col. Dan McReady); Runtime: 110; Paramount; 1964)
“A low budget and unnoticed sci-fi film that is a gem.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A lowbudget and unnoticed sci-fi film that is a gem. Largely ignored by the public though receiving favorable film critic reviews on its release, this underground classic was recently shown on AMC (they have commercials now during the film). Director Byron Haskins should be praised for keeping faith with Defoe’s classic yet improving the script he was handed by making it more scientifically plausible. This version makes use of the barren terrain of Death Valley to substitute for Mars, shuns sentimentality in favor of intelligence and imagination, and comes up with a surprisingly handsome work.
Prepared to orbit and return to Earth, Mars Gravity Probe One nears Mars and is forced to change course to avoid a massive meteor. Because of the pull of gravity, the ship crash lands on Mars. This causes a fuel explosion and the ship to be destroyed, forcing the crew to bail out. Naval Commander Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) and the head of the mission, Colonel Dan MacReady (Adam West), and Mona, the monkey used for experiments, all evacuate to Mars in separate escape pods.
MacReady ends up missing in the crash, but Draper and Mona survive. The trick now is to find oxygen, food, water, and shelter on Mars in order to further survive. Draper manages to do that, but after four months the isolation is driving him crazy. But he gets an alien visitor, someone he will call Friday (Vic Lundin), when an interplanetary vehicle from another planet on a mining expedition lands and a slave escapes. The slave ends up staying in Draper’s cave, where he is taught English. In due time they develop a relationship, as they both hide from the enemy interplanetary ship that is set to return for the slave. He wears a bracelet on each wrist that must be removed, since that acts as a signal to his exact location. He also gives Draper pills that produce oxygen when swallowed.
This modest venture works as a simple survival and human interest story, and thankfully steers clear of contrived action scenes. It all seemed believable and provocative. There’s much to be said about a film that knows its limits and what it does achieve is well within them. A rare sci-fier that is also sensitive to humans and monkeys without being phony.
REVIEWED ON 11/23/2001 GRADE: B +