(1964) director Byron Haskin
Not quite a 1950’s science fiction film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars is something much rarer, a B-movie genre film that gets repackaged for DVD by the Criterion Collection. Director Byron Haskin had worked quite interestingly in this genre himself, in the far more notable The War of the Worlds (1953). He had also worked with George Pal later on Conquest of Space (1955) which I’ll have to give a spin sometime. Further, he directed an obscure movie that I recalled from my childhood, Captain Sindbad (1963), which despite not being a Ray Harryhausen monster-fest, I recalled having some really impressive visual designs. It’s sat in my mind for nearly 40 years.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars is an earnest attempt at taking Daniel Defoe’s classic novel of castaway life to the surface of another planet. There is a lot of pretty dodgy and possibly hilarious science in the film that allows for this to work, such as rocks that emit oxygen, kelp that can be made into not only food but clothing, and even snow on Mars. It also, rather surprisingly features Adam West (T.V.’s Batman) as the doomed captain of the mission.
The visual effects are what really give the film its character. Shot mostly in the deserts of Death Valley and other Southern California hot spots, color filters and other camera effects are used to transform the landscape from a terrestrial desert to an extra-terrestrial one.
Paul Mantee gives a good performance as the isolated space traveler. He’s accompanied by a very clever monkey in a space suit, so his isolation could be worse. His eventual pal Friday (this Crusoe is aware of his situation’s literary motifs and names him appropriately) looks more like a lost extra from The Ten Commandments (1956). It’s a surprisingly non-alien group of aliens. Their UFO’s look like cheap lift-offs from Haskin’s The War of the Worlds but they do jump around in the sky with a rather disturbing alacrity.
It’s good, but I’d take The War of the Worlds a few times before it.