Films based on the novel by Daniel Defoe:
Also called The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
Director Louis Buñuel; writers Hugo Butler, Bunuel; featuring Dan O'Herlihy, Jaime Fernandez
Director Eugene Frenke; writers Harold Nebenzal, Richard Yriondo, Al Zimbalist; featuring Amanda Blake, George Nader, Rosalind Hayes
The stranded Earthling tries to call for help, but actor Paul Mantee does not phone in his part in 1964 film.
A future adventuree
Just the title, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and you know this has got to be somewhat of a joke. And this 1964 movie is indeed laughable. But not all bad.
Okay, it's 1964, pre-Star Trek, pre-2001, A Space Odyssey and way before Star Wars—near the end of the era of Attack of the Crab Monsters, The Blob and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. So you can guess it's going to be corny and incredible, and have really lame special effects. All that's true of Robinson Crusoe on Mars.
But, goshdarnit, this movie does try very hard to be a cut above all that and it largely succeeds in presenting a futuristic version of the classic tale.
Actually I'm not sure it's based on the original novel. Despite the movie's credits giving a nod to Defoe, the screenwriters may never have read the book. Judging by the narrative here, they seem to have based their script on previous Robinson Crusoe movies.
Despite this movie's title, the castaway isn't even named Crusoe but rather Kit Draper. He's stranded on the red planet's surface with a pet monkey (instead of the Buñuel film's dog). Draper finds ways of breathing Martian atmosphere and harvesting vegetation but he fights against loneliness. When he's sick he guiltily fantasizes an appearance by his former astronaut colleague (Adam West, soon to become TV's Batman) who had died during the crash—shades of Herlihy's visions of his father.
There's even a version of the earlier film's echo scene, though it's not presented as a knock against religious hope this time.
When extraterrestrials land on Mars to mine ore, Draper manages to save one of their dark-skinned slaves, whom he names Friday, while insisting the liberated slave recognize that Draper is now his "boss".
The rest of film involves the two of them—and the monkey—trying to escape from the alien overlords by climbing through underground caverns in search of Mars's canals, while the alien vessels bombard the planet's surface from space.
Actually, although the space shots—the alien as well as the American flights—look like bad cartoons, the Mars sets are rather well done stylistically for 1964, advanced for their time. And actor Paul Mantee, who's onscreen for almost every scene, breathes life into the Crusoe/Draper character.
Robinson Crusoe on Mars may not give you any more insights into the classic novel or the cultural icon that the story has become but, surprisingly, it doesn't do it any great disservice either.