Sailing from South America to Africa aboard a slaver, young Englishman Robinson Crusoe (Dan O'Herlihy)
sees his life thrown upside down when the ship sails into a storm and
is blown thousands of miles off course. The ship is wrecked, but Crusoe
is able to swim to a nearby island with a raftful of supplies. He is as
isolated as possible on this tropical island and must survive as best he
can. What does the island hide though? What trials await? And most
importantly, can he make it back to civilization?
The 1940s, 1950s and 1960s seemed to have countless movies based in the
1600 and 1700s on the high seas in the South Pacific. Movies like this,
Shipwrecked, Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson dotted the
landscape, presenting a dangerous, exciting and at times idyllic life
of a shipwreck victim. Lucky they always landed on large islands with
plenty of food and water, huh? There is something endearing about these
stories because they are fun to watch. You can't help but think what
life would be like being stranded on a beautiful tropical island.
Building off that with Defoe's instantly recognizable character? Not a
bad jumping off point at all.
This is somewhat of an odd film, one that wasn't even available in any
format until the last six or seven years. It is a cheap, low-budget film
that rises above its lack of money and scale to be surprisingly
enjoyable. 'Crusoe' was shot on location for the most part in Manzanillo
on the west coast of Mexico (with a primarily Mexican crew). It looks
tropical, a great jumping off point. The colors look faded some 50-plus
years later, adding to that old school charm of a film era long since
passed. The cast is minimal -- only a handful of speaking parts -- and
the music unobtrusive. In general, the movie has that certain roguish
charm, a no frills movie that shouldn't stand out from the rest but
manages to do just that.
A character actor who never became a huge star, O'Herlih does an
admirable job as the shipwrecked Robinson Crusoe. An upper class
Englishman with no real experience in caring for himself, much less
surviving, Crusoe is forced to improvise on the fly. It's a fun viewing
to see him learn and develop, becoming an experienced and capable
naturalist over the years. His narration is simple and straightforward,
and his interactions with his pets -- a dog, Rex, a cat, Sam, and a
parrot -- provide some moving and funny moments. Jaime Fernandez
is all right if unspectacular as Friday, a cannibal Crusoe rescues and
takes as a servant/slave. They eventually become best friends, equals
and not as master and worker.
Sticking fairly closely to Defoe's novel, 'Crusoe' has its fair share of
memorable moments. The early years of being shipwrecked have Robinson
hallucinating and struggling to cope as he realizes he's completely
alone. His discovery of a fresh human footprint in the sand after
20-plus years alone is a great moment as are some of his interactions
with Friday as he tries to teach him how not to be a cannibal.
Some of the early portions in the episodic story are a tad slow, but the
pacing picks up around the 40-minute mark. A hidden gem, one with flaws
that ends up being surprisingly good. Well worth a watch.
Robinson Crusoe <---trailer (1954): ***/****