The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Robinson Crusoe (1954)

Certain names rise above their source genre whether it be film, television, music, and literature. One of the most iconic names in literature is Robinson Crusoe, a character created by author Daniel Defoe. It is a character that's jumped to film and TV countless times, including 1954's Robinson Crusoe.

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): ***/****

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