Two astronauts, Commander Christopher Draper (Paul Mantee) and Colonel Dan McReady (Adam West) are orbiting the planet Mars in their spacecraft when suddenly they have to take evasive action. A huge meteor hurtles towards them and by changing their course to avoid it, the ship is sent on a dangerous trajectory and the astronauts have to bail out if they don't want to crash. Draper goes first and his capsule lands somewhere in the Martian desert, but now he is alone and having to fend for himself in a strange environment...
...not unlike a certain character from a certain Daniel Dafoe novel, as the title informs you. Actually, our hero is not completely alone because he has a cheeky monkey with him called Mona (aka a cheeky monkey called Barney in his only film), but aside from that company is thin on the ground. Also thin is the atmosphere, which while breathable for a few minutes is not much of an alternative to his oxygen tanks, which are running out of oxygen by the day. What to do but wait for rescue?
Try to survive for one thing, a course of events that are played out in impressive detail for the film's running time. The gimmick here was that this was supposed to be an accurate telling of what to do should you be stranded on Mars yourself, a position that now seems naive at best and hopeless at worst because of what subsequent scientists have informed us about the state of the Martian environment. There's no way that the film can be anything but an example of forward thinking but basically daydreaming science fiction.
And of course, that's where much of the charm lies as the lone figure of our Crusoe adapts to his new home in a way that sticks closely, considering, to the original text. Poor old Colonel McReady is worryingly silent until Draper discovers his capsule and finds out why: he didn't make it, dying as his craft crashed into the surface. Alone again, naturally, Draper makes his way back to the cave he has made his shelter and wonders what to do next, deciding that now his oxygen is running out, he may as well feed all his tubes of astronaut food to Mona and collapse by the fire of coal-like rocks he has set up.
It's a good thing he does, because luckily our hero has stumbled across an oxygen source in these burning rocks. Another problem solved, but why is Mona reluctant to eat with him now? And what will he do when the water runs out? Writers Ib Melchior and John C. Higgins throw up quite a few obstacles in the stranded Draper's path, but he makes us feel better about the ingenuity of the human spirit by overcoming them. And as every Crusoe needs his Friday, it's only natural that an escaped slave (Victor Lundin) from a nearby alien quarry should join him eventually, making this also an optimistic parable of friendship across cultures. Although over-methodical to modern eyes, and inaccurate in its science through no fault of its own, Robinson Crusoe on Mars reflects a pioneering aspect of twentieth century science fiction that is both engaging and nostalgic. Music by Van Cleave.
American director, cinematographer and special effects pioneer. Entered Hollywood in 1919 as an assistant cameraman, and was director of photography for several John Barrymore films. Haskin directed a few films in the late 1920s and worked in England as a technical advisor, and in 1937 became head of Warner's special effects department. In the 1945 he joined Paramount to resume his directing career, where he worked for the next 20 years, turning in such sci-fi classics as The War of the Worlds, From the Earth to the Moon and Robinson Crusoe on Mars, plus the adventure yarn The Naked Jungle.