Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1960)

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1960)

“On Mars, you’ve gotta face the reality of being alone forever!”

An astronaut (Paul Mantee) stranded on Mars with a monkey named Mona struggles to survive while aching for humanoid contact — which he finally achieves when he encounters a runaway alien slave (Victor Lundin) he dubs “Friday”.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Astronauts
  • Science Fiction
  • Survival

Byron Haskin was a Hollywood Renaissance man who worked his way through a series of positions (including newsreel cameraman, DP, and special effects supervisor) before directing a handful of notable titles, including this cult sci-fi flick (inspired by Daniel Defoe’s literary classic — perhaps best known by film viewers through Luis Bunuel’s 1952 adaptation). DVD Savant refers to RCOM as “a unique and serious adventure” sandwiched chronologically “between silly efforts like Queen of Outer Space and the high budget wonders of the later 2001: A Space Odyssey” — indeed, its poster (see still above) boasts, “This film is scientifically authentic! It is only one step ahead of present reality!” Naturally, such claims can’t even begin to hold up today, so one must watch a flick like this with historical perspective firmly in mind. Indeed, rather than viewing RCOM for its “scientific authenticity”, one appreciates it as a reasonably taut tale of personal survival, featuring a charismatic performance by hunky unknown Paul Mantee (those zippered pants!) and bolstered by the refreshingly unsentimental presence of a pet monkey.

Once “Friday” (Lunden) arrives on the scene, however, things quickly go downhill — both because we see sides of Mantee’s personality we’d rather not be privy to (he refers to Lunden as both “retarded” and an “idiot” in the same breath), and because the overall credibility of the storyline is suddenly strained. It’s somehow easier to imagine a lone astronaut stranded on Mars with a monkey than to envision intergalactic miners with eerily Egyptian-looking slaves attacking the planet. Speaking of the planet, the special effects and sets are quite impressive (at least most of the time); a notable exception is the relentless cheesy intrusion of the invading space ships, apparently spliced in on repeat. Ultimately, this mixed bag adventure tale will probably be of interest to film fanatics simply given its intriguing title, but it isn’t must-see for all viewers.

Note: Other Haskin-directed titles in Peary’s GFTFF include Treasure Island (1950), War of the Worlds (1953), Conquest of Space (1955), and From the Earth to the Moon (1958).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paul Mantee as Kit Draper
  • Excellent special effects and sets

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its cult status.


One thought on “Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1960)

  1. First viewing. Must-see, for its place in cinema history.

    Surprisingly, I had not seen this film until now. Luckily, the print I saw was the Criterion blu-ray edition, which is spanking clean and crisp – showing the film off in all of its ’60s (almost a la ‘Barbarella’) splendor.

    Since I am not an expert when it comes to what flies (as it were) and what doesn’t, in terms of sci-fi believability, I was prepared to accept ‘RCOM’ as another example of goofy, cinematic wishful thinking. (And, of course, I had just recently seen ‘Just Imagine’ – which puts forth the notion that, in 1980, we would all be giving cars the heave-ho altogether for our own personal air travel.)

    But, while watching (and, of course, enjoying easy-on-the-eyes-indeed Mantee), something seemed rather smart about this film. Almost…plausible. Sure enough then, from a DVD extra, I later learned that, at the time of filming, those behind the picture were not all that far off when it came to realism (such as it is, or was possible to show at the time).

    I find the film rather compelling throughout – and, as I said, sci-fi (esp. older sci-fi) is not really a preference of mine…since quite a bit of it now does look woefully dated. But nothing here was particularly bothersome. And much of it does come off as rather clever and convincing on its terms.

    However, in the back of my mind, part of me did wonder a bit if/when Zsa Zsa Gabor was going to show up. 😉

    Favorite line – ‘Crusoe’ to ‘Friday’: You’re gonna learn English if I have to sit on your chest for two months! (I wouldn’t have a problem with that.)

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