A Movie A Day: Quint visits ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964)! This film is scientifically authentic!
Published at: June 17, 2008, 10:36 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
I love monkeys. Everybody loves monkeys, but nothing triggers a Harry-like childish glee in me more than monkeys in movies. I don’t know if I can explain it… I do have a picture of me at age 3 or 4 sitting with a chimp in a diaper and there’s the same look on my face in that picture that I assume is on my face when I see any simian in a film to this day.
So you can imagine my excitement in getting to ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS. Not only was it the first sci-fi film on the schedule, not only was it the first Criterion release on the schedule, but the cover is a painting of a monkey in a space suit!
Yeah, the movie is cheesy. And on the surface it seems to defy all notions of science and is full of huge plot holes, but as the movie progressed I noticed that what I thought were huge jumps in logic (like being able to breath on Mars, even for a little bit) was actually starting to be explained. It might be scientifically bullshit (despite the big proclamation on the poster), but at least they give us some explanation and reveal it in an interesting way.
In the film you have two astronauts in orbit around Mars. Well, three if you count Mona, the monkey who looks so incredibly pissed off to be put in a spacesuit.
They are forced off course to avoid a meteor and get caught in the atmosphere and have to bail out.
We follow Paul Mantee’s Kit Draper as he tries to survive, with his air tanks running out, limited food and water and a sudden external threat in the form of Alien ships.
The other astronaut is, interestingly, played by Adam West (pictured above) two years before he played Batman on TVs across America. West doesn’t have much to do, it very much is Mantee’s show, but you get the impression he’s kind of a badass in the little bit we get to know him before the forced ejection. He also has a great moment during a nightmare sequence that is genuinely creepy.
The real treat of this film is the sci-fi imagery, the Martian landscapes given to us using awesome matte paintings… they don’t look in the least bit real, but the style more than makes up for that. A lot of the props feel like they were taken directly off of the Star Trek set, but again… even though they’re not at all realistic, there’s a charm to the uniformity of the style.
When we first see the space ships (alien miners using slave laborers) you can tell right away that Byron Haskin is reusing his WAR OF THE WORLD ships. Same design completely. But I’ll look at that as a cool nod to his previous work.
Haskin started in special effects, so that would help explain why the visuals were done so well here.
Criterion doesn’t disappoint with its beautiful transfer, the Technicolor popping off the screen.
I’ve never been the biggest sci-fi nerd in the world, so I might not be the best to look at this and proclaim it the most super awesomest thing ever, but I found it to be a fascinating watch and an interesting take on the Robinson Crusoe story.
The schedule for the next 7 days:
Wednesday, June 18th: CITY FOR CONQUEST (1940)
Thursday, June 19th: SAN QUENTIN (1937)
Friday, June 20th: 42nd STREET (1933)
Saturday, June 21st: DAMES (1934)
Sunday, June 22nd: GOLD DIGGERS OF 1935 (1935)
Monday, June 23rd: MURDER, MY SWEET (1944)
Tuesday, June 24th: BORN TO KILL (1947)
Tomorrow we follow director Byron Haskins over to 1940s gangster flick CITY FOR CONQUEST starring James Cagney and Ann Sheridan. Haskins didn’t direct CITY FOR CONQUEST, but was part of the special effects department on the film.
The next couple promise to get us back to darker territory, then we lighten up a bit for some Busby Berkeley musicals before dipping back down into noir. See you on the next one!