Robinson Crusoe (1954) – A Movie Review

This is a Mexican production (in English) directed by Luis Buñuel.  And surprisingly contains none of the sensationalistic or bizarre affectations that he usually included in his films.  In fact, it is a very faithful and normal portrayal of Daniel Defoe’s classic tale.  For anyone who is unfamiliar with the plot.  Crusoe is an Englishman of upper-class background who decides to leave his family and make his fortune in the wide world of the late 1600’s.  He gets a ship and is headed to Africa to bring a cargo of slaves to the New World.

But the ship founders in a terrible storm and Crusoe swims off and eventually reaches the shore of a remote island somewhere in the tropical Atlantic Ocean off Africa.  The ship that he abandoned ends up as a wreck stuck on some rocks close to the island Crusoe is on.  He builds a raft and uses it to transport supplies from the wreck.  He takes food, guns, powder, tools, clothes and even a dog and cat that were his pets on the ship.  Shortly afterward the wreck sinks.

Crusoe builds a stockaded cave dwelling and improves his life with the tools he has saved from the ship.  He grows wheat from seed and bakes his own bread.  He builds a potter’s wheel and a kiln.  He builds a calendar out of a log and tracks his imprisonment.  But when his dog finally dies of old age then Crusoe finds his loneliness unbearable.  And he comes close to losing his sanity.  But one day he finds a human footprint on the beach.  He discovers that African cannibals visit the island occasionally to feast on their captives.  One day a captive breaks loose from the cannibals and Crusoe kills his pursuers and takes the escapee to live with him as his servant.  He names him Friday after the day he found the man.  Slowly Crusoe learns to trust Friday and they become true friends.

Years later a ship arrives and the crew comes to the island to collect water and also to maroon the captain and boatswain that they’ve mutinied against.  With the help of Crusoe and Friday, the captain is able to capture the leaders of the mutineers.  In gratitude the captain agrees to sail Crusoe and Friday back to England.  The mutineers are allowed to be marooned on the island rather than hanged for mutiny and Crusoe leaves them his settlement and instructions on how to live comfortably on the island as castaways.

None of the actors will be familiar to an American audience but the direct visual nature of the movie, and the sparse dialog or even narration works perfectly well to tell the story.  There’s nothing complicated here, just an adventure story.  But the concept of complete isolation is a sort of profound human condition.

Not to belabor the point I enjoyed the film and on its own terms it is well done.  And since you know exactly what to expect you can make up your own mind ahead of time whether this kind of story appeals to you or not.