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Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.
Reviewed by Jayme Lynn Blaschke, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Byron Paul, director; Bill Walsh & Don DaGradi, writers and based on a story by Retslaw Yensid
Genre:   Comedy
Released:   April 12, 2005
Review Date:   May 26, 2005
Audience Rating:   Rated G
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

There was a brief, glorious period during the 1960s when Hollywood cast its loving eyes upon television, and lo, many beloved series found themselves transferred from the small screen to the silver. McHale's Navy, The Munsters, Batman, The Monkees — all of these and others found their way to a theater near you as a “major motion picture.”

Inexplicably, Gilligan’s Island never made that leap, instead settling for the animated Gilligan’s Planet on Saturday mornings and a string of forgettable TV reunion flicks in the early 80s. If you paid close attention, however, you’d notice that Gilligan’s Island did indeed have a movie made of it in 1966. It was called Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N., and instead of seven stranded castaways, it featured Dick Van Dyke hamming it up, fresh off his success from Mary Poppins.

With the basic plot of the film conceived by Walt Disney himself, one would expect a degree of inventiveness. But while the overall movie is amusing, it comes of as an episodic sequencing of sight gags and joke setups — not unlike Gilligan’s Island. We begin with Crusoe, a Navy lieutenant, ditching his fighter plane at sea. Hilarity ensues. As he struggles to stay afloat in his too-small life raft, his handy pocket survival guide offers audible suggestions that come off as a cross between the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and straight-laced educational films of the 1960s.

After an encounter with a shark that leaves his raft somewhat worse for the wear, Crusoe finds himself washed ashore on a deserted tropical island. In short order he discovers a stranded astro-chimp named Floyd that plays a mean game of poker, a World War II-era Japanese submarine and a gorgeous native girl played with more than a little cheek by Nancy Kwan.

In traditional castaway fashion, Crusoe has little trouble constructing himself a palatial island hut, complete with running water and a nearby golf course. The native girl, who he cleverly dubs Wednesday, is in exile on the island due to her defiance of her father, Tanamashu, tyrannical ruler of the nearby island kingdom. Crusoe, naturally enough, becomes embroiled in the family squabble and comes up with a plan absurd enough to make the Scooby Doo gang green with envy.

Robin Crusoe is not a deep movie by any means. It’s not very science fictionish, not very fantasyish, but seems to exist in a loopy alternate universe that is vaguely slipstream in character. Its characters are painted with a broad brush, its jokes the slapstick and rimshot variety. In fact, were it made today, the filmmakers would be savaged for their relentless insensitivity to today’s politically correct mores. Tanamushu, played by Russian actor Akim Tamiroff, is little more than a backwards, buffoonish savage, speaking in mangled English that sounds like he’s channeling the Tasmanian Devil. His warriors are superstitious and cowardly, outsmarted by Crusoe with loudspeakers and fireworks.

The grand theme of this movie is supposedly feminism — Crusoe and Wednesday repeat the mantra “women got rights” over and over again — but apparently the only thing that this quaint 1960s view of women’s lib seems to stand for is a woman’s right to choose who she wants to marry before winding up barefoot and pregnant. It’s a strange and surreal combination, taking a passionate issue that is still very much in contention today, and reducing it to such an innocuous level. It’s as if Uncle Walt, in his grandfatherly manner, is patting his female executives on the head and declaring himself a feminist because he lets them choose whether they want blinds or drapes on their glass ceiling. I’m certain that at the time they thought this was a daring stand for Disney, but almost 40 years later it’s merely bizarre.

Fortunately, most viewers should be able to view the film as a product of its times, and accept the light sexism and racial charicatures as misguided and unfortunate but mostly harmless. Most amazing is the fact that despite these flaws and the scattershot script, the film retains almost all of its dumb, goofy fun. Van Dyke plays pretty much the same character he always plays, mugging shamelessly for the camera. He’s so gosh-darn earnest and likeable that he carries the picture even when there’s nothing there for him to work with, milking laughs out of the feeblest of gags. Kwan, too, does the most with what she’s given, infusing her short-tempered island wildcat character with both an appealing innocence and a smoldering sexuality.

DVDetails

Continuing to buck the trend of providing more content on new DVD releases, Disney’s Robin Crusoe is a pathetic effort. This isn’t a bare-bones release — it’s down to the marrow. No commentary, no interviews, no trailers; there’s not even a wide-screen version of this DVD available, a criminal omission with wide-screen televisions becoming the standard. It’s understandable that Disney chooses not to lavish the same attention on its minor films as it does in two-disc special editions, such as with Snow White or Mary Poppins, but the outright contempt it shows with sloppy work like this is completely unacceptable. Robin Crusoe isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a fun Van Dyke romp that deserves better.

When Ed Wood’s films get treated with greater respect for their DVD releases, you know something’s wrong in the House of Mouse

RevolutionSF Ratings

The Movie Itself: 6/10
The DVD Features: 1/10

RevolutionSF Fiction Editor Jayme Lynn Blaschke thinks "Jayme Sandwich" is the only realistic answer to the eternal question of “Ginger or Mary Ann?”


 
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