Episode 52: Robinson Crusoe on Mars

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After turning themselves into cartoons last episode, Sean and Cody make a side trip to a mostly fictional version of the red planet on their way back to the real world. In the 1964 space adventure Robinson Crusoe on Mars, white bread astronaut Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) and the monkey he loves crash-land on the titular planet to find the basic tourist amenities such as oxygen, water and food haven’t been restocked in several million years. With only a mid-60s tape deck, an Air Force surplus flight suit and a couple of tubes of turkey paste, can Draper find a way to survive long enough for Lyndon Johnson’s NASA to come rescue him? The environmental issues covered in this episode center around humans’ changing conceptions of conditions on Mars, with surprise cameos by our old friends settler colonialism and the white savior, who we can’t seem to get rid of even 200 million miles from Earth.

What did scientists know or think they knew about what Mars was really like at the time they made this film? Can liquid water exist there or can’t it? What are Mars’s polar ice caps made of? Why did some astronomers, including especially Percival Lowell, believe that the “canals” of Mars were works of engineering created by an alien species? How was the mission of the Mariner space probe in 1965 a huge bummer for filmmakers and conceptual artists who got paid for producing “Mars porn” for science magazines? What poor sap in the costume department on this film had to sew a fur loincloth for a monkey? Is Adam West the only true Batman? Who was that mid-1950s Disney narrator who sounded suspiciously like Orson Welles? Is there no escape from racist stereotyping anywhere in the universe? All these questions are sucking air out of the rocks in this, the first part of a double header on Green Screen centered around Mars, together with the next episode on The Martian.

Original 1964 trailer for Robinson Crusoe on Mars.

Note: there are very few clips available online of Robinson Crusoe on Mars, so the pickings for this page are fairly slim.

This video dedicated to Adam West contains a significant chunk of his brief performance in Robinson Crusoe on Mars, as he and Kit Draper (Paul Mantee) prepare to land. Also included as a clip from the 1960s Outer Limits.
The final scene of Robinson Crusoe on Mars (spoiler alert, obviously!) Some of the film’s best matte effects can be seen in this brief clip.

Additional Materials About This Episode:

Mars and its True Environment:

The episode of the original 1980 Cosmos series, “Blues for a Red Planet,” dealing with Mars. The written version of this episode, in the Cosmos companion book, was one source for this episode.

The Martian year, and other basic astronomical facts on Mars, NASA, Mars Exploration:
https://mars.nasa.gov/allaboutmars/extreme/martianyear/

Alfred Russel Wallace, Is Mars Habitable? (Macmillan, 1907, the complete text in HTML format), on the Alfred Russel Wallace homepage:
http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S730.htm

Phil Platt, “Richard Hoagland’s Nonsense,” BadAstronomy.com (blog), upated March 24, 2004 (table of contents of a comprehensive discussion/debunking of “Face on Mars” conspiracy theorist Richard Hoagland):
http://www.badastronomy.com/bad/misc/hoagland/index.html

Roger Launius, “Wernher von Braun and Early Concepts for Missions to the Moon and Mars” (Blog), September 21, 2011 (includes scans of 1940s/50s popular science magazine depictions of such potential missions):
https://launiusr.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/wernher-von-braun-and-early-concepts-for-missions-to-the-moon-and-mars/

Heather B. Franz, Melissa G. Trainer, Charles A. Malespin et al., “Initial SAM Calibration Gas Experiments on Mars: Quadrupole Mass Spectrometer Results and Implications,” NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, 2017:
https://ui.adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2017P%26SS..138…44F/abstract

Kenneth Chang, “Data Point to Radiation Risk for Travelers to Mars,” The New York Times, May 30, 2013:
https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/science/space/data-show-higher-cancer-risk-for-mars-astronauts.html

David Darling, “Polar Caps of Mars,” DavidDarling.Info:
https://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/M/Marspoles.html

The Movie

Tasha Robinson, “Robinson Crusoe on Mars,” The AV Club, October 3, 2007:
https://www.avclub.com/robinson-crusoe-on-mars-1798203097

Michael Lennick, “Robinson Crusoe on Mars: Life on Mars,” The Criterion Collection, January 11, 2011:
https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/613-robinson-crusoe-on-mars-life-on-mars

Where you can find Robinson Crusoe on Mars: https://www.justwatch.com/us/movie/robinson-crusoe-on-mars

Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0058530/
Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964) on Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/robinson-crusoe-on-mars/

Next Movie Up: The Martian (2015)

The image associated with Robinson Crusoe on Mars is presumably copyright (C) 1964 by Paramount Pictures. Its inclusion here is believed permissible under fair use. We are not the uploader of any YouTube clips embedded here.

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