Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. Mexico, 1954. Producciones Tepeyac, Oscar Dancigers Production. Screenplay by Hugo Butler, Luis Bunuel, based on the novel by Daniel Defoe. Cinematography by Alex Phillips. Produced by Oscar Dancigers. Music by Anthony Collins. Production Design by Edward Fitzgerald. Film Editing by Carlos Savage, Alberto Valenzuela. Academy Awards 1954.
Daniel Defoe’s classic novel is adapted by Luis Bunuel in his only fully English-language film (financed by a Mexican production company). Dan O’Herlihy is solid as the English aristocrat traveling to procure slaves for his Brazilian plantation when a storm wrecks his ship and leaves him stranded alone on a tropical island. He soon makes his way as a hunter and gatherer, accompanied for years only by a cat and dog before a chance encounter with cannibal tribes on the other side of the island put him in the way of his man Friday. It hardly ever brings up any real sensation of the hardship of a civilized man having to go back to natural basics, but Bunuel, the committed surrealist, was probably not the least bit interested in creating a convincing experience. Like Death In The Garden it’s played surprisingly straight considering the style he is most famous for, but there is still an element of the insouciance that made his best works so great: the cat who watches passively as his human companion barely skirts death reminds us that nature doesn’t care if we live or die, and is it any wonder that humans turn to religion as soon as they realize this. Beautifully photographed, it’s also notable for containing the only performance directed by the Spanish genius to ever be nominated for an Academy Award.