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How could Miss Robin Crusoe (1954) live up to the promises made on its posters: "In the annals of strange adventure, none more astounding...more amazing!!!" and "Wild Splendor! Savage Excitement! Flaming Love!"? To be fair, most films can't, especially not a gender-bender version of Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe.
The tale of a castaway on a deserted isle had been filmed before as a silent film in 1916, starring Robert Patton Gibbs, in 1932 starring Douglas Fairbanks and as an early 3-D film by the Soviets in 1946. Miss Robin Crusoe wasn't the only "Crusoe" film in production in July 1953. Producer Eugene Frenke had problems registering the title with the Motion Picture Registration Bureau when both MGM and producer Oscar Danciger objected. Danciger had just shot a film called Robinson Crusoe in Mexico and MGM was developing their own version with Spencer Tracy. Both felt Frenke's title would hurt the value of their films. By September, the bureau had approved Frenke's right to use his title and also Miss Robinson Crusoe, which had been the film's original working title. Danciger was forced to change his film's title to Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1954).
E.A. Dupont was originally set to direct the film, but was replaced by Frenke, who listed his wife, actress Anna Sten as "advisor," although what the Russian-born Sten knew about the tropics or Robinson Crusoe is unknown. The script was written by Harold Nebenzal and Richard Yriondo from a story by Al Zimbalist. As the daughter of a sea captain, forced to work on her father's boat disguised as a boy, Frenke cast Amanda Blake, whose flaming red hair would show up beautifully in Pathcolor. The native girl Blake rescues (and, of course, renames "Friday") was played by Rosalind Hayes. In a change from the original story, a handsome shipwrecked sailor (played by George Nader) arrives on the island and, after a few conflicts, naturally falls in love with Blake.
Miss Robin Crusoe was mainly shot in the Palos Verdes area of California, rather than any tropical locale because it was, after all, a low-budget film. But it was a low-budget film with a score by the celebrated composer Elmer Bernstein. Because of the House Un-American Activities Committee, top screenwriters and other industry members accused of Communist leanings were forced to leave Hollywood, work under assumed names or work for less prestigious studios. Among them was Bernstein, who had been what he called "graylisted." "During that period I did such stellar things as Robot Monster , Cat-Women of the Moon , Miss Robin Crusoe, stuff like that." Bernstein's score is the most memorable thing about the film.
The critics reacted predictably. Win Fanning wrote, "As it is quite impossible to believe that a number of grown men and women could seriously go about the making of a movie called Miss Robin Crusoe, it must be assumed some sort of joke is intended. It isn't a very good joke, but it has its moments of hilarity." Part of the hilarity, according to Fanning, is that the film is supposed to be set in 1669 and Blake's makeup is 20th Century.
While Miss Robin Crusoe didn't do Amanda Blake's career any favors, it didn't harm it, either. Less than a year after the film was made, Blake became a television star by playing saloon owner "Miss Kitty" on Gunsmoke, a role she would play for decades. Thirty years after she battled cannibals on a deserted island, an interviewer wrote, "If you want to make Miss Kitty blush, just remind her of Miss Robin Crusoe."
Producer: Eugene Frenke
Director: Eugene Frenke
Screenplay: Al Zimbalist (story); Harold Nebenzal; Richard Yriondo
Cinematography: Virgil Miller
Art Direction: F. Paul Sylos
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Film Editing: Thomas Pratt
Cast: Amanda Blake (Miss Robin Crusoe), George Nader (Jonathan), Rosalind Hayes (Friday)
by Lorraine LoBianco
Fanning, Win "Miss Robin Crusoe" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12 Apr 54
"Miss Kitty's Back on the Tube" Miami Herald 27 May 86
"Miss Robin Crusoe" The News and Eastern Townships Advocate 22 Jul 54.
O'Toole, Finlan "Elmer Bernstein Finds Himself in Tune with Movies" The New York Times 28 Oct 90