Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel "Robinson Crusoe" spawned numerous film adaptations but this is by far the best visual telling of the classic story, combining beautiful location scenery ( filmed on the Canary Islands ) with a compelling script, a marvelous music score, and a perfectly cast Robinson. Since Franco-London Films released this series, it is often considered a French program, and that may account for its better production values.
Defoe's novel followed the adventures of a young Englishman who gets stranded on an island off the coast of South America, the sole survivor of a shipwreck. Using only his wits and the few remnants he salvaged from the ship, Robinson learns the skills necessary to survive by himself. He never dreams that he will remain on the island for twenty-eight years and continues to live in hope of being rescued.
Unlike the novel, Robinson Crusoe is rescued from the island after a much shorter duration in this series, but he nevertheless has his fair share of adventures including discovering an abandoned pirate ship filled with gold, and rescuing a native from cannibals.
The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe originally aired in Germany in October 1964, and it was syndicated in the U.S that same year. The U.K did not see its release until October 12, 1965, but it soon became one of the most beloved children's series since for fifteen years it was a staple of BBC's school summer holiday schedule. Each day at 5pm, children across Britain dropped their cricket bats and sand pails in time to dash into their homes and tune their teles to BBC1 to vicariously enjoy the thrill of being shipwrecked on a desert isle just like their friend, Robinson.
As the series progressed, Robinson learned new skills each day that would aid in making life on the island more comfortable. He also had plenty of time to ponder on his past mistakes and make resolutions for his future. Each evening, when Crusoe relaxed after a hard day's work on the island, he reflected back on his youth and the events leading up to the shipwreck. These reminisces are shared with the audience through numerous flashbacks which are signaled by a tinkling chime. This alternation of island sequences and Crusoe in merry old England are a clever touch and keep the series from becoming monotonous.
Austrian actor Robert Hoffman ( Grand Slam ) is marvelous as Crusoe but it is French actor Lee Payant who deserves credit for truly bringing the series to life, even though he is never seen on camera. Robinson's thoughts are shared with the audience through Payant's narrative, which remains faithful to the Defoe's original style of writing and are spoken in an exciting manner.
The music throughout the series, including its haunting main theme by Robert Mellin and P. Reverberi, is another aspect of the series which makes it compelling entertainment.
The success of The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe led Franco-London Films to create more classic adventure and children's novels adaptations including Treasure Island ( 1966 ), Tom Sawyer ( 1968 ) and The Last of the Mohicans ( 1969 ).