Robinson Crusoe on Clipper Island (1936)

Article #1361 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-5-2005
Posting Date: 5-4-2005
Directed by Ray Taylor and Mack V. Wright
Featuring Mala, Rex, Buck

A U.S. Intelligence agent is sent out to investigate sabotage on a remote island that was serving as a refueling base for a dirigible company.

Fantastic content: Touches of horror in the native ceremonies and touches of science fiction in the technology used by the villains. All in all, pretty marginal.

There are three different types of cliffhangers, which I describe thusly;

1 – The Honest Cliffhanger. The action at the top of the following episode does not modify or amend the action at the bottom of the previous episode in any way. This type of cliffhanger is rarer than you might think.

2 – The Cheating Cliffhanger. The action at the top of the following episode inserts scenes into the footage used from the previous episode. For example, if we see the hero in a runaway car that plows into a building and explodes, a scene will be inserted where the hero sees it coming and bails out of the car in time. This is the most common type of cliffhanger.

3 – The Lying Cliffhanger – The action at the top of the following episode omits scenes from the previous episode, replacing it with new footage that contradicts the cliffhanger. For example, the end of one cliffhanger clearly shows a plane crashing into the water (you see the splash and the explosion) while the top of the next episode shows the pilot pulling out of the dive just in time, and the footage of the crash is missing completely. Fortunately, these are even rarer than honest cliffhangers.

I mention these distinctions because one problem this serial has is that it is one of the worst offenders I’ve ever seen in terms of having Lying Cliffhangers; there are at least four or five episodes in which the cliffhanger if contradicted by the action in the next episode. It has some other problems; though he has a certain amount of charisma, Mala (an eskimo actor who ended up specializing in exotic native types) isn’t much of an actor (I don’t feel that he’s mastered the basic acting technique of articulation, for one thing), and he’s unconvincing as a U.S. Intelligence agent. Still, he’s comfortable in his loincloth, athletic, and makes a decent enough serial hero.

Still, even with its problems, this is a very entertaining serial. I’m glad it’s largely set on an island; when that happens, the writers have to be more creative than to just give us a string of “bailing-out-of-the-car” cliffhangers. It also has animals (Rex is a horse and Buck is a St. Bernard) who are quite helpful to Mala, two comic relief sidekicks who are also helpful (though not quite as much), a lot of native hijinks, some dirigible action, volcanos, abandoned castles, etc. There’s plenty of great spectacle in this one; this was made before the budgets really started to be cut for serials. Recommended, but watch out for those lying cliffhangers.


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