27 May 2005 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Uncle Fester meets the Kid from Borneo.
Following his performance in Chaplin's 'The Kid', Jackie Coogan became an astonishingly popular silent-film star while still a very young child. Sadly, the many millions of dollars earned by young Jackie were squandered by his parents and his stepfather. Because of Coogan's misfortune, the guardians of modern child actors are now required to keep their children's earnings in trust for their adulthood.
'Little Robinson Crusoe' is one of Jackie's star vehicles. Young Mickey Hogan is the orphan cabin boy on a ship commanded by cruel Captain Dynes. Mickey's only friend is the ship's cat, named Man Friday. (The cat is black: clearly a racial reference.) A storm at sea (featuring some very bad miniatures, and unconvincing lightning) finds Mickey and Man Friday clinging to the wreckage. But a convenient island heaves into view.
The prospect of a small boy alone on a remote island could be frightening, but this movie plays for comedy. So we get some antics with monkeys hoying coconuts. There are also some African-looking natives, played in full racial stereotype and identified in the inter-titles as 'cannibals'.
The island next-door over is run by a white man: overseer Adolph Schmidt, accompanied by his pretty daughter Greta. The latter looks to be about 15 years old, about midway between Jackie's age and adulthood. When the native labourers decide to kill Schmidt, it's Jackie to the rescue.
There's a good performance by character actor Clarence Wilson, and a few clever sequences with animals. Most of the 'island' footage looks like it was filmed in Griffith Park. Jackie Coogan's starring films were geared for both adult and child audiences, so the boy hero here is never in any real danger. The racial stereotyping in this movie is very distasteful, but not any more so than in many other films from this period ... and quite a few films from this time are much worse with it. Child actor Coogan shows real comedic talent, and I'll rate this movie 7 out of 10. Pass the coconuts!