Man Friday is a 1975 British/American film. It is adapted from the 1973 play by Adrian Mitchell based on Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe, but reverses the roles, portraying Crusoe as a blunt, stiff Englishman, while the native he calls Man Friday is much more intelligent and empathic. The film can be regarded as being critical of western civilization, against which it draws a contrasting picture of Caribbean tribal life.
Friday and three of his friends arrive in a canoe on the island on which Crusoe has been stranded for years. Crusoe thinks they are cannibals, killing Friday's friends and taking the latter to his camp as a prisoner.
Friday is very quick to learn the English language. Crusoe then tries to teach him Western concepts like property, sports, punishment, fear of God and so on, but Friday's reaction is only one of bewilderment and amusement. He begins to question and mock these concepts that seem senseless and destructive to him. One day he rebels, refusing to be a slave anymore. After some conflict, Crusoe has to admit that he could not live in solitude anymore, so he concedes in regarding Friday as a human being, although not as an equal. To do so, he starts to pay Friday one gold coin per day for his labour—an ambivalent sign of respect, as there is no use for money on the remote island.
When an English ship appears, Crusoe is overjoyed. Two men arrive in a boat and are invited for dinner but it turns out that they are slave traders who want to capture both Crusoe and Friday. So the latter collaborate in killing the intruders when their violent motives are revealed, and the ship sails away, leaving the protagonists stranded as before. For a while, a kind of friendship develops between Crusoe and Friday. Friday thinks that he maybe can teach Crusoe his more relaxed way of living, and not to be controlled by "thoughts of power, guilt and fear", which are very strong traits in Crusoe's personality.
One day, Crusoe falls back into his old delusions of being a superior being. He had been trying to teach Friday in a mock-up school for a while, ridiculously complete with a chalkboard. We see that the topic of the day, written on the chalkboard, is "civilization". Obviously, for Crusoe this is a culmination point, where his concepts are ultimately confronted with those of Friday. He gets in a frenzy and binds Friday to a pole, then holds a frightful, lunatic sermon about the superiority of his ways while threatening Friday with his gun. In the end, he shoots, but not at Friday, but at his own talking parrot, which had been his sole companion before Friday's arrival. After that shocking experience, Friday gives up his attempts to change Crusoe; the friendship also ends, leaving only the relationship of Crusoe as master and Friday as a paid servant.
After several years, Friday has accumulated 2,000 gold coins, the price that Crusoe once mockingly called for the hut and all his belongings. Friday now turns Crusoe's western ways against him. Catching him by surprise, he throws the gold on a table, declaring himself the owner of the material property; swiftly, he takes control of baffled Crusoe's gun, and coldly declares that the master-servant-relationship is inverted now. He forces Crusoe to build a solid raft, and both men put to sea for Friday's home island. When they have arrived there, Friday tells the story of their relationship to the gathered tribe, which reacts with astonishment and amusement about the strange ways of Crusoe. When the latter requests to join the tribe, proposing that he could teach the children, Friday strongly speaks against him, saying that "the only thing he (Crusoe) teaches is fear." So Crusoe is rejected and returns to his solitary island, where he commits suicide.Peter O'Toole - Robinson Crusoe
Richard Roundtree - Friday
Peter Cellier - Carey
Christopher Cabot - McBain
Joel Fluellen - Doctor
Sam Seabrook - Young Girl
Stanley Bennett Clay - Young Boy (as Stanley Clay)
The film premiered at the 1975 Cannes Film Festival, where director Jack Gold received a nomination for the Palme d'Or.
It received a review in Rotten Tomatoes which stated that, "This subversively satirical variation on the Robinson Crusoe tale is a cheeky critique of colonization, race relations and the class struggle." Roger Ebert wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that, "Instead of a story of survival, we get a metaphor in which everything in the movie has to serve the ultimate, and murky, meaning".