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The boys of London toil in a cotton mill and are enthralled by Daniel Defoe's just published story "Robinson". Although the book was banned by King George II, it circulates underground; and scores of boys flock at night to Defoe's modest lodgings to hear him reveal more details and embellishments. The work in the "mill" (which is still a hand-operated factory) is boring, and the boys mull over nothing more than to go to sea and find Robinson's island for themselves. Yet they understand perfectly well that they need to work to make a living; and Defoe's remark that children should play instead of work is met with their hearty laughter.
This is shown at the beginning of the film, which soon, however, changes the course of its sociological underpinnings from the mores of the 18th century towards the apologetic permissibility of the late 20th. When little Ben is to be punished by 25 strokes with the belt for shooting an arrow into a courtier's back (while playing Robinson, of course), his father is most reluctant to carry it out and reiterates Ben's lame excuse that it was "just an accident". What remains unmentioned is the cause of this accident, namely Ben having pointed his bow towards said courtier. Why, my own father would have whipped me with conviction in the 1940s; and my mum would have nodded in agreement instead of covering her face in desperation like Ben's mother.
Three of the boys try to put their dream of finding Robinson's island to work and hire themselves onto a merchant ship to sail within a few days. After their last day at the mill (which hasn't "progressed" yet into the age of "free expression" to employ a night watchman), they ransack the establishment, braking what modest equipment there is and throwing the buckets of dye all over the walls. Since these boys are the heroes of the story, this act sends decidedly a wrong signal to a juvenile audience. It is not only utterly ungrateful towards the proprietor who gave them a job they definitely needed, as they knew themselves, it is also highly inconsiderate towards the other boys at the outfit, who must continue to work there without interruption. This bad signal is regrettably reinforced at the end of the movie, when they happen to meet the king and he assures them that he will take care of the rampage. So this is the lesson of the story: It is great to tear things up when you feel like it; you will not be punished; and the government will cover the damages - a lesson in contemporary children's education?
Teenagers are in for a treat too: Defoe's dashing young son Tom, much adored by his landlady's daughter Maud, has already squandered most of old Defoe's assets; and to avoid going to jail because of further debts, he steals and sells his father's most precious remaining possession: the Robinson manuscript. This literally breaks the old man's heart. Tom, when confronted by the king, regrets his last bad deed as well as his licentious life and agrees that he must be punished. But when love-stricken Maud objects to several forms of penalty, the king, as the "final and supreme punishment", hands him a bag of money to repurchase the manuscript and presumably pay his other debts. Some punishment! Dapper young Tom gets out scot-free. Lesson number two: Regardless how stupid and reprehensible you behave, the government will bail you out.
This film should be permitted only for children over 50 years of age.
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