A semi-fictional account of Henri Charrière's time in the penal system in French Guyana - some of it spent on infamous Devil's Island - is presented. It's the early 1930s. Charrière - nicknamed Papillon because of his butterfly tattoo - and Louis Dega are two among many who have been convicted in the French judicial system, they now being transferred to French Guyana where they will serve their time, never to return to France even if they are ever released. A safe-cracker by criminal profession, Papillon is serving a life sentence for murdering a pimp, a crime for which he adamantly states he was framed. Dega is a wealthy counterfeiter, who expects his well-to-do wife eventually to get him released. At Papillon's initiative, the duo enters into a business arrangement: Papillon will provide protection for Dega, who, in turn, will finance Papillon's escape attempt. As the two men spend more time together than either had expected, their burgeoning friendship ends up being an important ...Written by
Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman did have some difficulties, despite their determination to behave professionally toward each other. When Hoffman began one speech at breakneck speed, McQueen stopped him and said, "Less, man, less. Toss that shit out, you don't need it. Keep it simple." Another time, Hoffman invited a few close friends to watch a day's filming. McQueen had them thrown off the set. Nevertheless, Hoffman called their relationship "friendly rivalry" and later said his co-star "was a wonderful guy. Off screen, he was the nicest, classiest man. On the set itself he became very intense." Another time, however, he referred to McQueen as "that son of a bitch". See more »
The guillotine permanently erected in the prison courtyard is a piece of pure Hollywood. By the 1870's, the French had developed demountable guillotines that could be easily transported and set up in the town square wherever an execution was to take place, taking only an hour or so to assemble and dis-assemble. There is ample evidence that the 'bagne' (Caribbean penal colony) had one of these, which would have only been brought out of storage when needed. Had it been left permanently exposed to the tropical sun and rain, its timbers would have very rapidly deteriorated and warped to render it unusable. See more »
[Papillon is contemplating a daring leap from a cliff to escape]
It seems so desperate. You think it will work?
Does it matter?
See more »
The 1974 UK cinema release was heavily cut to secure a AA rating (nobody under 14 admitted) instead of a more restrictive X rating (nobody under 18 admitted). The cuts include . Reel 1: Reduced shot of Papillon stabbing man in the face in the scene on prison ship. . Reel 2: Removed shot of dead prisoner's bloody head in the sea. Removed shot of decapitated head falling into camera when guillotine blade descends. . Reel 3: Removed shot of Jules with his throat cut. . Reel 5: Removed shot of Maturette kicking guard in the testicles. Removed shot of blood coming from Clusio's mouth after he has been clubbed. . Reel 6: Reduced to flash shot only, the Spaniard impaled with spikes after he has trodden on a trap. . Reel 7: Removed shot of Papillon's toes being broken with a rifle-butt. The film was later passed uncut for all UK home video releases with an 18 rating in 1986 but the same uncut version was later passed with a 15 rating for the DVD release in 2000 (still retaining the Irish 18 rating however). See more »
An amazing true story gets a pretty good film treatment.
The true story of Henri Charriere (nicknamed "Papillon" because of his butterfly tattooed chest), a Frenchman falsely accused of murder and sent to French Guiana's inescapable penal colony. Charriere spent years trying to escape from this mosquito-ridden, malaria-prone hellhole, but every attempt somehow went awry. On many occasions, the recaptured Charriere was sent into solitary confinement and only survived thanks to his incredible mental strength. Ultimately, the authorities lost hope of taming his urge to break out, so they abandoned him on Devil's Island, a tiny land mass where guards were not needed since the constantly ferocious surrounding sea was ample deterent for any would-be escapees.
Franklin J. Schaffner directs this film quite well, capturing the appalling prison conditions vividly and getting a wonderful, multi-layered performance from Dustin Hoffman as Charriere's friend, convict Louis Dega. However, McQueen struggles with the demands of the lead role. Yes, he's physically accurate in the part and during the escape sequences he looks convincing. However, during the quieter moments, McQueen looks distinctly uncomfortable, and his natural "cool" persona doesn't equate with the humiliated, tormented character he is supposed to be playing. The subsidiary characters are great, especially the guy with the tattooed face who attributes his ugly tattoos to an evening of drunkeness, and Anthony Zerbe as a grossly disfigured leper who asks Papillon to share a cigar with him.
Best sequence? Probably the one where McQueen and another escapee flee through the rainforest from some soldiers, using natural jungle-based narcotics to preserve their energy levels.
40 of 61 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?
| Report this