Tuesday, June 23, 2015

562. PAPILLON (1973)

Running Time: 150 minutes
Directed By: Franklin J. Schaffner
Written By: Dalton Trumbo, Lorenzo Semple Jr., from the novel by Henri Charriere
Main Cast: Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory, Don Gordon, Anthony Zerbe
Click here to view the trailer


Since my last writing, I've seen two very good, NON-BOOK movies: Purple Noon (which I'd rate around 7.5/10) and Mary and Max (call it 8/10). I figure instead of doing monthly recaps, which I've proved I simply don't have the time for, I figure just mentioning my other viewings within my reviews will suffice. Anyway, "Papillon" has been sitting on my DVR for months now, as I caught it off TCM some time back, trying to save myself from having to get it delivered from Netflix. I also have "Z" and "Forbidden Planet" nabbed from TCM and waiting for me.

The film is long and begins with Henri Charriere (McQueen) a.k.a. Papillon (nicknamed for the butterfly that is tattooed on his chest) arriving at a French Guiana prison, wrongfully accused of killing a pimp. From the get go, he is dead set on escaping, mentally refusing to spend the rest of his life in prison and seeks out the help of Louis Dega (Hoffman), a forger who is worth millions and has much of his fortune stowed away in his insides. Papillon strikes a deal with Dega: he'll protect Dega from getting his stomach cut open (the guy literally has his loot stashed inside himself), if Dega will finance his escape, which will cost whatever it takes to bribe a guard and secure a boat, since they're imprisoned on an island. Meanwhile, the men are informed of the penalty for attempted escape: first attempt equals two years in solitary confinement, second attempt equals five years in solitary and further attempts will result in execution. Attempt number one for Papillon goes off unsuccessfully and thus he's sentenced to two years in the hole. When his new found friend Dega gets the news, he begins sending him extra food, which Papillon is eventually caught with. Not willing to give up Dega, his rations are cut in half and he nearly starves to death in solitary, but leaves with honor and the loyalty of his friend still intact. However, life alone and in the dark doesn't persuade Papillon to become a model prisoner, as he continues to hatch his scheme to be set free.

I'd have to stick this one up there with The Hustler, in the list of biggest disappointments to come out of THE BOOK. One of the reasons I saved Papillon for the final season was because I was almost sure it would be a hit with me. I mean, my God, it's a prison movie for pete's sake and I love prison movies just as much as I dislike sci-fi movies. I figured, we got Steve McQueen who I loved in The Great Escape and this will be a nice reminder of how great that movie was, but instead a whole new movie with him trying to do basically the same thing. I figured we also had Dustin Hoffman co-starring and you can never go wrong with the original Hoff (the current "Hoff" being David Hasselhoff, of course). And finally, I figured IT'S A FREAKIN' PRISON MOVIE!! But the thing is, is that it's really not - not entirely, anyway. It's more of an adventure or as THE BOOK puts it, a man vs. nature movie. And I'm not really that big on man vs. nature movies. Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling Papillon a BAD movie, I'm just saying that as far as escape/prison movies go, it's down there, which isn't saying much, because I've rarely seen an escape/prison movie I disliked (this is the first, if memory serves...and again, I wouldn't even go so far as to say "I disliked it").

Perhaps, my hopes were just TOO HIGH - that can happen. Actually, I think I just was expecting a different movie. I think I was expecting The Great Escape 2 and what I got was Papillon 1. Despite having the same leading man and both being about escapes, they're two very different films. While The Great Escape is more up my alley - an up and up ESCAPE flick, with much of the films plot dedicated to the intricacies of the escape plan - while Papillon is more up someone else's alley, obviously. It's more about a man's will to do himself his own justice. Papillon is innocent and rather than spend his life wrongfully paying a price that he doesn't owe, he becomes determined to just be free. Notice that when Dega suggests that his case could be appealed and that he could be set free in three years, Papillon refuses to even consider the idea of spending another three years of his life locked up, when maybe, just MAYBE he could get himself out. Papillon is a bit deeper, while most other prison/escape films are just good fun, intricate in showing us how these guys get out of their jam, amusing as we watch to see if they can actually get away with it or not. Papillon is about human emotion and a bond between two men. I didn't care as much for it, but more viewings could sweeten my current sour taste against the movie. Again, not bad, just disappointed really. I DID love the scene where Papillon is being held in solitary, easily the best bit of the whole picture. Oh and the other notable aspect of the film is the comedy - specifically Hoffman. I actually can't remember a movie where he was funnier than he was here. I actually laughed out loud multiple times and actually, it takes a lot to get me to actually LOL. I'll leave you with a line Hoffman's Dega delivers near the end of the picture, when he's clearly losing his mind, as he yells at his pet pigs, while feeding them:

To Adam, the pig: "Now that's not yours - now you get away! I'm not going to tell you again!"

To Freddie, the pig: "Here you are Freddie"

To Adam, the pig: "Freddie's not feeling well today and you should appreciate that fact!"


RATING: 6.5/10  Can't really get it into '7' territory, considering my disappointment level, but it was good enough to get really close. Tomorrow is my last day of vacation, so here's hoping I can knock out at least one more movie before I have to head back to work, preferably The 400 Blows.


June 23, 2015  10:39pm


  1. Hey, 'Mary and Max' .. cracking piece of film making.. delighted to see it get a mention...

    ,But we are supposed to be here for Papillion...
    Well, it's Ok I guess.. bit long...

    1. Yes, Mary and Max was great. Have you seen Purple Noon? I feel like you'd like that one....

      And yes, TOO LONG. Shorter would have equaled better in this case, I think


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