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Drama - Survival

Papillon (1973)


Duration 2h 31m Rating (UK) 15
Source of story A book of the same name by Henri Charrière
Director Franklin J. Schaffner
Writers/Script Dalton Trumbo, Lorenzo Semple Jr, William Goldman
Starring Steve McQueen, Dustin Hoffman, Victor Jory,

Elevator Pitch: Henri Charrière, known as Papillon, is framed for  murder, found guilty and exported to the camp in French Guiana known as “Devil’s Island”. He meets embezzler Louis Dega and they become friends, and later Papillon saves Dega from a sadistic guard, but is accused of a attempted escape and put in solitary for two years. Hospitalised on his release he formulates a plan and with others he escapes and after some adventures becomes resident in a native village, but is recaptured. Even after a further five years in solitary his enthusiasm for escape is not diminished.

Content: Papillon lives in a native village and forms  relationships with two teenage girls who are mostly naked, and with whom sex is implied. Papillon and Dega travel in a small steamer to the colony. There is drinking and smoking and a great deal of violence with a number of prisoners being killed, one being guillotined. . The guards threat the prisoners badly and the prisoners treat each other badly as well. There is implied homosexual activity. During the main escape the three guys are helped by lepers (disfigured) and sail along the coast, eventually getting to a beach. The scenes of Papillon in solitary are harrowing.

A View: This is a well known story, and it helps just to know a bit about the colony. When the prisoners were released at the end of their senences they were not repatriated, but had to become residents of the local town, so really it was a one way ticket. It is suggested here and there that the book is a work of fiction and it happens that when I was a youth I read an earlier autobiography about imprisonment on Devil’s Island and have always though that it was used to create the later work. But that aside, if you fancy a harrowing prison based drama, worth the cost of a download.

Additional Info: Well liked by 116,000 IMDb viewers. Remade in 2017 with Charlie Hunnam in the title role.

About Victor R Gibson

Author of this site three technical books and two novels


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