The fact that Henri Charriere wrote this script and acted in the film is the only reason it hasn't slipped into oblivion long ago. For anyone who has read his autobiographies, "Papillon" and "Banco", seeing Henri Charriere in the flesh is the main reason to seek this movie out. The very fact that he went from escaping Devil's Island and then reinventing his life through some death-defying adventures, all the way up to a film-actor, is a feat to be admired.
But this film is really shaky in almost every way. The story was written probably from his own experiences, dealing with diamond thieves in the South American jungles. It's really pretty standard fare, storywise, dealing basically with the theme of honor amongst thieves.
Papillon/Charriere is one of several burglars who stage a daring theft from the steaming jungles, only to experience betrayal from one of their own. They pursue their betrayers and are themselves pursued. But the film maintains an unexpectedly slow pace for this type of movie, despite being basically a "chase story". You almost get the feeling that all of the actors are waiting nervously for Charriere to do something throughout the film, but he spends a lot of time sitting and thinking and smoking before answering questions, in a heavily-accented English.
Charriere seems to have gotten a bit too comfortable by the time he made this film, looking a bit too portly to be taken seriously as a swashbuckling, fist-fighting burglar. The film also contains the typical countercultural themes of the time involving fear of aging, which was perhaps a bit of a marketing ploy to the audiences of the time. It seems a bit out of place in the overall story.
Read Henri Charriere's two autobiographies first, then perhaps watch the Steve McQueen film-version of the first book, which was released only a few months before Charriere died . Only then will you maybe acquire the curiosity to see the man behind the amazing books. Otherwise you may fall asleep before the film is over.
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