Alcatraz is the most secure prison of its time. It is believed that no one can ever escape from it, until three daring men make a possible successful attempt at escaping from one of the most infamous prisons in the world.
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. On Papillon's initiative, Papillon and Dega enter into a business arrangement: Papillon will provide protection for Dega, while Dega will finance Papillon's escape attempt. As Papillon and Degas' time together lasts longer than either expects, their burgeoning friendship ends up being an ... Written by
Usually, after reading a long book filled with many interesting adventures, watching a two-hour film later winds up being a big disappointment. There is no way a film can give you anywhere near the info you glean from a book, especially one over 500 pages as is the case with "Papillion." Yet, despite most of Henri Charriere's incredible feats of survival, ("Papillion" was Charriere's nickname) this movie is above average and basically does the book justice. The movie runs about two-and-a-half hours and gives enough of a flavor to have the viewer appreciate - at least to some degree - the brutal trials and tribulations Papillion went through in real life.
If you enjoyed this film, the book is a "must-read" for you and very highly-recommend You won't believe all the things Charriere experienced: good and bad. In real life, the man escaped something like eight times and each time went through hell.
Steve McQueen, playing "Papillion," was excellent. He was particularly good at showing the physical effects of years of solitary confinement. By the way, in real life, Charriere was much younger went sent to jail than McQueen was at the time this movie was shot. Papillion should have been played by a younger actor, but who's going to complain when you get an actor of McQueen's caliber?
Dustin Hoffman also was great as Papillion's friend, "Louis Dega," who had a bigger role in the movie than he did in the book. For the most part, Papillion had a number of friends, all helping him over the years. Hoffman also provided some good comic relief to the movie and, heaven knows, it needed it. Take it from someone who has read the book: this is a grim story, worse than what you saw on screen here.
Nevertheless, thanks to the two leading actors and the wonderful work by Director Franklin Schaffner and Cinematograher Fred Koenekamp, this long film entertained. No, it wasn't the caliber of the book, but it's didn't insult it, either, and is definitely worth a look.
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