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Papillon (1973)

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A man befriends a fellow criminal as the two of them begin serving their sentence on a dreadful prison island, which inspires the man to plot his escape.

Writers:

Dalton Trumbo (screenplay), Lorenzo Semple Jr. (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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Popularity
1,451 ( 515)
Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Steve McQueen ... Henri 'Papillon' Charriere
Dustin Hoffman ... Louis Dega
Victor Jory ... Indian Chief
Don Gordon ... Julot
Anthony Zerbe ... Toussaint
Robert Deman Robert Deman ... Maturette
Woodrow Parfrey ... Clusiot
Bill Mumy ... Lariot
George Coulouris ... Dr. Chatal
Ratna Assan ... Zoraima
William Smithers ... Warden Barrot
Val Avery ... Pascal
Gregory Sierra ... Antonio
Vic Tayback ... Sergeant (as Victor Tayback)
Mills Watson ... Guard
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Storyline

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 Huggo

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

For Papillon survival was not enough .... he had to be free See more »

Genres:

Biography | Crime | Drama

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Official Sites:

Official site

Country:

France | USA

Language:

English | Spanish

Release Date:

19 December 1973 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Papillon See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$12,000,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$53,267,000
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo (magnetic prints)| Mono (optical prints)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Although billed as a true story, the French in French Guiana claim that much of the story of Henri "Papillon" Charrière is fabricated. Papillon was documented to have been incarcerated in Saint Laurent and may have escaped from there, but he never served any time on the Devil's Islands (now known as Iles du Salut or Salvation Islands). The book and movie both present Devil's Island as having rocky cliffs, when in fact, though the entire island is rocky, it gently slopes into the surrounding sea. See more »

Goofs

At around 18:00, you can see the shadow of camera or crew as the rail car passes. See more »

Quotes

Dega: Blame is for God and small children.
See more »

Alternate Versions

Some American prints of this film run 132 minutes, instead of 150. See more »

Connections

Referenced in History's Greatest Hoaxes: Papillon: Fact or Fiction (2016) See more »

Soundtracks

Ballet Music from Faust
(uncredited)
Music by Charles Gounod
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

 
Grim and authentic telling of Henri "Papillon" Charrière's time at Devil's Island.
7 April 2010 | by SpikeopathSee all my reviews

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (Planet Of The Apes/Patton), Papillon is adapted for the screen by Dalton Trumbo & Lorenzo Semple Jr. from notorious French felon Henri "Papillon" Charrière's own novel. It stars Steve McQueen (Papillon) & Dustin Hoffman (Louis Dega), is primarily shot in Jamaica & Spain with Fred J. Koenekamp (The Towering Inferno) on photography duties and Jerry Goldsmith provides the score.

Henri "Papillon" Charrière was a crook, a bad egg, he however was sent to the notorious and inescapable prison fortress of Devil's Island for a murder he didn't commit. The film, as is the book, is a fictionalised account of Charrière's time at the penal colony.

The film is probably best described as being a stirring drama of friendship under duress, endurance and opportunism, all neatly blended with an adventure based heart. Schaffner directs it with great technical skill, for in a film with minimal dialogue, he manages to perfectly stifle the viewer with a hot sweaty atmosphere. This is crucial for us to feel the confines of this penal colony life. These men are doing hard time, lets not soft soap it Hollywood style, lets get the feel right, something, that much like Don Siegel also did in 79 with his excellent Escape From Alcatraz, Schaffner does exceptionally well. He is helped enormously by two fabulous performances from McQueen & Hoffman.

McQueen is in his element as Papillon. Always an actor whose ability for dominating scenes without using histrionic acting was undervalued, Papillon goes some way to readdressing the myth that he was more about iconography than actual talent. His solitary confinement scenes are sublime, and this without saying barely a word. As Papillon staves off starvation, madness and disease, McQueen has such a powerful and believable presence that he pulls us into that five by five paces cell alongside him. Incredible! Once again though the Academy ignored McQueen's excellent work and the film only received just the one Oscar nomination for Goldsmith's pinging tropical score. Hoffman's great work was something of a given, meticulous as usual in his preparation (he had studied for weeks about penal colony life), he is the perfect foil for McQueen and the relationship between them is tender yet never twee. Fine support also comes from Anthony Zerbe as a compassionate leader of a leper colony & Victor Jory as an Indian Chief.

The production was an expensive one, with the original budget of $4 million ballooning to $14 million, making it the most expensive film of 1973. A couple of scripts were jettisoned (money down the drain) before Schaffner enlisted Trumbo to write the screenplay. A good move because Trumbo was able to flesh out character relationships that didn't exist in the source novel. Hoffman himself was adamant that he would only play Dega if the film steered away from a buddy buddy formula and gave Dega intelligent integrity. He got it, which is credit to Trumbo since the Dega character is barely formed in the novel, in fact the film version is an amalgamation of several penal colony characters. Trumbo was rewarded with not only a considerable paycheck, but also a bit part in the movie as the colony commandant early in the piece.

Initial critical reaction to the film was harsh, but the public didn't agree since the theatres were packed and the film made almost $50 million Worldwide. This made it Allied Artists most successful film ever. It has since garnered a massive fan base and has been favourably reassessed by a new wave of critics. Those old complaints about it being too sombre and too enduring to get through just don't add up. One only has to note the thematics and essence of the story to know that this is indeed fact. 9/10


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