Based on his book, here’s the true story of convict Henri Charriere. Sentenced to life in the penal colony of French Guyana in the early 1930’s, Papillon (French for butterfly) (Steve McQueen), as he was called because of his tattoo, is determined to escape the cruelest prison system of his times and pays a high price for it with years of solitary confinement. Nevertheless, his spirit always overcomes the pain, until he finally makes it, but not before going through the most excruciating and perilous ordeal.
His best friend, Dega (Dustin Hoffman), is not as strong and isn’t able to keep up with Papillon’s relentless pursuit of escape. However, their friendship remains through thick and thin. Theirs is a story of courage and of a strong will to live in freedom.
Dalton Trumbo, with Lorenzo Semple Jr, is responsible for another sharp screenplay. This time around he appears in a cameo in the opening scene delivering a severe sentence to the recently arrived prisoners.
The 1973 film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, may seem slow-paced, but the acting and the plot will keep you interested. Besides, there are some quotable lines that will stay forever in your ears.
The Oscar-winning score by Jerry Goldsmith, melodic, definitely French, with an accordion that proclaims sadly but firmly the lesson in this powerful drama: Never give up.
See also with Steve McQueen: The Getaway (1972), Nevada Smith (1966), The Sand Pebbles (1966).
See also with Dustin Hoffman: Rain Man (1988), All The President’s Men (1976), Little Big Man (1970).