“Papillon” – Steve McQueen’s Other Great Escape

Another great escape for McQueen

Papillon (Warner)

Ten years after Steve McQueen made his name in the most famous escape thriller of them all – The Great Escape – he stepped into the role of Henri ‘Papillon’ Charriere, the real-life French safecracker convicted of murder (unjustly, he maintained) and sentenced to the prison colony in French Guyana and, alter, Devil’s Island.

Directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, the 1973 film in no action spectacle or cliffhanger thriller. The film moves at a pace befitting Papillon’s experience as he endures the work gang in the swamps, sits out solitary confinement designed to break his mind and his spirit and makes his way through the jungles and across the open seas in his escape attempts, motivated by the same spirit that keeps him alive: the drive to escape. Schaffner seeps the film in the humid, fetid texture of the jungle prison camps, the oppressive silence of solitary, the death watch of the infirmary (bodies are unceremoniously dragged off of beds and out of the ward on a nightly basis) and the brutality of a prison culture where there is no oversight and no consequences for the behavior of the guards.

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