Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Franklin J. Schaffner was on a hot streak in the late 60's and early 70's when he decided to make the prison film Papillon. Planet of the Apes and Patton had established him as a commercially viable director with a flair for showing off his lead actors. It seemed only natural he get one of the biggest stars of all time, Steve McQueen, and agruably the best actor of the time, Dustin Hoffman, together for film.

McQueen plays the title character who has been wrongfully convicted of killing a pimp (I thought that was doing a good thing). The French government decided to send him across the sea with hundreds of other prisoners to work camps in French Guinea. Along the way, Papillon meets Louis Dega (Hoffman) who has been convicted of a white collar crime. Dega has money and Papillon soon work out a deal for protection. Papillion needs the money to try and escape his new prison once they get ashore.

The film turns into a story of friendship over many years and more than a few prison breaks. Dega settles in to a cushy job working for the warden, but Papillon is hell bent on his freedom. Schaffner does a masterful job of direction with the shots. The sets are impeccable and you actually feel a little uncomfortable in the heat of the locations. Both of the leads are quite good in their own different ways. McQueen could do this role in his sleep, yet manages a little extra especially in the second half of the film. Hoffman does his thing with the character of Dega with a whiny voice and Coke bottle glasses. All of the elements come together well with just a little bit of pacing issues towards the end. Overall a very worthy watch.


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