Let’s Talk: Papillon
Welcome back to another LET’S TALK discussion, an opportunity to share thoughts, opinions, quotes and all things related on our selected movie of the week. The discussion is open for 7 days in order to allow everyone around the world to voice their thoughts.
To join the discussion, there are 2 ways to in;
The first way is the easiest, leave a comment on the post, and I will edit to be part of the conversation. The second way is to register on the site and you will have access to edit the post and add your opinion Oh and there will be spoilers discussed so if you haven’t seen the film yet, I suggest watching it and then coming back here to join in on the discussion.
This week 137 exactly is very proud to welcome my friend @SosMyWife to host this week’s LET’S TALK discussion on none other than one of Matt’s all-time favourite movies Papillon.
Without further ado, here’s @SosMyWife!
Papillon gives us the story of petty criminal (Steve McQueen) who is framed for the murder of a pimp, sentenced to life and sent to the penal colony in French Guiana. He then gets old and escapes…
Oh go on then, let’s start again, this time with a phone conversation…it’s 1974.
“Mr McQueen I’m calling on behalf of the Golden Globes Committee, you have been chosen for the Best Actor category for your work in Papillon.”
“That’s wonderful. I’m very honoured. You can send the award to me at my address.”
“Oh no, you have to be present at the awards ceremony to receive it.”
“No, I can’t be there. If I won the award and you think I deserve it, then please, you may mail it to me. You may mention my name. I’ll issue a statement to the press on behalf of the Golden Globes, I but won’t be there in person to pick it up.”
“Well, Mr McQueen, we’re very sorry you can’t make it.”
1974 Golden Globes
Best Actor in a Leading Role – Robert Redford, The Sting
Redford was present when he picked it up at the ceremony.
This was Steve McQueen, a huge star, and at the time the highest paid, but someone who just wouldn’t play the Hollywood game, which cost him the recognition he deserved and for Papillon, an Academy Award. Dustin Hoffman McQueen’s co-star was nominated for Best Supporting Actor that year and was outraged that Steve hadn’t even been nominated and told the press after the ceremony, “Not only should Steve McQueen have been nominated for Papillon, he should have won!.”
I love Papillon, it’s a film I’ve watched and adored from a very early age, the rich gritty characters to the brutal reality of French Guiana that director Franklyn J Schaffner (Planet of the Apes) so successfully put to film; Most of all though, for me, it’s McQueen. I was, and some may say still am, in complete awe of Steve McQueen and over the years have come to appreciate his performance in Papillon, more possibly than any of his other movies, with each viewing. What makes Papillon particularly special is it’s a film that has grown up with me, a story that has matured as I have. When I first saw it I was approximately 7 or 8 and to me McQueen was a god, a Hollywood hero larger than life. As a kid I remember Papillon as an Indiana Jones type character running through the jungle chased by natives with blow darts, eating centipedes in his prison cell and cutting throats without a moment’s hesitation, no one messed with McQueen. As an adult I have learned to appreciate the subtleties within Papillon, a whole new perspective, from the inhumane conditions of his treatment whilst in the hell of solitary confident to the inspiration and beauty in a sequence completely without dialogue, and of course the wonderful relationship Papillon develops with Dega, culminating with that final goodbye on the cliffs of Devil’s Island.
It’s this last scene that stays with me hours after each viewing. The wonderful final exchange before Papillon hurls himself off the cliff into the ocean and float away on a bag filled with coconuts….
Dega warns “You’ll be killed, you know”, Papillon replies, “Does it matter?” The two embrace as brothers, they know they will never see one another again. “Seventh wave,“ Papillon announces. Without warning, he leaps off the cliff into the rough sea below. He catches the seventh wave that takes him out sea and freedom beyond. “Hey, you bastards, I’m still here,” Papillon yells towards the Sky.
There are so many great scenes and moments in Papillon I could go on and on. I have purposely not given you a traditional synopsis as I am genuinely interested on your thoughts. Have you seen it? If not, why not? Stop what you are doing immediately and call me. You need to borrow my copy, only kidding; no one borrows my copy, no one.
Have you a favourite scene or sequence? Maybe you love Henry Charrière’s book and hate the film, I have a family member with this opinion, I had to walk away. Interestingly Franklyn Schaffner went through several writers before legendary screenwriter and one of the “Hollywood Ten” Donald Trumbo was hired to come up with a workable screenplay, which he was writing as they were still filming. This meant that the entire film is shot in sequence and caused the budget to blow way out.
There are so many fascinating stories just about the making of Papillon that would make a great film itself.
@Russell_Oz: I’m so glad that you’re hosting this week’s discussion, Matt! There is no one that I know who can talk as long and with as much passion about Steve McQueen than you! This is going to be a great week!
Now re ‘Papillon’, I loved the book and remember reading it years and years ago! I am currently in the process of borrowing a copy of the movie and will hopefully get to comment on the discussion either tomorrow or Tuesday!!
@MelBWrites: Awesome discussion!!! I LOVE Steve McQueen and could talk about him endlessly. I love how you included that bit about the Golden Globes and the Academy. Our King of Cool was definitely cooler than the H-Wood establishment.
Papillon is my second favorite Steve McQueen film. I am a Sand Pebbles girl, but only because I prefer ships to prisons. And that is probably one of the shallowest reasons you will hear for picking one movie over another, but there you go. That being said, Steve McQueen’s performance in Papillon is staggering. I watch the scenes with him in solitary and I cringe, my heart just agonizing for him. And he never betrays Dega. Badass to the core. I also love Dustin’s performance in here as well as Robert Deman as Maturette. One of my oddly favorite things about this movie is seeing a grown up Will Robinson as Lariot. I loved Lost in Space and watched in syndication as a kid so seeing Bill Mumy all grown up was awesome for me. I wouldn’t see him again as an adult until Babylon 5.
Back to Papillon. Now I have read the book and I think this film absolutely captures the heart of Charriere’s work. They are two different meduims and while there are films out there that diverge completely from their source material, this is certainly not one of them.
@SosMyWife: Thanks Mel, great to find a fellow McQueen devotee. I have to admit that Pebbles is my favourite also but I felt Papillion is a little more mainstream, I don’t think that many people unfortunately have seen Pebbles.
I also loved Anthony Zerbe as the head of the Leper colony, that moment when Papillion takes the offered Cigar is just priceless. I’m sure you have read Marshall Terrill’s book on McQueen there is a fantastic section on the making of Papillion, if not please check it out.
@MelBWrites: Yes! Zerbe was brilliant. And thanks for the heads up on the book. Am putting it on hold from library right now.
And yay! Pebbles is your fave, too. And don’t get me started on Bullett. LOL We’ll be here forever.
@Movies_In_Focus: Papillon is the type of movie that could only have been made (and become a success) in the 1970s. It’s a star driven movie with gravitas; can you imagine something like that being made today?
Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1973 film casts Steve McQueen in the lead, with Dustin Hoffman offering heavyweight support – a stunning combination in its day and it’s hard to believe that McQueen would die less than a decade later.
The Shawshank Redemption wouldn’t exist without Papillon. Frank Darabont’s prison drama owes so much to Schaffner’s film and I’m shocked that more people don’t see the similarities. The themes of oppression, friendship and hope are woven through both films. Personally, I feel that Papillon works a lot better, coming across as a fresher, more original tale than Darabont’s film, which openly tugs at the heart strings. The core of the Papillon is McQueen’s movie star charisma and because Hoffman (a star in his own right) is his perfect counterpoint. The always wonderful Anthony Zerbe is also present to add his trademark creepiness to proceedings.
Papillon may be long (at nearly 2 ½ hours), but it’s also a powerful and emotive drama with two impressive performances from the leads.
@SosMyWife: Great discussion so far, thanks everyone. @Movies_In_Focus I totally agree a real star driven movie. Originally when the rights of the book were purchased the idea was to distribute through Europe as they knew on the back of the its huge success it would do very well there, particulaly in France. They penciled in a big European star of the time to lead but it was felt that it would do well across the rest of the world, pariculalry the states. United Artists got involved and it was felt it need the biggest star of the time and $2 million later McQueen was onboard. At the time this was the highest amount any actor had been paid upfront for a picture.
Hoffman was brought on board but in the book Dega’s character was very under developed and concious of his rising star and not wanting Dega to be the just another “buddy” to McQueen’s Papillion Hoffman worked directly with Trumbo to flesh him out.
Very interestingly is that Hoffman and McQueen did’nt really get on, on a personal level. They admired each other tremendously as actors but were at different stages in their careers and had completely different acting styles. Hoffman was of the new breed of method actors who would ask the director dozens of questions on each shot and take, while McQueen was old school where less is more. they both learnt a huge amount from each other…
@Russell_Oz: I literally just finished watching Papillon for the first time about 10 minutes ago and my first thought was “Wow, what a film”. In fact that I think that’s why I typed in the tweet I just sent! I am genuinely impressed with the story and found parts of it more emotional than I thought it would be.
There are so many thoughts I want to express about the film that I am struggling to type them all down so I am just gonna start my involvement in this discussion with some of the highlights for me;
- I saw parallels in the McQueen’s performance as Papillon and Paul Newman as Cool Hand Luke. Both men who are bucking the system and “The Man”. Both are prison films but the main character serves as an inspiration to those around him despite that not being the intention.
- That scene where Papillon saves Dega from the two inmates who try to kill him during the night. That whole scene had me on the edge of my seat and I think that a great deal of that was due to the lack of a score. No music so the tension was heightened.
- When Papillon was put into solitary. That might be the finest portrayal of solitary I’ve ever seen. Absolutely brutal. And that scene where he doesn’t give up Dega and gives, in my opinion, and Academy Award winning performance of telling the Warden that “it’s just gone, it’s not there anymore” and then eats the note…I was almost in tears.
- The Escape. Oh man, the escape. Attention ‘Prison Break’ writers, THIS is how you write an escape!
- After spending time with the Native tribe and then escaping from one place to another, he ends up getting turned in by a NUN??? I did not see that coming! Oh and I bet she kept the pearls too! When the film cut to the next scene of the solitary confinement camp I think I actually sat there with my mouth agape. I was too stunned to say anthing.
- Last but not least, I knew that the final scene was coming but it still didn’t lessen the impact. Powerful to say the least. The embrace between the two spoke volumes. I’m glad it didn’t go on for any longer, I was spent.
@SosMyWife: Hey Russ, thanks I am so glad you enjoyed it. I’m not sure what would have happended if you hadn’t. The solitary confidment scene is brutal and the eating of the centipede, yuk. “Papilion Fact” During the filming McQueen was a real pain the arse for the director, as usual, and as they were on these exotic locations didn’t hold back sampling the local cuisine and drank beer like it was going out of fashion, it was his way of cutting down the “other” drugs. As such when they were shooting the scenes where he is supposed to be without food for months on end he put on loads of weight and the costume dept had to make his clothes too big to make him look emaciated…
@CriminalMovies: Papillon is one of those films you just never forget. McQueen is perfection as the centerpiece of it, and Hoffman is also in peak form. The dynamic between the two of them is truly indescribable, and all the more amazing with all the changes in location and passing of time in the film. I’m a huge fan of McQueen, and this one was a perfect example of what made him so great. I like that you mentioned his real personality too, as his independence is something I thought always showed through in his roles. I liked the settings in Papillon a great deal, a departure from the conventional prison set up. It’s brilliant to rely on the surroundings to keep men from escaping, but clearly in this case it wasn’t quite enough. Great pick!
@InTheFrame1: I have friends visiting the country for the first time with me this week, so I don’t have much time.
Here’s my review though:
The thing that stuck in my mind for years was the weird running style of the native who helped them.
@Wayneley: Planet of the Apes & Patton director Franklin J. Schaffner certainly knows how to helm a great movie and with actor Steve McQueen & Dustin Hoffman onboard he manages to create one of one of the finest movies I have ever seen in PAPILLION – it’s truly an emotional ride!
I’ve not read the book (I’m ashamed to say) but watched the movie several times – Schaffner’s movies always have great visuals and use sound sparingly but effectively.
The grimness of prison life during the French penal system of its day is superbly depicted & one of my favorite scenes has to be “the execution scene” it is brutal & wonderfully done by Schaffner!
I’m a huge fan of Steve McQueen and his chemistry opposite Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega is brilliant – loved the ending too on the raft & still have nightmares of his time spent in Solitary & the soup scene!
A great movie discussion & once again loved reading everyone’s favorite moments with PAPILLION!
@Russell_Oz: It was just such a great way to end the movie that I wanted to post it here, so if you haven’t watched the film then DO NOT watch the below clip!
@Russell_Oz: While watching the above trailer I was really struck by the words spoken by the narrator; “comes the greatest prison adventure ever filmed”, I don’t think that truer words could be spoken about Papillon. It’s so complex, layered, and multi-dimensional that it’s hard to express just how much you enjoyed it.
I just remembered another wonderful scene that really spoke to me, do you remember the scene where Papillon is released from solitary the first time and is met by Dega back at the prison and the moment that they shared? It was such a simple scene made more emotional by the performance of the actors. Just wonderful.
@Gailinva: Another great movie discussion! I watched this movie after the Let’s Talk: Cool Hand Luke discuss. I went on a Steve McQueen bender starting with The Sand Pebbles , then Papillon and just a few days ago Bullitt.
I don’t think Papillon could be properly made in this day and age. It needed the star power of Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. It needed that time and space to be the movie it is.
And what a movie. I had not seen this one before. Yes, I saw bits and pieces of it but not the whole movie.The impact of this story is still with me. I’ve looked into buying the book. I’ve researched information about the author. I wanted to know more. And I fell in love again with Steve McQueen.
I think about the 7th wave. Waiting, counting, figuring it out, trusting it to take you to freedom. It is now imbedded in my brain as a message of hope. Nasty news at work ? “Remember the 7th wave”. Having a bad day/moment? “Wait for the 7th wave.”
There are movies that only entertain me. Nothing wrong with that . But there are movies that entertain and teach and change me. Papillion is one of those movies.
@Russell:Oz: Thanks for stopping by and leaving an awesome comment, Gail! You have inspired me to start using “wait for the 7th wave” whenever I am stressed out! Love it! And wow, talk about a Steve McQueen marathon!