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teaser Papillon (1973)

Pop Culture 101 - PAPILLON

Devil's Island has figured prominently in a number of movies over the years: Humphrey Bogart in Passage to Marseille (1944) and the comedy We're No Angels (1955), Escape from Devil's Island (1935), Boris Karloff in Devil's Island (1939), Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in Strange Cargo (1940), the infamous Dreyfus case in I Accuse! (1958) and I Escaped from Devil's Island (1973), among others.

Prison movies have long been a staple of action/suspense films, and often involve exciting escape attempts. Steve McQueen starred in one of the most famous, The Great Escape (1963). Others who have memorably made a break (with varying degrees of success) include Robert Donat in The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) and Jim Caviezel in the 2002 remake, Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones (1958), Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz (1979). The animated film Chicken Run (2000) spoofed various elements of the genre.

An Italian movie, Farfallon (1974), was in some ways a spoof of Papillon, transformed into a domestic murder comedy. "Farfallo" is the Italian word for butterfly.

by Rob Nixon

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PAPILLON - Trivia and Other Fun Stuff

Franklin J. Schaffner is generally considered one of the best directors of TV's "Golden Age" - the period of superlative live drama in the 1950s. He won Emmys for his work on the original broadcasts of Twelve Angry Men (1954) and The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial (1955), both of which were later turned into feature films, and a special Emmy for directing Jacqueline Kennedy's Tour of the White House (1962).

Despite his beginnings in intimate TV drama, Schaffner's films have tended to be big budget, epic stories of adventure and historical sweep, among them The War Lord (1965), Planet of the Apes (1968), Patton (1970), for which he won his only Oscar®, and Nicholas and Alexandra (1971).

Dalton Trumbo began his screenwriting career in 1936 and contributed many successful and acclaimed scripts until the late 1940s, when he became a victim of the Red Scare witch-hunts. He went to prison as one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of film industry people accused of being Communists, who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although blacklisted, he continued to write under pseudonyms and using "fronts" throughout the 1950s, even winning an Academy Award® for The Brave One (1957) under the closely guarded false name "Robert Rich." His career was revived when Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger defied the blacklist and gave him full credit for, respectively, Spartacus (1960) and Exodus (1960). In 1992 Trumbo was posthumously acknowledged by the Academy for his original story for Roman Holiday (1953), which had won an Oscar for his front, Ian McLellan Hunter.

Look closely for TV stars Bill Mumy (Will Robinson of Lost in Space) as the doomed young prisoner Lariot and Vic Tayback (Mel of the sitcom Alice) as the sergeant.

Dustin Hoffman's then-wife, former dancer Anne Byrne, makes a brief appearance at the beginning as Dega's well-heeled wife. Also doing uncredited bits are screenwriter Dalton Trumbo as the official who sends the prisoners off to South America at the beginning of the movie and future Oscar® nominee Richard Farnsworth as a bounty hunter.

A dispute over the film's TV rights arose in September 1974 between CBS, which announced it had negotiated the rights with producers Dorfmann and Richmond, and ABC, which claimed to have bought the rights from Allied Artists for $3.75 million. CBS finally aired the picture in October 1977, despite a clause in original contracts that said it couldn't be broadcast before December 1978.

Two cast members were veterans of dozens of films, and this wasn't their first time associated with Devil's Island. Victor Jory (the chief of the nomadic tribe) started in motion pictures in 1930 and was in Escape from Devil's Island (1935). One of his most famous roles was as the "white trash" overseer in Gone with the Wind (1939). George Coulouris (Dr. Chatal) made his film debut in 1933. Audiences will likely best remember him as the harried Mr. Thatcher in Citizen Kane (1941). He also played in I Accuse! (1958), the story of Devil's Island's other most famous real-life prisoner, Alfred Dreyfus.

Jerry Goldsmith is one of Hollywood's most successful composers of film scores. He has been nominated for Academy Awards 17 times, winning once for The Omen (1976). He wrote the music for the Steve McQueen film The Sand Pebbles (1966) as well as the theme from the 1950s TV series that gave McQueen his first big break, Wanted: Dead or Alive. He also scored six other Franklin J. Schaffner films: The Stripper (1963), Planet of the Apes (1968), Patton (1970), Lionheart (1987), Islands in the Stream (1977) and The Boys from Brazil (1978). The association between the two began years earlier when Schaffner was directing and Goldsmith composed for live television drama on Playhouse 90 and Studio One.

The film's premiere benefited cancer research in memory of Henri Charriere, who died of lung cancer five months before its release.

Although many considered this McQueen's best performance to date, he was overlooked by the Academy. Some say that was because McQueen had "stolen" Ali McGraw (who became his second wife) from her husband Robert Evans, who was a powerful studio executive at the time. McQueen was also rumored to have slept with many other Hollywood wives. Others say McQueen's Oscar snub was because the actor, in rather coarse language, once told the Golden Globes committee he would accept an award if he won but would never consider going to the ceremony. He did, however, receive a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination for Papillon.

The movie was originally given an R rating by the MPAA because of its violence, but Allied Artists argued for and won a PG rating. An Illinois father sued after taking his young son to see the movie. A judge threw the case out, reasoning that the "Parental Guidance" rating implies a warning to parents.

Famous Quotes from PAPILLON

PRISON OFFICIAL (Dalton Trumbo): As for France, the nation has disposed of you. France has rid herself of you altogether. Forget France. And put your clothes on.

PAPILLON (Steve McQueen): We're really something, aren't we? The only animals who shove something up their ass for survival.

DEGA (Dustin Hoffman): You got life for killing a pimp and then you had the bad taste to tell the prosecutor you were going to escape and kill him, too.

DEGA: You remember what the chicken said to the weasel?
PAPILLON: Well, if he was a healthy weasel, the chicken didn't have a chance to say anything. Think about that.

WARDEN (William Smithers): We make no pretense at rehabilitation here. We're not priests, we're processors.

PRISONER (Uncredited): I know you, you're Dega. You're a very intelligent man!
DEGA: Thank you. I seem to be known in all the wrong places.

SOLITARY PRISONER (Uncredited): How do I look? I feel pretty good but I need somebody to tell me how I look.

DEGA: Blame is for God and small children.

PAPILLON: Me, they can kill. You, they own.

PAPILLON: I'm still here, you bastards!

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser Papillon (1973)

The Big Idea Behind PAPILLON

Henri Charriere was probably one of the very few who escaped from France's notorious South American prison Devil's Island and lived to tell about it. He was almost certainly the only one to reap a huge financial windfall from it. His autobiography sold five million copies in the U.S. and 17 million abroad, and when producers were understandably eager to turn it into a motion picture, they had to fork over a half million dollars and percentage of the profits to the author.

Roman Polanski was one of the first directors interested in bringing Charriere's story to the screen, with Warren Beatty as its star. Lack of finances, however, ended that possibility.

Producers Ted Richmond and Robert Dorfmann optioned a screen adaptation by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. that was deemed quite satisfactory. But because it would be an expensive undertaking, they needed to insure their investment with a big name on the marquee. Steve McQueen was then one of the biggest stars in movies, and he saw in it not only a chance to expand his range and screen image but a good opportunity to ask for - and get - what was then a fairly staggering salary for an actor, $2 million.

Even with McQueen attached, the producers felt they needed more than one box-office name, and so shortly before production began, they negotiated a deal with Dustin Hoffman at a salary of $1.25 million. With the addition of recent Oscar®-winner Franklin J. Schaffner as director, the producers were able to convince distributor Allied Artists to put up $7 million of the ever-inflating budget. Nevertheless, the company took additional steps to secure its investment by officially declaring it a French production for corporate tax reasons.

The problem with the original script was there was no other major role beyond Papillon in the story, certainly not for someone of Hoffman's magnitude. So a new writer had to be brought in to create a part for him. It was decided that only one man was up to the task of producing a quality script at the eleventh hour - Dalton Trumbo. "I may not be the best screenwriter in Hollywood," Trumbo once said, "but I am incomparably the fastest."

Trumbo had little time for research beyond reading the book, which he later commented he found "pretty damned dull." He quickly outlined a structure that would put Hoffman in the role of the forger Dega. But in the book, Dega was only a minor character who disappeared quickly from the story.

Trumbo and Hoffman got together in the remaining few weeks before production began to discuss what kind of character Dega would be. As they got to know each other better, Hoffman became more certain the forger should be patterned after Trumbo himself. "He's a real feisty man," Hoffman later said, "and he's got a combination of toughness and sophistication and integrity that I felt were right for Dega."

Trumbo quickly cranked out 60 pages of the script in time for the first day of production in Spain. Thereafter, he traveled with the company on location, writing constantly, never more than 20 pages ahead of the shooting schedule.

by Rob Nixon

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Behind the Camera on PAPILLON

Lack of a complete script before shooting began was the least of the many problems that plagued the production of Papillon. The script required big scenes with hundreds of extras and supporting players, shot on location in Spain, Guyana and, for most of the shoot, Jamaica, where tough jungle conditions and bad weather caused several costly delays.

The film was shot in sequence, unusual for a production of this size but allowing McQueen the luxury of building his character in stages.

The prison set was the largest in the film, an 800-foot expanse resulting from two years of research by production designer Anthony Masters. It was built near Falmouth on the north shore of Jamaica.

The crew took advantage of the abundant marijuana that was readily available in Jamaica. Not content to merely smoke it, they boiled it down to mix in drinks at a party. Several people got sick from that, particularly Schaffner, causing a day's delay in shooting.

Reportedly, the producers began taking raw footage to backers in Paris and getting just enough cash to keep things rolling. For a period of three weeks, money ran out and nobody got paid, and it looked as though the production would be shut down altogether. When McQueen found out, he told the producers, "Unless everyone gets paid, I don't work." The situation improved after that.

Hoffman became angry and uncooperative for a period of time after he discovered that although he and McQueen would receive equal billing, he was actually making $750,000 less than his co-star. Although they didn't really speak to each other between takes or after principal photography was completed, they behaved professionally on the set for the most part.

McQueen and Hoffman did have some difficulties, despite their determination to behave professionally toward each other. When Hoffman began one speech at breakneck speed, McQueen stopped him and said, "Less, man, less. Toss that shit out, you don't need it. Keep it simple." Another time, Hoffman invited a few close friends to watch a day's filming. McQueen had them thrown off the set. Nevertheless, Hoffman called their relationship "friendly rivalry" and later said his co-star "was a wonderful guy. Off screen, he was the nicest, classiest man. On the set itself he became very intense." Another time, however, he referred to McQueen as "that son of a bitch."

When Hoffman's driver hit a pedestrian and caused serious injury, the actor, not the driver, began receiving death threats from the locals.

Theft and pillage by the locals were a constant problem. When the production ended, before properties could be packed and shipped, locals raided and stripped the set, making off with costumes (600 pairs of shoes alone), machinery, and lumber. In all, $30,000 was lost.

Schaffner would get up at four in the morning and meet with Trumbo for an hour or so for a last look at the pages to be filmed that day. When the day's shooting was finished, the director returned to the hotel to meet with the writer until late in the night to see what he had written that day.

Trumbo never grumbled about the demanding schedule, but illness forced him to leave the production before the script was completed. He was found to have lung cancer, scotching any possibility that he could return to the set after visiting his doctors in California. The script was completed, under a fortuitous arrangement with the Writers Guild, by Trumbo's son Christopher, who already had one movie and some TV credits by that time.

Hoffman had to wear special contact lenses to balance his vision, which was severely distorted by the Coke-bottle glasses his character was required to wear.

Schaffner and editor Robert Swink had to cut the film under great pressure from the producers and backers in order to have it ready for simultaneous holiday-season openings in New York, Paris and Tokyo.

Charriere was present for the shoot in Jamaica, but he died of lung cancer in July 1973, a few months before the film was edited and released. He never got to see the finished product.

by Rob Nixon

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The Critics' Corner on PAPILLON

"Hoffman does an excellent job in portraying his character's adaptation to the corruptibilities of prison life, amidst an inexorable physical and mental deterioration. McQueen has thrown himself into the part with at least as much verve as he did for Robert Wise in The Sand Pebbles [1966], and with equally strong results. McQueen has become Charriere, in an outstanding performance." -Variety, December 12, 1973

"Franklin J. Schaffner's film version of the late Henri Charriere's book "is a big, brave, stouthearted, sometimes romantic, sometimes silly melodrama with the kind of visual sweep you don't often find in movies anymore." - Vincent Canby, New York Times, December 17, 1973

"Papillon is not that good a film, but McQueen is very touching as the man who defies solitary confinement, madness, and aging and becomes a wistful genius of survival. In the last hour of that film, he has moments of inspired, heroic craziness - and he makes Dustin Hoffman look like an artful actor." - David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Knopf, 2000)

"It's a big-budget epic that doesn't compromise; it's gloom and doom on such a large scale that it becomes the cinematic equivalent of a Wagner opera or a Zola novel...To anyone familiar with how softness commonly goes along with Hollywood bigness, the daring of "Papillon" is breathtaking...Schaffner has made his most personal film, a moving and powerful testament to the life force." - Stuart Byron, The Real Paper.

"Schaffner has really made an exhilarating movie out of the most dangerously depressing material." - Andrew Sarris.

"Visually, "Papillon" cannot be vaulted, and with it Schaffner joins the ranks of screen imagists who have turned the resources of epic filmmaking to their own private concerns, like DeMille, Griffith and Von Stroheim." - Alan R. Howard, The Hollywood Reporter.

Awards & Honors

Papillon was very costly to make (more than $13 million) owing to its arduous location shooting, McQueen's salary ($2 million) and Hoffman's ($1.25 million), but it earned $22 million in its U.S. release alone, and $60 million worldwide within a year. That was a great relief to its distributor, Allied Artists, which put up $7 million of the budget ($2 million on promotion alone) out of its proceeds from the highly successful musical Cabaret (1972). Released in the 1973 Christmas season, the movie became the third highest-grossing movie of 1974.

The movie received only one Academy Award nomination for Jerry Goldsmith's score.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser Papillon (1973)

Generally regarded as Steve McQueen's last great role, Papillon (1973) stars the late actor as Henri Charriere, known as Papillon (French for butterfly) for the tattoo on his chest. He's a petty thief who is given life imprisonment for murder and sent to Devil's Island, located more than 20 miles offshore in the French Guyana, from where there is no escape. Once there, the warden lays down the rules of Papillon's new home: first escape attempt will get you two years in solitary, second escape attempt, five years of the same and so it goes. Papillon has no choice but to suffer the rigors, but all the while he is planning his breakout. He is aided by Dega (Dustin Hoffman), a wealthy con artist and prisoner who has placed too much faith in the notion that he can buy his way to freedom. Unfortunately, neither of them can foresee who will exploit and betray them.

Director Franklin Schaffner, a former cameraman for "The March of Time" newsreel, directs Papillon in the lively, authoritative style of his previous screen biographies, Patton (1970) and Nicholas and Alexandra (1971). In particular, Schaffner graphically details the effects of seclusion and spiritual degradation at the hands of the French Penal system. The punishments that Papillon endures in prison are shown in considerable extent: his arm and leg are chained behind his back to a table, he's forced to eat like a dog out of a tin plate and shares his sleeping quarters with a crocodile. More importantly, Papillon never loses hope or his desire for freedom, regardless of his desperate situation. Acts of betrayal and years of solitary confinement - conditions that would break a lesser man - never seem to get to him. In fact, they seem to strengthen his resolve to not give up.

Papillon was shot on location in Spain (doubling for the French locations in the film) and Jamaica; the prison set was constructed in Falmouth, Jamaica, and was the largest in the film, running an expanse of 800 feet. The Devil's Island and Indian village sequences were filmed in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and the scene featuring the arrival of the prison ship was lensed in Kingston, Jamaica. Unfortunately, the tropical island proved to be a troublesome location due to unpredictable weather, the plentiful abundance of ganji (marijuana) which affected the productivity of several crew members, and numerous thefts, resulting in the loss of costumes, set props, machinery, and other items to the tune of $30,000.

On the plus side, McQueen was an inspired choice for the role of Charriere and even insisted on doing his own stunt work for the film. As Dega, Hoffman is also exceptionally good, especially in the end when his character sadly loses grip on reality and begins talking to pigs. Another standout in the cast is Anthony Zerbe who gives a moving performance as the Leper Colony Chief. Kudos to the makeup department as well for Zerbe's effectively grotesque appearance. However, only the music score by Jerry Goldsmith was recognized by a nomination at Oscar time.

Of special interest is the film's screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo. For many years his fame as one of the 'Hollywood Ten' during Hollywood's communist witch hunts of the mid-forties out shadowed his outstanding screenplays for such Oscar award-winning films as Kitty Foyle (1940) and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944). Papillon was one of his last scripts and you can actually spot Trumbo in a brief cameo as the prison camp commandant. Dustin Hoffman even modeled his character of Dega on the writer, later telling an interview, "He's a real feisty man and he's got a combination of toughness and sophistication and integrity that I felt were right for Dega....So I said, why didn't he write the character of himself, so to speak?" And that is exactly what Trumbo did.

Producer: Robert Dorfmann, Robert O. Kaplan (assistant producer), Ted Richmond (executive producer), Franklin J. Schaffner
Director: Franklin J. Schaffner
Screenplay: from Henri Charriere's novel, Dalton Trumbo, Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Production Design: Anthony Masters
Cinematography: Fred J. Koenekamp
Costume Design: Anthony Powell
Film Editing: Robert Swink
Original Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Principal Cast: Steve McQueen (Henri 'Papillon' Charriere), Dustin Hoffman (Louis Dega), Victor Jory (Indian Chief), Don Gordon (Julot), Anthony Zerbe (Toussaint Leper Colony Chief), Robert Deman (Maturette), Billy Mumy (Lariot), George Coulouris (Dr. Chatal).
C-151m. Letterboxed.

by Michael T. Toole & Jeff Stafford

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