A Movie A Day: Quint watches PAPILLON (1973) McQueen wrestles a live Croc!
Published at: June 4, 2008, 3:37 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s movie: PAPILLON.
I think this is the first “What the fuck?” title, the first of many films of the column that I should be ashamed of having gotten to so late in life. “How can you write about film if you haven’t seen this movie?!?” etc etc.
Well, now I’ve seen it and yes, I don’t know why it took me this long. The movie’s great.
PAPILLON is a prison break flick, one of the best I’ve seen. And know what I loved about it? It’s fucking gory as hell! The guillotine scene? It’s sick, in all ways sick can be construed.
But the real greatness comes from the character work and performances, most notably Steve McQueen as the title character and Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega. There’s something magical about the late ‘60s to late ‘70s Dustin Hoffman. THE GRADUATE, PAPILLON, MARATHON MAN, LENNY, MIDNIGHT COWBOY, STRAW DOGS… He was one of the undeniable kings of this era.
Hoffman, in is the perfect counter to the manly man quality McQueen brings to his role. Hoffman’s a man that can get things going, a man of wealth and assurance that his prison term isn’t a life sentence.
The two are thrown together on the boat over to the island prison. Hoffman has the means to fund an escape, but has no interest in trying to escape and getting caught and put in isolation. He has faith that his influential wife will get him out via other less dangerous means.
McQueen knows this is a life sentence for him and he’s getting the fuck out, but he doesn’t have the means. However, he is a badass and soon trades his protection for the funding of his escape.
This was one of my favorite parts of the movie… the nighttime attack on Hoffman which results on McQueen cutting up a lowlife. Like, I said above, nice and gory.
They do a really good job at making the prison a hellhole, but as bad as the prison is it’s the Four Seasons compared to solitary. After McQueen’s first failed escape he is sentenced to a year in solitary… and he doesn’t have a good time, to say the least.
With each passing reel, the need for escape becomes more desired and more difficult to attain. The power of the film is it draws you in and when the big attempt is made at the end you really pull for our characters, especially since you know that if they’re caught then it means years in solitary, a process McQueen barely survived.
In the movie we see: Steve McQueen tangle with a live crocodile, lepers, butterfly catching, lots of native boobs, people getting cut up, heads being removed and McQueen advised against masturbating in solitary… to save his strength.
The writing was done by Dalton Trumbo, who has a fascinating story that we’ll get to in tomorrow’s report, in addition to Lorenzo Semple Jr. Unlike Semple’s collaboration on THE DROWNING POOL, everything clicks and moves in PAPILLON. The stakes are clear, the characters are incredibly well designed and the pace is always up.
If you haven’t seen it, don’t be like me and put it off for years. I will say the DVD transfer that was in the McQueen box set isn’t very good… it’s murky, from a bad print, but regardless… see this movie.
Thursday, June 5th: GUN CRAZY (aka DEADLY IS THE FEMALE) (1950)
Friday, June 6th: NEVER SO FEW (1959)
Saturday, June 7th: A HOLE IN THE HEAD (1959)
Sunday, June 8th: SOME CAME RUNNING (1958)
Monday, June 9th: RIO BRAVO (1959)
Tuesday, June 10th: POINT BLANK (1967)
Wednesday, June 11th: POCKET MONEY (1972)
So, how alone was I in coming to this movie late? There’s a movie coming next week that should get my movie nerd card permanently stripped from me, so save your ammunition for then… and then there’s a movie at the end of the month, a musical, that everyone in the world has seen, including starving Ethiopian children, I’m sure, except for me.
But in regards to PAPILLON, what’s the good word? What’s your favorite part? Let the discussion continue in the talkbacks below!
Tomorrow we jump to our first (of many) noirs with GUN CRAZY (aka DEADLY IS THE FEMALE), but we’ll be back to McQueen the movie after that.