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HISTORY

Only Steve McQueen’s and Dustin Hoffman’s credits and the title card appear at the beginning of the film; all of the other credits appear at the end of the picture. Throughout the sequence in which “Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière” is living with the Indian tribe in Colombia, there is no dialogue, only music and natural sounds. According to a modern source, the end voice-over narration, which describes how Charrière’s escape attempt was successful and he lived the rest of his life a free man, was supplied by director Franklin J. Schaffner.
       Henri “Papillon” Charrière (1906—1973), a petty criminal and safe-cracker, was convicted in Paris in 1931 for the murder of a pimp. Although Charrière always maintained that he was framed for the crime, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana. In 1933, Charrière made his first major escape attempt, during which he and fellow prisoners Clousiot (spelled Clusiot in the film) and Maturette reached Colombia. Although in the film Charrière’s stay with the Colombian Indians, known as the Guajira tribe, appeared to be brief, in reality he stayed with them for seven months, during which time he impregnated two wives. After leaving the village, Charrière was turned in to the police by a nun and was returned to French Guiana, where he spent two years in solitary confinement. Charrière made numerous other escape attempts, as a result of which he was sentenced to another eight years in solitary confinement, although he served only nineteen months because, during a brief exercise period, he attempted to save a guard’s daughter from drowning.
       Eventually Charrière was moved to Devil’s Island, ... More Less

Only Steve McQueen’s and Dustin Hoffman’s credits and the title card appear at the beginning of the film; all of the other credits appear at the end of the picture. Throughout the sequence in which “Henri ‘Papillon’ Charrière” is living with the Indian tribe in Colombia, there is no dialogue, only music and natural sounds. According to a modern source, the end voice-over narration, which describes how Charrière’s escape attempt was successful and he lived the rest of his life a free man, was supplied by director Franklin J. Schaffner.
       Henri “Papillon” Charrière (1906—1973), a petty criminal and safe-cracker, was convicted in Paris in 1931 for the murder of a pimp. Although Charrière always maintained that he was framed for the crime, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in the penal colony of French Guiana. In 1933, Charrière made his first major escape attempt, during which he and fellow prisoners Clousiot (spelled Clusiot in the film) and Maturette reached Colombia. Although in the film Charrière’s stay with the Colombian Indians, known as the Guajira tribe, appeared to be brief, in reality he stayed with them for seven months, during which time he impregnated two wives. After leaving the village, Charrière was turned in to the police by a nun and was returned to French Guiana, where he spent two years in solitary confinement. Charrière made numerous other escape attempts, as a result of which he was sentenced to another eight years in solitary confinement, although he served only nineteen months because, during a brief exercise period, he attempted to save a guard’s daughter from drowning.
       Eventually Charrière was moved to Devil’s Island, from which he escaped in 1944. When he reached Venezuela, he was imprisoned until his release in 1945. He then moved to Caracas, married and had children. Upon the success of the autobiographical novels of former French prisoner Albertine Sarrazin, Charrière decided to write his memoirs, which were also a condemnation of the French penal system. Although great controversy was generated when the book’s veracity was called into question by several sources, Charrière maintained that it was largely true, adding that he did not enter prison “with a typewriter.” The notorious penal colony of French Guiana, which was established by Emperor Napoleon III in 1852, was closed by the French government in 1952. In Oct 1970, the French Minister of Justice issued a “decree of grace,” which allowed Charrière to visit Paris. According to a 28 Jan 1970 Var article, his popular book appeared as a comic strip in the daily France Soir newspaper. Charrière’s follow-up to Papillon , entitled Banco , detailed his adventures upon his release from the Venezuelan prison and was published posthumously in 1973. Charrière also co-wrote and co-starred in the 1971 film Popsy Pop .
       As noted by contemporary sources, the film diverged significantly from Charrière’s best-selling autobiography. As widely reported, the most major difference was in the character of “Louis Dega,” who in the book is a very minor character and did not accompany Charrière on any of his escape attempts. The role of Dega in the film was enlarged specifically to attract Dustin Hoffman, according to numerous reports. The duration and events of Charrière’s first escape attempt, during which he sailed to Colombia, were shortened and streamlined for the film, with numerous characters being eliminated. In the book, Charrière noted that he was accompanied on his final escape from Devil’s Island by a fellow convict named Sylvain, but the man was killed while trying to reach the shore.
       In Nov 1969, Var reported that French publisher Robert Laffont was in charge of selling the book’s film rights and wanted to be associated with the production, which he hoped would be in both English and French. According to the article, the front-runners for the rights were Joseph Levine’s Avco Embassy Pictures and Walter Reade’s Continental Distributing, Inc., although bids from M-G-M and “several big French producers” had been received. According to Jan and Apr 1970 news items, after the rights to the book were purchased by Reade for $550,000, Roman Polanski was set to direct, with Warren Beatty to star, and Laffont was to be Reade’s producing partner. Although most news items of the time reported only on Polanski’s potential involvement, a 28 Jan 1970 Var item reported that Arthur Penn was also interested in directing the project.
       After Reade’s financing fell through, the rights to the book were sold to Robert Dorfmann for $600,000, according to a 2 Jun 1970 HR news item, with Laffont to co-produce. Various news items note that Richard Davis, who was a friend of Dorfmann, was involved with the original Reade deal, and that when it was not realized, he helped to arrange the sale of the rights to Dorfmann. Numerous contemporary sources note that Davis was to be the co-producer or executive producer, and that Dorfmann was representing Les Films Corona. In mid-Jun 1970, Terence Young was being considered to direct, with Charles Bronson mentioned as a possibility to star.
       In Oct 1972, DV announced that the production company was Ted Richmond Productions. An 11 Mar 1971 LAT news item reporting that Steve McQueen had been cast stated that the picture would be a production of First Artists Company, the production company in which McQueen was partnered with Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Barbara Streisand and Hoffman. The onscreen credits, copyright and information submitted by the studios to AMPAS list only Papillon Partnership, Allied Artists (AA) and Corona/General Productions as involved companies, however. In Mar 1972, it was announced that AA had obtained U.S. and Canadian theatrical and television distribution rights to the film in exchange for supplying $7,000,000 of the film’s approximately $14,000,000 budget. Several other news items list a variation of the company name Walter Heller & Co. as the “factoring” company that loaned the money to AA. According to a 24 Feb 1974 DV article, Giulio Sbarigia was a “minority 10% partner” in the film, but his participation in the film’s financing has not been confirmed by any other contemporary source.
       According to a 3 Mar 1972 HR news item, William Goldman had completed a first draft screenplay and was “going over” it with director Schaffner. In a Jan 1974 interview with HR , Schaffner asserted that among the film’s many preproduction challenges was finishing the script, and that only sixty-three pages of the screenplay were completed when production began in Feb 1973. According to Schaffner, Goldman wrote “a very good, fairly faithful script from the book and had to go on to another picture. Lorenzo Semple refined what we wanted to do and also had another commitment. [Dalton] Trumbo came aboard when Dustin Hoffman was signed.” A 20 Jul 1972 LAT news item related that because McQueen supposedly “objected to the allusions to homosexuality (among prisoners)” in Goldman’s original script, Semple was brought in by Dorfmann to do a rewrite. Semple denied the allegations, however, stating that he was brought in simply because Goldman had moved on to another project. In modern interviews, Goldman stated that only one line of his work remained in the completed film.
       Studio publicity confirmed that Trumbo enlarged the Dega character and was present during filming in order to complete the unfinished script. According to modern sources, after Trumbo was diagnosed with lung cancer during production, his son, Christopher Trumbo, worked uncredited on the screenplay. In the HR interview, Schaffner stated that because the film was shot in sequence, it was easier to deal with not having a completed screenplay, and other contemporary sources confirm that the picture was shot primarily in sequence. According to modern sources, shooting in sequence escalated the film’s budget, as all of the actors had to be retained on location throughout production. Although a 4 Jan 1974 LAT interview with Schaffner reported that David Newman and Robert Benton also worked on the screenplay, modern sources state that their work was discarded.
       Although HR production charts included Fred Brookfield and Dar Robinson in the cast, their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. A modern source stated that Robinson was the stuntman who performed the leap into the ocean at the end of the film, and that the stunt was filmed on the island of Maui, HI. Modern sources included Peter Brocco, Billy M. Greene, Fred Lerner, Harry Monty and Ellen Moss in the cast. Schaffner, who had directed many films previously, including the 1970 Oscar-winning Patton , made his debut as a producer with Papillon . As noted by studio publicity, Hoffman’s then-wife, Anne Byrne Hoffman, made her screen debut in the picture in the role of Dega’s wife. Papillon marked the only feature-film appearance of television actress Ratna Assan, who plays “Zoraima.” Papillon was the last screenplay written by the prolific, controversial Trumbo, who appears in the film briefly as the commandant of the prison at St.-Martin-de-Re. For more information about Trumbo, one of the “Hollywood Ten,” see the entries above for the 1971 Cinemation Industries release Johnny Got His Gun and the 1947 RKO film Crossfire .
       According to the 3 Mar 1972 HR news item, Papillon would be shot in Central America and the British West Indies, with all interior filming to be done in Hollywood. Other news items listed Guatemala, Venezuela, Barbados, the Bahamas, the Yucatan Peninsula, Nicaragua and French Guiana as potential location sites. As noted by contemporary sources, however, the picture was shot on location in Spain and Jamaica. According to studio publicity, Charrière visited the set in Jamaica, and the 2005 DVD release of the picture included a documentary, shot at the time of the film’s production, in which Charrière toured the prison sets and commented on their authenticity.
       Studio publicity indicated that the production design team spent more than a year researching and building the prison sets, which were over 800 feet long and located in the Jamaican town of Falmouth. Also, the extras portraying the 600 French prisoners were recruited from a colony of German farmers who had emigrated to Jamaica years earlier. Over 1,000 extras were used in the scenes of the prisoners marching to the prison ship, which actually was a Caribbean cargo vessel. The seaside sequences, set in France, were shot in Fuenterrabia, Spain, according to press notes. Studio interiors were shot in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where the production company was headquartered, and other Jamaican location sites included Ocho Rios, Kingston and Paradise Jungle Park in the town of Savannah-La-Mar. According to modern sources, for the sequences in which the prisoners hunt the rare blue Morphous butterflies, 2,500 butterflies were imported from South America. Although HR production charts included Paris as a location site, no filming was done there.
       A 24 Apr 1973 DV article indicated that some filming may have been done in Hollywood, and a 27 Jun 1973 DV item added that post-production was done at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios. Modern sources note that William Tuttle, Allan Snyder, Robert N. Norin and Monte Westmore were part of the makeup crew, and that Kent James served as a costumer. Studio publicity related that due to the extremely thick lenses in the glasses he wore, Hoffman was obliged to wear specially made contact lenses to balance out the magnification and enable him to see.
       The picture's budget—reportedly the largest of any film made that year—was widely commented upon during its production, especially as it was far more than the net worth of AA at the time. According to contemporary sources, AA’s future relied upon the film’s success, as its controversial, $7,000,000 investment in Papillon represented the company’s most expensive co-production to that date. DV reported in mid-Nov 1973 that AA was going to spend approximately $2,000,000 on advertising the picture. With the film’s great financial success, AA’s investment was repaid, and Papillon became the highest grossing film in the company’s history, with approximately $38,000,000 in North American grosses by Jun 1974, according to a DV item that also noted that the picture was in profit within six weeks of its release. A Jan 1974 LAT article reported that McQueen received $2,000,000 for his role, with Hoffman being paid $1,250,000 and Schaffner $750,000. According to modern biographies of McQueen, he was the first actor to receive $2,000,000 “upfront” for one film.
       According to a 29 Nov 1973 HR news item, the picture was originally rated R but was re-rated PG after an appeal by AA. A 16 Jul 1973 DV news item reported that on European prints, the film would be listed as a “Schaffner-Dorfmann” production, while for U.S. prints, the order would be reversed. Although the viewed print contained the statement “A Franklin J. Schaffner Film,” in the onscreen credits, the producers are listed as “Produced by Robert Dorfmann and Franklin J. Schaffner.”
       The film’s 18 Dec 1973 Los Angeles premiere was a benefit for the Western Institute for Cancer and Leukemia Research, according to a DV news item, with the funds to go to the Salk Institute. An earlier DV news item noted that several premieres for the film would be benefits for cancer research, in tribute to both Charrière and Trumbo. In Jan 1974, DV reported that Engelbert Humperdinck had recorded a vocal version of “Free as the Wind,” an instrumental theme from the theme written by Jerry Goldsmith.
       Papillon generated mixed reviews from critics, with many disappointed in the film’s lengthy, episodic structure and lack of depth in the characterizations. McQueen’s and Hoffman’s acting was generally singled out for praise, with several reviewers calling McQueen’s work the finest of his career thus far, and Judith Crist of New York magazine calling Hoffman’s portrayal “witty and beautifully restrained.” The picture received an Academy Award nomination for Music (Original Dramatic Score), and McQueen was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actor--Drama.
       The film became the object of a number of lawsuits, including one filed by McQueen and another filed by Hoffman, both of whom asserted that they had not received their correct share of the film’s profits. According to a 5 May 1976 DV item announcing Hoffman’s suit, Hoffman had been contracted to receive five percent of the film’s net profits above $14,000,000. The outcomes of the suits filed by the actors have not been ascertained.
       Several other well-publicized lawsuits concerned the sale of Papillon for broadcast on television. AA and producers Dorfmann and Richmond clashed over who controlled the rights, with AA tentatively making a deal with ABC in Aug 1974. That deal, which included seven other titles, was for over $9,000,000, according to contemporary sources, but the sale was not finalized due to continuing litigation, and the producers attempted to sell the property to CBS. Both AA and the producers were involved in breach-of-contract suits against each other and against ABC and CBS. In Aug 1976, DV reported that the broadcast rights had been purchased by CBS for almost $4,000,000, although the film could not be shown on TV until Dec 1978, due to a clause in McQueen’s original contract. On 9 Nov 1978, a DV article related that CBS had already broadcast Papillon twice, but that the legal wrangling continued, with several parties arguing over who was to receive the profits. The final conclusions of the television suits have not been confirmed.
       Although a 16 May 2000 HR news item announced that the picture would be re-made as a four-hour television miniseries by Alliance Atlantis, with Pierre Rochat serving as producer, that project was not realized. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
24 Dec 1973.
---
Box Office
14 Jan 1974
p. 4655.
Cue
17 Dec 1973.
---
Daily Variety
5 Nov 1971.
---
Daily Variety
18 Oct 1972.
---
Daily Variety
14 Mar 1973
p. 1, 26.
Daily Variety
24 Apr 1973.
---
Daily Variety
6 Jun 1973.
---
Daily Variety
27 Jun 1973.
---
Daily Variety
16 Jul 1973.
---
Daily Variety
31 Jul 1973.
---
Daily Variety
7 Sep 1973.
---
Daily Variety
15 Oct 1973.
---
Daily Variety
15 Nov 1973.
---
Daily Variety
11 Dec 1973
p. 2, 12.
Daily Variety
12 Dec 1973.
---
Daily Variety
28 Jan 1974.
---
Daily Variety
24 Feb 1974
p. 5.
Daily Variety
26 Jun 1974
p. 4.
Daily Variety
30 Aug 1974
p. 1, 8.
Daily Variety
17 Sep 1974
p. 1, 7.
Daily Variety
12 Dec 1974
p. 1, 14.
Daily Variety
5 May 1976.
---
Daily Variety
27 Aug 1976
p. 1, 13.
Daily Variety
9 Nov 1978
p. 2.
Films and Filming
Apr 1974.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
2 Jun 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Jan 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
4 Feb 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Mar 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Feb 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Mar 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
30 Mar 1973
p. 22.
Hollywood Reporter
20 Apr 1973
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jun 1973
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Sep 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Oct 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Nov 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
11 Dec 1973
p. 3, 10.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Dec 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jan 1974
p. 3, 22.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
16 May 2000.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
23 Jan 1973
Section B, p. 3.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
18 Dec 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
8 Oct 1970
Section F, p. 15.
Los Angeles Times
11 Oct 1970
Section Q, p. 50.
Los Angeles Times
25 Oct 1970.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Mar 1971
Section IV, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
20 Jul 1972
Section G, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times
29 Jun 1973
Section H, p. 20.
Los Angeles Times
19 Dec 1973
Section IV, p. 1, 26.
Los Angeles Times
4 Jan 1974
Section D, pp. 16-17.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Dec 1973.
---
New Republic
19 Jan 1974.
---
New York
24 Dec 1973
p. 68.
New York Times
14 Aug 1970
p. 18.
New York Times
26 Dec 1971.
---
New York Times
30 Jul 1973
p. 30.
New York Times
17 Dec 1973
p. 59.
New Yorker
24 Dec 1973.
---
Newsweek
17 Dec 1973.
---
Publishers Weekly
20 Apr 1970.
---
Rolling Stone
31 Jan 1974.
---
Time
31 Dec 1973.
---
Variety
26 Nov 1969.
---
Variety
28 Jan 1970.
---
Variety
8 Apr 1970.
---
Variety
20 May 1970.
---
Variety
17 Mar 1971.
---
Variety
16 May 1973.
---
Variety
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---
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CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Franklin J. Schaffner Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Assoc prod
Asst prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Key grip
Gaffer
Asst cam
Asst cam
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dressing
Prop master
Asst prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Ward supv
Ward supv
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup created by
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
Casting dir
Mobile loc facilities
STAND INS
Stunt gaffer
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Papillon by Henri Charrière, published by Robert Laffont (Paris, 1969).
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1973
Premiere Information:
World premiere in New York: 16 December 1973
Los Angeles premiere: 18 December 1973
Los Angeles opening: 19 December 1973
Production Date:
19 February--4 June 1973 in Jamaica and Spain
Copyright Claimant:
Papillon Partnership
Copyright Date:
23 November 1973
Copyright Number:
LU3661
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
150
MPAA Rating:
PG
Countries:
France, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23314
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the early 1930s, a large group of French convicts are told that they are the property of the penal administration of French Guiana, and even after they serve their prison sentences, they must stay for an equivalent time as colonists. The men are marched through the seaside town of Saint-Martin-de-Re, which is filled with their sweethearts, family and curious observers. Among the prisoners is Henri Charrière, known as Papillon because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest, a petty criminal who has been convicted of killing a pimp, although he maintains that he was framed. Another convict is notorious forger Louis Dega, and several of the prisoners notice Dega’s richly attired wife as she bids him farewell. The men are herded aboard a ship and placed in large cages, in which they hang their hammocks. Convivial prisoner Julot, who has been to Guiana before, befriends the wary, taciturn Papillon, telling him how difficult it is to escape from the dangerous area, although if he has enough money, he can bribe guards or outsiders to provide him with a boat. Julot points out the bespectacled, slight Dega, who made a fortune counterfeiting national defense bonds, as someone who could probably fund an escape. Papillon, tough and streetwise, approaches Dega, offering him protection from other prisoners, but the smaller man demurs. Soon after, however, the man sleeping next to Dega is murdered in his sleep, and Dega agrees that if Papillon can keep him safe until they reach land, he will underwrite his escape. When two men attempt to attack Dega, Papillon slashes them with his knife. Although Papillon is ... +


In the early 1930s, a large group of French convicts are told that they are the property of the penal administration of French Guiana, and even after they serve their prison sentences, they must stay for an equivalent time as colonists. The men are marched through the seaside town of Saint-Martin-de-Re, which is filled with their sweethearts, family and curious observers. Among the prisoners is Henri Charrière, known as Papillon because of the butterfly tattoo on his chest, a petty criminal who has been convicted of killing a pimp, although he maintains that he was framed. Another convict is notorious forger Louis Dega, and several of the prisoners notice Dega’s richly attired wife as she bids him farewell. The men are herded aboard a ship and placed in large cages, in which they hang their hammocks. Convivial prisoner Julot, who has been to Guiana before, befriends the wary, taciturn Papillon, telling him how difficult it is to escape from the dangerous area, although if he has enough money, he can bribe guards or outsiders to provide him with a boat. Julot points out the bespectacled, slight Dega, who made a fortune counterfeiting national defense bonds, as someone who could probably fund an escape. Papillon, tough and streetwise, approaches Dega, offering him protection from other prisoners, but the smaller man demurs. Soon after, however, the man sleeping next to Dega is murdered in his sleep, and Dega agrees that if Papillon can keep him safe until they reach land, he will underwrite his escape. When two men attempt to attack Dega, Papillon slashes them with his knife. Although Papillon is punished, he, Dega and Julot reach Guiana safely, and as they approach land, they see the infamous islands on which some prisoners are kept: St. Joseph’s, Royale and the brutal Devil’s Island. The boat docks at St. Laurent, and Julot, fearful of being assigned to a work camp, cuts his knee in order to be sent to the infirmary, from which he has a better chance of escaping. While awaiting the decision about their fate, Dega and Papillon are approached by an old convict who tells them that he can bribe an official to allow them to stay in the relatively comfortable St. Laurent. When they go before him, however, his superior interrupts, snarling that his family lost their life savings due to Dega’s counterfeit bonds. Because of the man’s ire, Papillon and Dega are sent to Kilo 40, one of the most treacherous of the work camps. There, they meet Clusiot, a longtime, genial prisoner who aids them in the hunt for rare butterflies bought by trader Richter. Alerted by Clusiot that Richter can be bribed, Papillon asks to buy a boat, and Richter agrees to meet him in one week. That night, Dega, who previously had told Papillon that he had no intention of escaping, asks to accompany him, as he cannot survive the grueling conditions. Despite the fact that the physically weak Dega would be a hindrance, Papillon agrees. The next day, however, as they are working, a guard orders them to bury a dead man brought in by the man hunters. Horrified upon seeing that the corpse is Julot, Dega vomits and cannot get up when yelled at by a guard, who begins beating him. Papillon attempts to intercede and ends up dowsing the man with boiling water, then running for his life. Although Papillon succeeds in reaching Richter’s camp, the man hunters are waiting for him and the convict is sentenced to two years in solitary confinement on St. Joseph’s Island. Papillon measures out his tiny cell in ten paces and begins a dreary existence that is livened only by the daily arrival of poor rations. One day, Papillon finds half a coconut in his food bucket, accompanied by a note of encouragement from Dega along with a promise to continue supplying the coconuts, without which Papillon might waste away. Eventually the subterfuge is uncovered, but Papillon refuses to reveal his accomplice. Papillon’s cell is then covered so that only a tiny shaft of light pierces the gloom, and he spends the next six months in almost total darkness with only half-rations to sustain him. Hearing of Papillon’s predicament, Dega tells Clusiot that he would not blame his friend for informing on him, as “blame is for God and small children.” At the end of the six months, Papillon’s cell is uncovered but he still refuses to name Dega, so he remains on half-rations. One day, after losing a molar, Papillon decides to tell the deputy warden everything, but instead cries and rambles insanely, and the official declares that he is dying. Papillon finally completes his stay in solitary confinement, although he is so weak that he cannot walk more than the ten paces to which he is accustomed. Dega, who has bribed his way into a job as the warden’s clerk, is grieved upon seeing his decrepit friend and arranges for him to receive soup in the infirmary. Papillon is tended by Maturette, a young homosexual prisoner who serves as an intern. Papillon regains his strength, and Dega confides in him that because his lawyer and wife have been working on his behalf, he will be freed soon. Dega also states that they have been looking into Papillon’s case, and that he might be out in three years. Asserting that it is too long, Papillon again sets his mind upon escape. Clusiot, who has faked illness to enter the infirmary, is determined to accompany Papillon. One day, Papillon is examined by a doctor who agrees to act as a broker for an outsider, Pascal, who can get the convicts a boat. Papillon agrees, then tries to hire Maturette to distract the Arab turnkey, who lusts after the younger man, while they escape. Maturette disdainfully refuses to act as a whore but later, offers to help if he is included in the escape. Papillon acquiesces and the escape is set for the night of an open-air concert, which will distract the guards. After knocking out the turnkey and donning his uniform, Papillon and the others disarm two guards and have almost succeeded in climbing over the wall when another guard finds Clusiot and beats him. The guard is about to spot Papillon when Dega, who had said that he would not escape because he was waiting for his wife’s help, knocks the guard out and is forced to join the fleeing convicts, although he breaks his leg while leaping from the wall. The men reach the swamp in which the boat is hidden and are infuriated to discover that Pascal has betrayed them by selling them a piece of rotting wood. The men are surprised to be greeted by a Breton with a mask tattooed on his face, especially when he shows them that he has killed the waiting man hunters. He tows their craft to Pigeon Island, the home of a leper colony, where they might be able to buy a better boat. Although terrified of contagion, Papillon puffs on a cigar offered to him by the lepers’ leader, Toussaint, and his bravado impresses the men, who provide the escapees with a boat and supplies. Papillon and his friends then begin the journey to Honduras, enduring both storms and doldrums. Dega’s leg becomes infected, and after their craft lands on a beach in Colombia, Papillon is forced to abandon his compatriots when a group of guards, escorting a prisoner named Antonio, attempts to capture them. Papillon flees with Antonio, and they are tracked by Indians, until, cornered and shot with drugged blow darts, Papillon leaps off a cliff into the river below. Papillon wakes up to discover that he has been given refuge by another Indian tribe in a remote area. Although they do not share a common language, the natives care for Papillon, sensing in him a kindred spirit, and he becomes intimate with the beautiful Zoraima, who, like most of the Indians, is a pearl diver. Upon the chief’s request, Papillon gives him a butterfly tattoo like his own, cementing his relationship with the tribe. Finally, realizing that Papillon must move on, the tribe disappears one night, leaving a bag of valuable pearls. Papillon finds his way to civilization where, stymied by a police roadblock, he joins a truck carrying an empathetic nun. The convent’s mother superior is less sympathetic, even though Papillon gives her his pearls to hold as proof of his good intentions. After the mother superior alerts the police, Papillon is returned to St. Joseph’s, where he is sentenced to five years in solitary confinement. Upon his release, Papillon, white-haired and gaunt, watches while Maturette is carried from the cells. With his last words, the dying Maturette acknowledges his old friend. Papillon is then taken to Devil’s Island, from which there is no escape and the convicts live simply, tending their gardens and keeping to themselves. One day, Papillon finds Dega, who tells him that his wife married his attorney. Dega, driven half-mad by loneliness and deprivation, has mixed feelings about being reunited with his old friend, who is still determined to escape. After spending hours staring at the ocean as it pounds the jagged cliffs, Papillon finds a cove from which the huge waves are forced to retreat to the ocean. Dega reluctantly helps Papillon throw a test bag of coconuts into the water and is dismayed when it is dashed on the rocks. Puzzled, Papillon continues to stare until he deduces that every seventh wave carries its cargo out safely. After another test is successful, Papillon constructs two large sacks of coconuts, but at the last minute, Dega’s nerve fails. Despite Dega’s pleas, Papillon throws himself and his improvised raft into the ocean and paddles out on the seventh wave. Waving farewell, Dega returns to his garden while Papillon rides the swells and screams to the heavens that he is still there. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.