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.