Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan


(USA, FRANCE, 1973)

They don’t come more brutal than this. It is based on the memoirs of Henri Charrière, who really was sent to the penal colony of French Guiana, and later to Devil’s Island. If you had to choose between the Turkish prison in Midnight Express and French Guiana, you should opt for Turkey.

He spent seven years in solitary confinement for trying to escape. This was not the plush accommodations of an American solitary cell. This was a living hell, where you were caged in total darkness, and not allowed to even speak. How he retained his sanity is a good question.

In fact, a lot of it is a good question. Parts of Charrière’s story have been called into question. It’s possible he added stories he had heard from other inmates. But most of it is undeniably true.

Steve McQueen plays Papillion, in what I think might have been his bid for an Oscar. It didn’t happen, but he’s very good. Dustin Hoffman is his friend and accomplice Degas, a forger who really has no chance of survival without Papi. But he’s rich (most of the prisoners use metal capsules to contain cash and papers, and shove the capsules up … well, you know where), and can buy Papi’s protection. Later a genuine friendship develops. I like this, but I know it’s not for everyone.