The Frame Up

phoenix confidential


Papillon (1973)

Steve McQueen....Henri 'Papillon' Charriere

Dustin Hoffman....Louis Dega

Victor Jory....Indian chief

Don Gordon....Julot

Warning: spoilers ahead

I'm not a pyschic, nor a goddess, but I bet I can guess what you're thinking here. You're thinking that I made a mistake when I posted because Harrison Ford has no place in an entry about Papillon, since he wasn't in the film. For those wondering if maybe he had some sort of cameo, check your IMDB, those first people were right. Harrison Ford has absolutely nothing to do with Papillon. He is, however, the star of Clear and Present Danger. I'll get to that later.

I sat down at the keyboard Saturday night buoyed by Stanley Pollock's inspirational words on the recent episode of the AMC series "The Essentials". I was preparing to write about Dustin Hoffman's enjoyable turn as Louis Dega, a famous french counterfeiter whose success, given his apparent near blindness, is astonishing. Hoffman pears nerdily from behind his coke-bottle glasses and gives a Ratso Rizzo-like performance, echoing his his turn in Midnight Cowboy four years earlier. Like any true method actor, Hoffman suffered for the role, wearing corrective contact lenses underneath the glasses so he could see straight. As it turns out he spends a great deal of energy trying unsucessfully to be less interesting than Steve McQueen, the star of this ersatz 'essential'. Overacting understatement one might say.

McQueen, is the lead character Henri Charriere, aka Papillon, so nicknamed, I suppose, because of the butterfly tattoo on his arm, though there may be a more meaningful explanation that I missed. Papillon is french for "butterfly", thereby completing the educational part of the film. Papillon is a petty criminal falsely accused of murder and sentenced to a life term on Devil's Island in French Guyana, South America.

I was going to comment on the wonderfully crafted script by the much exalted member of the Hollywood ten, Dalton Trumbo, in what would be his last screen work before his death in 1976.

I was going to add trivia about Don Gordon, a featured actor and familiar face. I knew I'd seen him with McQueen before, so I looked him up. Turns out he's a personal friend of McQueen's and also appeared in Bullitt (1968) and The Towering Inferno (1974).

I was going to do these things, but I fell asleep. I fell so soundly asleep that I awoke at the end of the move thinking it was the next day. So thank you Papillon for providing me with the best sleep I've had in days, even in the face of the a bladder full of the seven cups of full strentgh tea I had consumed. That's some impressive somambulent power you possess.

Supposedly Papillon is based on Charriere's true story, though it is widely acknowledged that he played fast and loose with the facts. That's usually expected in Hollywood films and forgiven if the film is entertaining. This film is just frustrating. I suspect that had I made it to Papillon's actual escape off the island after countless tries, I would have been happier and prouder of myself for simply having sat through this endurance test. This film is not the worst ever made, by any means, but I think it's status as a "classic" needs to be re-eevaluated.

That Steve McQueen sure was hot though.

In fact his photos are certainly more entertaining than his actual films.

Which brings me to Clear and Present Danger. Good thing I'd seen CAPD before as I missed most of it while I typed this. I just got to occassionally glimpse Ford looking bemused, Anne Archer looking concerned and wifely and Joaquim de Almeida looking crazy hot. Then there's Henry Czerny who seems to specialize in just being crazy, uptight and scary, and Greg Germann who specailizes in playing the rich WASPy 2% or something. I always remember him from Ned and Stacey, the pre-Will and Grace without the gay twist and before Debra Messing stopped consuming food with calories. Oh yeah he was also Fish on Ally McBeal. Everyone's gotta eat somehow. Except, of course Debra Messing.

Wow, what useless information I posess. Darn that Papillon for being a bore.

The guy playing POTUS (President of the U.S.) tries his best to be the flinty American, but he comes off as something of a buffoon. Everytime he occupied the screen I found myself wondering if James Cromwell was busy.

Also a note to wise, black elder statesmen in the vicinity of Jack Ryan. Put your affairs in order, Your death warrant has been sealed. I think the older black advisor always dies in Tom Clancy stories.

So my point? Is CAPD mindless fluff? Yes. Is it in the same league as Papillon? Well, probably not. Still, the two hours I spent barely rewatching it were infinitely more enjoyable than the time I spent with Papillon. To further cement my lowbrow tastes, I think Harrison Ford is better looking that Steve Mcqueen. He's a better actor too. Sydney Pollack and his Cinema History gurus missed the boat on this one.

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Blogger Gef said...

Thanks for that, it's great to see a slightly different persepective on the topic.
BTW have you seen my new pup from Darksky Alaskan Malamutes? He's really a great pup.
Have a great day


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