Steve McQueen insisted on performing the stunt where he jumps off a cliff. McQueen once said that it was "one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life".
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Dustin Hoffman had to wear contact lenses so that he could see correctly through the thick glasses he had to wear.
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Theft and pillage by the locals were a constant problem. When the production ended, before properties could be packed and shipped, locals raided and stripped the set, making off with costumes (600 pairs of shoes alone), machinery, and lumber. In all, $30,000 was lost.
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Whilst shooting in Jamaica, Dustin Hoffman met Sir Paul McCartney who was vacationing in Montego Bay. One evening, Hoffman invited McCartney to dinner and challenged him to write a song "about anything". Since painter Pablo Picasso had just died, Hoffman requested that McCartney compose a song around Picasso's dying words ("Drink to me, drink to my health. You know I can't drink anymore"). McCartney created a demo on the spot and the song, "Picasso's Last Words (Drink to Me)", appeared on Wings' 1973 album "Band On the Run".
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In real life, Henri "Papillon" Charrière was 25 when he was sent to French Guiana. Several people felt Steve McQueen was too old to portray him in this film.
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Reportedly, the producers began taking raw footage to backers in Paris and getting just enough cash to keep things rolling. The money ran out, no one was paid for three weeks, and it looked as though the production would be shut down altogether. When Steve McQueen found out, he told the producers, "Unless everyone gets paid, I don't work." The situation improved after that.
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Henri Charrière was present for the shoot in Jamaica, but he died of lung cancer in July 1973, a few months before the film was edited and released. He never got to see the finished product.
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Dustin Hoffman became angry and uncooperative for some time after he discovered that although he and Steve McQueen would receive equal billing, he was actually making $750,000 less than his co-star. Although they didn't really speak to each other between takes or after principal photography was completed, they behaved professionally on the set for the most part.
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The crew took advantage of the abundant marijuana that was readily available in Jamaica. Not content to merely smoke it, they boiled it down to mix in drinks at a party. Several people got sick from that, particularly Director Franklin J. Schaffner, causing a day's delay in shooting.
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When Dustin Hoffman's driver hit a pedestrian and caused serious injury, the actor, not the driver, began receiving death threats from the locals.
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Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman did have some difficulties, despite their determination to behave professionally toward each other. When Hoffman began one speech at breakneck speed, McQueen stopped him and said, "Less, man, less. Toss that shit out, you don't need it. Keep it simple." Another time, Hoffman invited a few close friends to watch a day's filming. McQueen had them thrown off the set. Nevertheless, Hoffman called their relationship "friendly rivalry" and later said his co-star "was a wonderful guy. Off screen, he was the nicest, classiest man. On the set itself he became very intense." Another time, however, he referred to McQueen as "that son of a bitch".
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The film was shot in sequence, unusual for a production of this size, but allowing Steve McQueen the luxury of building his character in stages.
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Although many considered this Steve McQueen's best performance to date, he was overlooked by the Academy. Some say that was because McQueen had "stolen" Ali MacGraw (who became his second wife) from her husband Robert Evans, who was a powerful studio executive at the time. McQueen was also rumored to have slept with many other Hollywood wives. Others say McQueen's Oscar snub was because the actor, in rather coarse language, once told the Golden Globes committee he would accept an award if he won, but would never consider going to the ceremony. He did, however, receive a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination. There were also widespread complaints that McQueen was much too old to portray Henri Charrière, who was only supposed to be 25 in the first hour.
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Dustin Hoffman based his character on co-writer Dalton Trumbo, particularly his withdrawn and shy mannerisms which had inspired Hoffman when meeting Trumbo for the first time. Hoffman once said of Trumbo: "He's a real feisty man and he's got a combination of toughness and sophistication and integrity that I felt were right for Dega. So I said, why didn't he write the character of himself, so to speak?"
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The movie was originally given an R rating by the MPAA because of its violence, but Allied Artists argued for and won a PG rating. An Illinois father sued after taking his young son to see the movie. A judge threw the case out, reasoning that the "Parental Guidance" rating implies a warning to parents.
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Although billed as a true story, the French government claims that much of the story is fabricated. Henri "Papillon" Charrière was incarcerated in Saint Laurent, and may have escaped from there, but no records exist of him serving any time on the Devil's Islands (now known as Iles du Salut or Salvation Islands).
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The film's premiere benefited cancer research in memory of Henri Charrière, who died of lung cancer five months before its release.
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This movie was released four years after its source novel by Henri "Papillon" Charrière was published. A sequel to this book, "Banco", was published in 1973, the same year that this movie was released, as well as the same year that Charrière died. The sequel has never been filmed.
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Director Franklin J. Schaffner would get up at 4 a.m. and meet with co-writer Dalton Trumbo for an hour or so for a last look at the pages to be filmed that day. When the day's shooting was finished, Schaffner returned to the hotel to meet with Trumbo until late in the night to see what he had written that day.
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The prison was a set constructed in Falmouth, Jamaica. It was 800 feet (244 meters) long.
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Dalton Trumbo never grumbled about the demanding schedule, but illness forced him to leave the production before the script was completed. He was diagnosed with lung cancer, erasing any possibility of return to the set. The script was completed, by Trumbo's son, Christopher, who already had one movie and some television credits.
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Dustin Hoffman lost eighteen pounds in preparation for his role as Louis Dega, having gone on a crash diet with a staple food of coconuts.
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This is one of those rare films that were given two major releases by two different distributors. First, Allied Artists, and then Columbia Pictures released it in 1973.
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Filming started without a completed script.
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The Indian Village and Devil's Island scenes were filmed in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, while the prison ship arrival sequence was shot at the port in Kingston, Jamaica.
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The film is considered to be actor Steve McQueen's final great role in a motion picture.
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Franklin J. Schaffner and Jerry Goldsmith shared the belief that film music should be used economically. They wanted the music as commentary only in sequences where it can emphasize the psychological aspects of the film. Thus, the film is two and a half hours long, but has forty minutes with music.
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When Papillon arrives on Devil's Island and is walking around, he sits on a crude stone bench overlooking the sea. Another prisoner walks by and says, "How dare you sit there. That bench belongs to Captain Dreyfus." This is a reference to the "Dreyfus Affair" which was a scandal in France from 1894 to 1906. Captain Alfred Dreyfus was an officer in the French army. He was accused of treason (giving secrets to Germany), convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island. An article titled "J'accuse...!" by French journalist Émile Zola brought public attention to the case. An investigation revealed Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted because he was Jewish and another man, an anti-Semite, had forged the documents that convicted Dreyfus. Dreyfus was released, reinstated to the army at his previous rank, and served honorably in WWI.
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The first prisoner to get the guillotine is actually speaking Spanish as he is carried by two guards. You can actually hear him say "hijo de puta" ("son of a bitch" in Spanish) among other obscenities.
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This is the fourth (of seven) music scores that Jerry Goldsmith composed for director Franklin J. Schaffner. Goldsmith had previously scored "The Stripper (1963)," "Planet of the Apes (1968)" and "Patton (1970)," and later scored "The Boys from Brazil (1978)," all of them Oscar nominated. Goldsmith's score for this film was also Academy Award nominated for Best Music, Original Dramatic Score, the movie's only Oscar nomination.
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Roman Polanski wanted to direct with Warren Beatty in the lead role. Beatty was enthusiastic but Polanski couldn't get enough money to started shooting.
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Dustin Hoffman's character Louis Dega is a minor character in the book. His character was greatly expanded after Hoffman was hired for the film when it was realized there was no existing character for him to play.
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The cave sequences were filmed below on the cliffs of Negril, Jamaica where the Xtabi Hotel is now located.
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Once the prisoners arrive at the island and are walking with their bags, we see one prisoner fall over, onto a chicken. You can see the chicken get injured (probably a broken leg).
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Two cast members were already acquainted with Devil's Island. Victor Jory was in Escape from Devil's Island (1935) and George Coulouris (Dr. Chatal) was in I Accuse! (1958), the story of Devil's Island's other most famous real-life prisoner, Alfred Dreyfus.
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The prison set was the largest in the film, an 800-foot (244-meter) expanse resulting from two years of research by production designer Anthony Masters. It was built near Falmouth, on the north shore of Jamaica.
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The film's music score composed by Jerry Goldsmith was included in the American Film Institute's 250 top nominated soundtracks for it's "Top 25 American Film Scores" list.
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Director Franklin J. Schaffner and editor Robert Swink had to cut the film under great pressure from the producers and backers in order to have it ready for simultaneous holiday-season openings in New York City, Paris, and Tokyo.
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Screen writer Dalton Trumbo appears in the film as the Commandant.
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Apparently, the prison ship sequence utilized the work of about one thousand extras.
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The title, pronounced "pah-pee-YOHN" is French for "butterfly." It refers to Henri Charrière's butterfly tattoo.
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When Richard Brooks was slated to direct, he envisaged Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo as his two leads.
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The song "Devil's Island" off the 1986 album "Peace Sells... But Who's Buying?" by the American Thrash/Heavy Metal band Megadeth, and written by band leader/singer/guitarist Dave Mustaine, was inspired by this film.
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Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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In the scene where Steve McQueen is on the boat tied up, you hear an engine sound coming from below decks; it's the same engine sound from his movie The Sand Pebbles (1966).
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Papillon (2017) debuted in 2018 and starred Charlie Hunnam and Rami Malek in the Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman roles, respectively. Principal photography was completed in December 2016. The remake premiered forty-five years after this movie.
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In the United States, this big expensive production was distributed by Allied Artists (formally Monogram) in their continuing campaign to shake their "poverty row" image.
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Anne Byrne Hoffman: at the beginning, as Dega's well-heeled wife.
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In the movie, Clusiot (the tough convict played by Woodrow Palfrey) is killed by a guard when Papillon escapes, and Dega becomes the third member along with Maturette (the young homosexual). In real life, according to Henri Charriere, his partners were only Clusiot and Maturette for this escape. Also in the film, Maturette dies after both he and Papillon are freed from solitary. But it was Clusiot who died after solitary, and Maturette survived the prison's eventual closing.
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