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Papillon 1973 ****

The March 2014 death of co-writer Lorenzo Semple Jr is reason enough to exhume his 1973 vehicle for Steve McQueen, an adaptation of Henri Charriere’s bestseller. Together with Dalton Trumbo, Semple Jr crafts an epic drama of prison life and exciting escapes, with Henri (McQueen) matched by Louis Dega (Duston Hoffman) in his determination to thwart French authorities and escape from a series of prison islands. Directed by Franklin J Shaffner, Papillon’s 151 minutes are absorbingly filled with incident, from the encounter with lepers to the existential dream sequences that reveal the inner life of Papillon. McQueen is ideally cast as the free spirit; few actors could convey both the physical degradation and the triumph of the human spirit in the way that McQueen did.

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