Henri Charriere’s story of confinement in, and escape from, the infamous French Guiana prison colony was that of an ordeal. So is Franklin J. Schaffner’s film version. For 150 uninterrupted minutes, the mood is one of despair, brutality, and little hope.
The script is very good within its limitations, but there is insufficient identification with the main characters. Steve McQueen, for example, says he has been framed for murdering a pimp; we do not see the injustice occur, hence have insufficient empathy.
Dustin Hoffman plays an urbane counterfeiter, a white collar criminal whose guilt is beyond question. Hoffman does an excellent job in portraying his character’s adaptation to the corruptibilities of prison life.
The film begins with co-adaptor Dalton Trumbo (in an unbilled bit) addressing the latest shipload of prisoners consigned to the South American jungle horrors. He informs them they are henceforth nonhuman bag- gage. The oppressive atmosphere is so absolutely established within the first hour of the film that, in a sense, it has nowhere to go for the rest of the time.
The $13 million film was shot mostly in Spain and in Jamaica.
1973: Nomination: Best Original Score