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Soundtrack review: Papillon (expanded) (Jerry Goldsmith – 1973, 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Papillon (expanded) (Jerry Goldsmith – 1973, 2018)



“Papillon” is a 1973 historical period drama prison film directed by Franklin J. Schaffner. The screenplay by Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr. was based on the 1969 autobiography by the French convict Henri Charrière. The film stars Steve McQueen as Henri Charrière (“Papillon”) and Dustin Hoffman as Louis Dega. A man befriends a fellow criminal as the two of them begin serving their sentence on a dreadful prison island, which inspires the man to plot his escape. Jerry Goldsmith wrote the score and in preparation for the release of the remake of the movie I am taking the chance to review the newly released expanded edition of this score.

As a teenager I spent most of my time reading and when I was in high school “Papillon” was one of the books that made the biggest impression on me and my mates; we were discussing it, dreaming of living adventures like that, it was the period where islands and prison escapes and shipwrecks were the most fascinating elements we could read about. I read both “Papillon” and “Banco” quite a few times as they felt like modern day Alexandre Dumas stories and the fact that they were actually real stories made them even more appealing.

I find the main theme from “Papillon” to be simply brilliant in how French in sounds; there is no mistaking that this is a French story as Jerry metamorphoses his sound, adds French instruments and gives this cue an elegant Riviera sound, with moments that remind me of Paul Mauriat. The horns, the strings, I am just loving this particular piece. I know this tone will be a rare occurence in this score since the story is violent and tense. “The camp” reminds me of that and this is a cue that sounds like a mix between Jerry’s “Planet of the apes” and “First blood” compositions.

I like it when this score deviates from that narrative and gets inventive, like in “Catching butterflies”. It’s still jerry Goldsmith, it’s still frantic in pace but there are occasional dreamy passages that break that flow. Once again the harmonica plays the role of the hard to catch butterfly in this cue. The album is full of moments like this and it’s obvious that the composer went for a French fantasy instead of a thriller action score. It’s strange to listen to as these variations makes it sound uneven. One thing is clear though the music gives me the impression of things changing fast, always moving, always careful of everything that happens; there are barely any broad, spacious passages in the action cues.

Except the main theme the highlight of this release for me is the film version of “Gift from the sea”, a beautiful and elegant theme with a bit of a bolero feel to it, with flute motifs and a sweeping orchestral sound that shows why Jerry Goldsmith is regarded with such reverence by the film music world. There are also some moments when the music reaches John Barry levels or romance (“Cruel sea”).

Jerry Goldsmith’s “Papillon” was a very nice surprise for me; I didn’t remember much of the score from when I saw the movie so this was a good chance to refresh my memory.

Cue rating: 82 / 100

Theme From Papillon
Papillon (Theme Variation)
Gift From the Sea (Film Version)
Cruel Sea

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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