NFL veteran Jim Brown Escapes Devil’s Island #movies

island5Jim Brown achieved success as an actor in The Dirty Dozen, but I Escaped From Devil’s Island was made for a quick buck in 1973, when people were gearing up for a much better movie called Papillon.  This is an interesting movie from a historical perspective and to show the ability of the infamous Roger Corman, who shuffled off his production to Mexico and made I Escaped in about a week, then released it two weeks before Papillon opened, stealing some of the thunder from Steve McQueen.  Boo hiss.  Both movies are blatantly similar, with Corman ripping off most of the Henri Charrière’s book, which tells the story of a man subjected to hard labor in a French penal colony.

While Papillon is emotional and poignant, I Escaped is exploitation.  It has violence, plenty of swearing, nudity, a shark eating somebody, pig stabbings, and more.  It’s directed by William Witney, the king of slick and quick productions, which made him Corman’s number one pal.  However, his skill isn’t relegated to B-Movies, because he has a LOT of variety on his resume, from movies with Roy Rogers, to movies with Vincent Price (nothing against Vincent Price, hey I love the guy).  Witney keeps the camera moving all throughout I Escaped and I think this helps the pace because it feels like a quick movie.  The same can’t be said of Papillon, which labors through a number of sections.  We’re literally watching McQueen pacing his cell at one.  That’s probably the only thing I Escaped has over Papillon because everything else is second-rate; the acting, the production, the set pieces, the music, and the story–all low-budget, bottom-barrel fare.  There’s still some fun to be found though.

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Uhh, lil help?

Like Steve McQueen, Jim Brown is facing hard labor on Devil’s Island, but at least that’s better than the guillotine.  On Devil’s Island, he gets kicked around by the stereotypical evil guards.  These guys are the worst racial stereotypes in the book, and they beat people mercilessly.  Brown recruits two other guys to help him escape, which he does in about 40 minutes runtime–a new record.  

The prison guards don’t give up easy.  The Warden recruits the police and is hot on the heels of Brown and his pals, as they paddle their broken-ass raft to a nearby leper colony.  One of his two friends is eaten by a Great White and they spray red food coloring in the water so the camera can zoom in on something.  They are rescued by the lepers, of all people.

island6The lepers give them bananas, because they are all football fans.  They put on Jim Brown jerseys, but local natives try to kill everybody and gang up on them like typical savages in a Roger Corman movie.  Brown clotheslines and dropkicks people like he’s suddenly a wrestler, then realizes that one of the women was only trying to capture him for herself.  I’m serious about that part, because he beds the woman in a nearby tent, then decides to make a life with his new love, which last for all of 10 minutes.

island9Brown helps his remaining friend escape the crazy natives in a canoe and they paddle to nearby Puerto Somewhere.  Corman really gets extravagant now, because he hires all of 100 Mexican extras for the next series of scenes, as the police close in on Brown.  Brown ducks into a nearby festival “because he has a plan” like the A-Team and creates a commotion to allow his buddy to reach a boat, setting  off some fireworks and explosions.  His friend ducks onto the boat and sets off for Florida.  Yay.

This movie has a LOT going on, and it doesn’t stop for anything. Honestly, Jim Brown is the best of the actors, because everyone else delivers lines with this stupid sense of timing or with too much accent. The camera doesn’t linger on Brown and most of the time, you can’t tell what he’s feeling.  Too bad.  How about some emotion?

The rip-offs of Papillon are blatant, right down to the hero wanting to stay behind and forget his escape.  If you’ve read that this movie has a passing resemblance to Papillon, you read wrong.  It’s the same movie, basically, without any emotion or metaphors or deep meaning.  Brown and his one remaining friend become so battered that they have to hide out at one point after Brown is shot.  Don’t worry, his pal operates on him and removes the slug, so they’re off again in about 10 minutes. Yay.

island7Brown has no apparent motive for wanting to escape prison, except to be free from getting hit with a stick.  Honestly, he is heroic at many points in the story and is a student of teaching The Man a lesson, like any good Blaxsploitation star.  I think this really makes I Escaped a “true adventure”, like a Flash Gordon serial or an old Hardy Boys novel.  There’s really no point to those either, except to show high adventure or an interesting mystery, in the case of The Hardy Boys.  

This movie has an aura of political agitation and a rebellious nature not found in Papillon, as Brown’s friend Davert tries on his best subversive t-shirt and becomes a political freedom fighter.  Any of these themes might be great fodder for a fast-paced adventure, but the minimum amount of effort put in by I Escaped defeats any notion of a quest for deeper meanings.  This is why Roger Corman’s movies are not in the same class as others.  Still fun as much as I love Flash Gordon or Batman or The Hardys, but there’s nothing at the core of I Escaped.

Overall, this is an alright movie depending on what you’re looking for.  For adventure fans or B-Movie aficionados, this might be a good time.  Fans who liked Papillon will hate this movie.  I’m on the fence.  It’s not a good movie, but it has spirit.  B-Movie veteran Christopher George sneaks in as Davert and he does a horrible job overacting, but at least it’s entertaining.  That’s pretty much what I could say for this entire movie.  It’s crap, but at least it’s entertaining.

Read my review of Papillon here.

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