I Escaped From Devil's Island

Director: William Witney
Jim Brown, Christopher George, Richard Ely

Some of you who have been reading my writings on this web site for some time now may have gotten the idea that in some aspects I am a pretty brave guy. After all, I am not only confident to put my writings out on the Internet for anyone to read and judge them, I have also subjected myself many times to the watching of Canadian films. But I must confess that most likely like you, there are potential situations out there that make me feel uneasy thinking about them and have me hoping that these situations will never happen to me. For example, I hope that I will never have to drive a car again in my lifetime - I fear getting into an accident that may hurt me and/or others. Another thing that I fear is losing my job. But there is one potential situation that most of all fills me with fear and has me praying that it will happen to me, and that situation would be for me to find myself locked up in prison. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why I - or just about anyone else for that matter - would not want to be in that particular situation. The biggest and most pressing problem would be a loss of freedom. You would be locked up in a tiny cell for most hours of the day, and even during the few hours that you might be allowed out, you wouldn't be able to get beyond the prison's fences and guard posts. While you would be given three meals a day, from what I've heard the meals in a prison are bland and nothing to get excited about. Another pressing problem would be that prisons tend to have very violent atmospheres, ranging from inner prison gangs to lone freakish individuals who would think nothing of fashioning a shank and ramming it into your back when you are not looking in their direction.

Sometimes I calm down a little when all these awful thought of prison go through my mind, and I ask myself a certain question: What would I do if, despite all the things I do in my life to avoid the situation becoming true, I found myself stuck in prison? Well, the most obvious thing I would do would be to try and stay out of everyone's way, maybe even doing something that would send me to solitary confinement for a long stretch. I'm kind of a loner, so I don't think I would mind being isolated at length. But even then, I would still have to do something that all prisoners find they have to do - find something to take up the long time. There are obvious routes like the prison chapel to education classes. But there are other things to do, things that would be frowned upon by prison authorities if they were to find out. One of these things would be to plan an escape. I can certainly understand why some prisoners get that idea in their heads. As I said, prison is no picnic. And if I were given a life sentence with no possibility of parole, I would be thinking that I had nothing to lose in trying to escape. Certainly, I would have a lot of time to dwell on the plan and think it out carefully by myself or with others. But in my case at least, there would be some additional problems with trying to escape from prison. Namely, what would I do once I escape? Certainly, the mass media would be full of my picture and description, which would make it hard to be in public. And I would have no cash or credit cards on me, which would make it hard to buy necessary things for survival, from shelter to food.

In the past, I have mentioned that my fear of prison is why often I find myself reluctant to watch movies concerning people who find themselves in prison. However, when these movies involve prisoners planning and executing escapes from prison, that makes the movie a little more I Escaped From Devil's Islandpalatable to me, and I am more likely to be willing to watch it. So that is one reason why I decided to watch the prison movie I Escaped From Devil's Island. But there were other things about the movie that made it look interesting to me. It was a Corman production as well. Yes, legendary producer Roger Corman was behind the movie, but his brother Gene also acted as a producer. Also adding interest were the fact that this particular Corman production was not only bankrolled by a major Hollywood studio, but it was made to cash in on the publicity that the in-production movie Papillon was generating; in fact, it beat the Steve McQueen movie to theaters by several weeks. The events of Devil's Island take place years before the events in Papillon, and with different characters, but the central idea of escape from the Īle du Diable is the same as the big budget movie. In Devil's Island, the central figure is a man known as Le Bras (Brown, Crack House) an inmate at the notorious island prison. He has a friend in the prison by the name of Davert (George, Enter The Ninja). The two men suffer through various kinds of abuse at the prison, so it comes as no surprise that they are looking for an avenue of escape. With two other prisoners, Jo-Jo (Ely) and Dazzas (James Luisi, Fade To Black), plans are made, and the escape plan is executed. Once getting to the mainland, it looks at first like it's clear sailing from now on. But the men soon discover that there are dangers on the mainland such as hostile natives and disease. Not only that, the authorities have been given news of the escape, and lead by one Major Marteau (Paul Richards, Beneath The Planet Of The Apes), they are determined to catch the escaped prisoners.

As you could probably see from that plot description, I Escaped From Devil's Island is in a way two movies in one. The first part is more or less a prison movie, the kind depicting its prisoner protagonists going through repeated abuse. After the main characters escape from the prison, the movie changes its theme to that of a pursuit movie, with a touch of The Most Dangerous Game thrown in. Since the two halves of the movie are extremely different, I thought the best way to start would be by looking at each half as a whole. First, the section of the movie taking place in prison. I will admit that to a large degree, director William Witney (Darktown Strutters) manages to build genuine atmosphere. Although the movie's budget was not big, in this case the inevitable production values that come from this reduced budget actually seem authentic, from the crumbling buildings to the prisoners' sleeping quarters consisting of them being crammed into a couple of rooms with only straw as bedding. Perhaps in part due to this rough-looking environment, you can also feel the heat and sweat the prisoners are bombarded by. But at the same time, something felt kind of missing to me. It took me a while, but I determined that what was missing was a real sense of urgency and desperation. There are (among other things) beatings and cut throats, but I never really got a good sense that the prisoners were under a lot of stress and strain. Instead, it felt more like they were somewhat (and temporarily) inconvenienced. Part of this may come from the fact that this part of the movie isn't as explicit as you might think. While this first part of the movie might earn an "R" rating alone, much of that seems to come from the fact that the "f" word is uttered several times than with anything else.

I wouldn't say that this first part of the movie is "bad", but all the same it's kind of disappointing. My hopes were up that the movie might redeem itself in the second half, concerning the main characters' escape and subsequent staying ahead of the law. Unfortunately, I was just as disappointed with the movie's second half. Once the four prisoners leave the island on their raft, the movie not only devotes just a couple of minutes at most to them on the ocean, almost all of this footage is shot very close to the camera in a way that is clear that the actors were near shore or a boat. Then when the escaped prisoners make it to the mainland, there is no footage of them coming to grips with their new situation; the movie simply suddenly skips ahead to showing them deep in the jungle. If you're asking, there are some pleasures in this part of the movie. Again, director Witney does build some atmosphere (the jungle looks appropriately wild, dirty, and tangled), and he not only manages to put in a little violence and action, he also manages to throw in some gratuitous (but welcome) sex and nudity. But once again, for the most part there really isn't a sense of urgency. The fugitives run into a leper colony, but the feeling of potential danger really isn't there. Later, they get captured by members of a native tribe, but it's all dealt with in just a few minutes so no real tension ever arises. And when they are suddenly in civilization (without any explanation as to how they got new clothes and connections to the criminal underworld in the town), the same casual feeling persists, even when Major Marteau and his men track down the men and start firing bullets at them.

Having illustrated that each half of I Escaped From Devil's Island is unsuccessful by itself, the only thing left to do is to judge things about the movie that cross both halves. Though I could talk about a number of things, I think I will just stick with the actors and their characters for the rest of the review. When it comes to the movie's major antagonist - Major Marteau - the movie makes its biggest misstep when it comes to the characters. He hardly appears at all in the first hour of the movie, and while he makes a few more appearances in the last half hour, he doesn't exactly exude evil. Instead, he seems to be very business-like, and as a result comes across as so bland that the movie doesn't seem to have the heart to give him the usual kind of fate such a character has in a movie like this. The protagonists aren't that much better. While actor Jim Brown gives his lead character some effortless charisma, his character's often selfish statements and deeds kind of sour him to the audience. And we learn essentially nothing else about him, like why he was thrown in prison in the first place. As for Christopher George's character, he starts off with some promise (he's a strict pacifist), but the movie eventually forgets this strong character trait and transforms him into... well, an ordinary escaped prisoner. "Ordinary" may also be the best way to describe I Escaped From Devil's Island as a whole. It has some good ingredients here and there, but it's missing a spark in some key areas that would make it truly entertaining and memorable. While it is kind of watchable during the moment, it's highly unlikely that you'll remember the entire package for a long time afterwards.

(Posted February 28, 2021)

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See also: Escape From El Diablo, Felon, The Muthers