Produced by Roger Corman to piggyback on the release of Papillon (1973), a big-budget drama about the inhuman conditions on the French penal colony known as Devil’s Island, this colorful but dull exploitation flick features an eye-popping procession of abuse, murder, sex, sweat, and torture. Set in the early 20th century, the picture follows the attempts of a violent criminal named Le Bras (Jim Brown) to flee the seemingly inescapable Devil’s Island, which is run by sadistic prison guards who whip inmates whenever the convicts aren’t being worked to death. Le Bras recruits unlikely accomplices in political prisoner Davert (Christopher George), who initially shuns violence, and Jo-Jo (Richard Ely), a “fancy boy”—or, in the less delicate terminology of today’s prison pictures, a “bitch.” The movie trudges through several repetitive and ugly scenes of these and other inmates getting beaten by guards until the “heroes” build a raft and flee, only to suffer a series of melodramatic crises. Their raft falls apart, they’re attacked by sharks while adrift on the ocean, they stumble into a leper colony once returning to shore on a remote part of the island, they’re captured by bloodthirsty natives, and so on. Director William Witney, a veteran of ’30s serials and Golden Age television, was near the end of an epic career when he helmed this pedestrian flick, and while he seems perfectly efficient at organizing crowd scenes and simulating violence, the film’s storytelling is enervated in the extreme. Brown occasionally livens up the proceedings with a sly line delivery or a charming smile, but since he’s mostly tasked with looking impressive while parading around shirtless, it’s not as if there’s much room for him to shape a persona. As for George, a limited actor with a campy sort of appeal, he spends most of his time gritting his teeth and snarling. Plus, while some of the production values are impressive-ish, notably crowd scenes during the climax, the film’s reliance on unvarnished exterior locations and tacky stock footage is unhelpful. Worse, the movie’s plot is so turgid the flick feels like it’s three hours long even though it’s only 89 minutes.
I Escaped from Devil’s Island: LAME