EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (director: Don Siegel; screenwriters: Richard Tuggle/based on the book by J. Campbell Bruce; cinematographer: Bruce Surtees; editor: Ferris Webster; music: Jerry Fielding/Gilbert Thomas, Jr.; cast: Clint Eastwood (Frank Morris), Patrick McGoohan (Warden), Roberts Blossom (Doc), Fred Ward (John Anglin), Jack Thibeau (Clarence Anglin), Paul Benjamin (English), Frank Ronzlo (Litmus), Bruce M. Fisher (Wolf), Larry Hankin (Charley Butts), Fred Stuthman (Johnson), Madison Arnold (Zimmerman, prison guard); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Don Siegel; Paramount; 1979)|
of the better prison break films."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Don Siegel ("The Lineup"/"Invasion of the Body
Snatchers"/"Riot in Cell Block
11") directs one of the better
prison break films. It's based
on the alleged true story of an escape from San Francisco Bay's Alcatraz,
known as The Rock, a maximum security prison that no one ever escaped
from and has the rep of being an escape-proof prison. Writer Richard
Tuggle adapts his taut screenplay from J. Campbell Bruce's book. It details the
breakout of lifer inmate Frank Morris (Clint
Eastwood), with a rep for
escaping from other prisons, and he's joined by the Anglin brothers (Jack Thibeau & Fred Ward). "Alcatraz" ends on an ambiguous note as
the trio escape but even though their bodies were never found it's
widely believed by the prison authorities that they drowned since they
were never heard from again.
Siegel shows in detail the
drudgery of prison life and how the mean-spirited egotistical warden (Patrick McGoohan) makes his own rules and proudly tells the
inmates "We don’t make good
citizens, but we make good prisoners." The film's centerpiece shows with meticulous detail how the felons used
handmade tools and a nail clipper to dig away the walls surrounding the
ventilation grills and squeezed their way through the newly created
narrow opening to an airshaft opening on the roof of their cellblock.
From there they swam in the icy bay waters, and the only trace of the
trio was their discarded personal items found on distant Angel
A year after the escape,
Alcatraz was closed and converted to a park that became a popular
tourist attraction. It was filmed on location, and the film crew had a
hell of a job trying to capture the authentic look of the prison before
it was refurbished.
This was the fifth and final collaboration between Siegel and Eastwood (Coogan's Bluff, The Beguiled, Two Mules for Sister Sara and Dirty Harry), in "Play Misty For Me" Siegel made a cameo appearance as a bartender in Eastwood's first directorial effort; all their films were acclaimed and did a good box office. There's little action in "Alcatraz," but Clint gives a fine restrained performance making it believable and making his criminal character a sympathetic figure. It's also more interesting than the usual Hollywood prison escape pic, as it does a better job of realistically showing the dehumanizing routine of prison life and adds the wry Bresson-like commentary from the prisoner's POV: "We count the hours, the bulls count us, and the king-bulls count the counts."
REVIEWED ON 9/1/2010 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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