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Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

A surly convicted murderer held in permanent isolation redeems himself when he becomes a renowned bird expert.


, (uncredited)


(screenplay), (book)

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Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 4 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »



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Complete credited cast:
Bull Ransom
Stella Johnson
Tom Gaddis
Albert Comstock
Dr. Ellis
Jess Younger


In 1912, the notorious and violent prisoner Robert Franklin Stroud is transferred to the Leavenworth Prison convicted for murdering a man. When a guard cancels the visit of his mother, Elizabeth Stroud, due to a violation of the internal rules, he stabs and kills the guard and goes to trial three times. He is sentenced to be executed by the gallows, but his mother appeals to President Woodrow Wilson who commutes his sentence to life imprisonment. However, the warden, Harvey Shoemaker, decides to keep Stroud in solitary for the rest of his life. One day, Stroud finds a sparrow that has fallen from the nest in the yard and he raises the bird until it is strong enough to fly. Stroud finds a motivation for his life raising and caring for birds and becomes an expert in birds. He marries Stella Johnson and together they run a business, providing medicine developed by Stroud. But a few years after, Stroud is transferred to Alcatraz and has to leave his birds behind. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Inside the rock called Alcatraz they tried to chain a volcano they called "The Bird Man"! See more »


Biography | Crime | Drama


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

15 September 1962 (Italy)  »

Also Known As:

Der Gefangene von Alcatraz  »

Box Office


$2,650,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Robert Stroud was actually imprisoned in cell #42 located in the D Block. According to Frank Heaney, a former prison guard (1948-51), Stroud was anything but the sympathetic character as portrayed by Burt Lancaster. He was an extremely difficult and demented inmate who, though highly intelligent, was a vicious killer and a psychopath. See more »


In the last scene at the dock in 1959, while Stroud is talking to the reporters, the Alcatraz launch is seen leaving the dock and heading back toward the island. When Stroud then talks with Tom Gaddis, the launch can be seen over Stroud's shoulder, back at the dock again, and is again in the process of casting off. See more »


[first lines]
Tour guide: ...during which you will see all of the man-made and natural beauties, the most spectacular bay in the world. You'll pass beneath the famous Golden Gate Bridge, considered by most authorities to be one of the most striking structures ever erected by man. From the bay, you will thrill to the magnificent San Francisco skyline. Your cruise ship, the Harbor King, will circle Alcatraz, a maximum security prison containing the most dangerous criminals in America. It has been the home of ...
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Referenced in The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XVI (2005) See more »

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User Reviews

the first duty of life is to live
16 September 2006 | by See all my reviews

If you feel a deep interest in John Frankenheimer and set up a DVD collection, you need three indispensable works from this versatile filmmaker dating from his decade glory: the sixties. They are "the Mandchurian Candidate" (1962) the template for the political film based on suspicion and conspiracy. "Seconds" (1966), the film in which Frankenheimer's obsessions and camera work reached an incredible peak. It could also be the granddaddy of the meandering "Abre Los Ojos" (1997) made by Alejandro Amenabar. And at last this "Birdman of Alcatraz". It was the film that put its creator on the map back in the sixties and it's arguably the first treasure in his filmography.

Robert Stroud is a very impulsive man and this serious drawback led him to commit several murders. After having been sentenced to life imprisonment and jailed in harsh conditions, he rescues a small sparrow from the storm and raises it until he can fly. From this watershed event, his life is going to take another grand dimension. A boundless passion for ornithology makes him famous all over the world. But during his prison sentence, he's transfered to the Alcatraz prison and this change stops him from going on in his research and his knowledge related to birds.

The adaptation of a book relating the life of the real Robert Stroud was a project close to Frankenheimer's heart and while discovering this very long film (about two hours and a half), one recognizes his hallmark in the directing with mind-boggling angles and striking camera movements. The director also plays a lot with the lighting and the scenery of the prison and notably Stroud's cell. Some shots showcase Burt Lancaster behind the bars with their shadows reflected on his face. A neat metaphor to make the audience understand that he can't escape from the scenery that surrounds him but also from the ruthless laws of justice.

The scenario also spans what made Frankenheimer a kingpin in American cinema. His set of themes revolve around the alienation of the individual in the modern world, his inability to adapt to it and the rules, constraints of society which dwarf him. At the outset, Stroud is an outcast and can't conform to the rules and laws which govern the USA. But the discovery of this wounded sparrow will make him reconcile with life. His thirst for knowledge, his willful persona for developing and deepening his knowledge in ornithology are so potent that one virtually forgets the restrained, cramped space he lives in. His cell is fraught with birds singing, cages galore test tubes for his experiences and learning books. Frankenheimer achieves the feat to make this paradox endure and so to move the audience: to film a nearly fulfilled life in a tiny space and to turn a nearly bestial human being in a respectable man. That's the victory of the individual on a repressive system.

So unlike the two Frankenheimer pieces of work I quoted in my first paragraph which spread ed an unchanging pessimistic whiff, especially "Seconds", "Birdman of Alcatraz" is bestowed with an upbeat, optimistic feel. And I won't come back on Burt Lancaster's imposing, subdued performance which has so much been rightly lauded. One word about Robert Stroud's mother: she may be a distant cousin of Raymond Shaw's in "the Mandchurian Candidate" for she is against the marriage of her son.

Whenever this film is evoked, the controversy about the real Robert Stroud comes back. They always tell he wasn't this brainy, sensitive man described in Frankenheimer's film but it doesn't stop you from watching one of the most momentous films in the filmmaker's canon and probably his most harrowing one.

NB: the real Robert Stroud was never allowed to watch the film.

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