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Very Underrated; a Technically Bright and Fast-Paced Adventure in B/W
For a made-for-TV movie, I suggest that "Alcatraz Express" has a much denser B/W rich look than one would expect. Also, since it is a character study that takes place primarily among duos and groups of people who communicate with one another, it seems more important and intelligent than do most filmed adventures. Its fundamental story embroiders an historical moment--when Al Capone, Chicago ganglord, having been convicted of income tax evasion, had been ordered by Judge James J. Wilkerson to serve 11 years in prison. He was to be sent via train to Alcatraz, "The Rock", the U.S.'s most-secure prison for hardened criminals, set in San Francisco Harbor on an island. The writers got the idea of having Capone getting word to his seconds to try to hijack the train and freeing him before he ever reached his new cell. Elliot Ness, chief mover against him as federal agent in Chicago, deduces the plan from clues and tries to make certain it does not succeed. The plan involves an obscure railroad-side town in the desert and an ambush involving a plane to fly Capone away once he has been freed, and a necessary takeover of the town by Capone henchmen. Ness and his few men must infiltrate the town and, in a climactic walk down Main Street, have an old-fashioned Western shootout with the gangsters. As a result of their efforts, the train pulls through the town without stopping, and Capone goes to prison as planned. The production was directed by TV veteran John Peyser. In the cast are the TV series' "Untouchables" regulars, Robert Stack as Ness, Paul Picerni, Abel Fernandez, Nicholas Georgiade, and Steve London; James Westerfield who was so good in "The Scarface Mob" plays Capone's chief organizer in the takeover, and Frank Nitt, Capone's successor as head of the organization, is powerful Bruce Gordon. Others in the large cast include John Hoyt, Charles Lane, Lalo Rios, Russ Conway, Frank Wilcox, Eddie Firestone, Gavin Macleod, William Schallert, Robert F. Simon, Gregg Palmer, Steve London, Paul Bruce and Richard Carlyle. Music for this film was provided by Nelson Riddle and Fred Steiner. Neville Brand reprised his "Scarfarce Mob" turn as Al Capone very effectively. There are many fine scenes to remember here; the staging of an incident on the train by Capone, Ness putting the plot together, the takeover of the town, Ness and his men trying to pass themselves off as hired participants to Capone's men, James Westerfield's doubts and the climactic shootout. All-in-all, I must rate this is a very entertaining, swift- paced and well-thought-out movie, made-for-TV or otherwise.
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