Alcatraz is the most secure prison of its time. It is believed that no one can ever escape from it, until three daring men make a possible successful attempt at escaping from one of the most infamous prisons in the world.
A hard but mediocre cop is assigned to escort a prostitute into custody from Las Vegas to Phoenix, so that she can testify in a mob trial. But a lot of people are literally betting that they won't make it into town alive.
The true story of three inmates who attempt a daring escape from the infamous prison, Alcatraz Island. Although no-one had managed to escape before, bank robber Frank Morris masterminded this elaborately detailed and, as far as anyone knows, ultimately successful, escape. In 29 years, this seemingly impenetrable federal penitentiary, which housed Al Capone and "Birdman" Robert Stroud, was only broken once by three inmates never heard of again.Written by
The Warden, who is never named during the film, at one point refers to his "predecessors, Wardens Johnston and Blackwell." Warden Blackwell was the actual warden at the time of Frank Lee Morris' escape, and this script reference was clearly done to avoid legal trouble. See more »
Morris and the Anglins are shown blowing up their raft with their mouths. In reality they had turned a small concertina into a makeshift bellows, which they used to inflate the raft. See more »
Alcatraz: the escape proof prison located on an island in San Francisco Bay. During its 29 years as a U.S Federal Prison there were over a dozen escape attempts which failed. Yet one attempt in 1962 might just have succeeded in breaking three of its inmates out. That attempt is the focus of the 1979 film Escape From Alcatraz, a superb example of how to bring a real-life story to the screen.
The cast is stellar but low key throughout. Clint Eastwood plays the ringleader of the escape, Frank Morris. Eastwood portrays Morris as being a low key, intelligent and yet charismatic individual who uses both his brain and personality in the lead up to the escape. His nemesis is the cold, ruthless and at times even vindictive prison warden played by Patrick McGoohan in a role that seems tailor made for him even if he only pops up in the film every so often but does so to great effect. Appearing about mid-way through the film to aid in the escape are the Anglin twins who are the played with charm and charisma by Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau. Along the way we meet some of Alcatraz's other prisoners including Paul Benjamin as English, Roberts Blossom as the painter Doc, Frank Ronzio as long term prisoner Litmus, Bruce M. Fischer as the appropriately named prison animal Wolf and Larry Hankin as potential escapee Charley Butts (though the name of the actual prisoner was changed for the film). The performances are all low key which adds to the atmosphere and suspense of the film immensely.
The entire film has an atmosphere of menace and suspense to it. From the moment Morris is brought to the island, director Don Siegel places the viewer into the exact same situation the character (and by extension the real prisoner) finds himself in: a world confined to a small piece of island where time passes by slowly, escape seems impossible and, thanks to fellow prisoners like Wolf, death could potentially hit you at any moment. The film was shot inside the infamous prison itself, the film therefore has a strong sense of authenticity to it that is hard to achieve in a studio set. Sequences such as Morris' time in solitary confinement in D-block or the escape attempt itself showcase this fact.
That sense of authenticity is combined with the work of those behind the camera to create the aforementioned atmosphere. The solitary confinement sequence, for example, is inter-cut by Ferris Webster to include shots of the sun rising and setting over the prison to help give the audience a sense of time that I suspect would have been a luxury to anyone who has ever experienced it. The score from Jerry Fielding is, like the rest of the film, low key to be point of barely being noticeable yet highly effective when it is used. The one thing that brings that atmosphere though is the cinematography of Bruce Surtees which gives the entire film a cold look akin to a permanently gloomy day and permanently dark nights. The result is a film that keeps you on edge the whole time, even if you know how it ends.
Which, in a way, brings us to the script. Richard Tuggle's script, based on the J. Campbell Bruce book of the same name, has the feeling of being a meticulously researched, well thought out piece of writing. The script stays very true to the known facts of the escape with only a few minor changes (such as the name of the potential fourth escapee for example). As a result this film isn't fast paced or action packed. The story builds as we see Morris settling into the prison, adjusting to it, formulate the escape plan and then work towards carrying it out. There's plenty of suspense along the way as each stage has its own risks and potential to go wrong, which keeps the viewer waiting to see what happens next. The result is that the escape attempt itself is made all the more powerful in terms of its suspense. Yet Tuggle keeps his characters at the center and keeps their characterizations firmly anchored in reality. As a result the script makes the film real and suspenseful without ever letting never letting the facts, overwhelm the people.
Escape From Alcatraz is a superb example of how to bring a true story to the screen. From its low key but effective performances to its authenticity and sense of menace, the film is highly effective both as a docudrama and as a suspense film. While those who can only stand the fast pace editing and highly stylistic films of today might find it utterly dull, others will find a fascinating true story brought to life in fine form.
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