Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
I watched one of my favourite thrillers again recently:
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
If you haven’t seen it, it’s a crime/drama/thriller starring Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), Patrick McGoohan (Braveheart), the late Fred Ward (Tremors) and Paul Benjamin (Do the Right Thing) among others.
It’s an adaptation of the 1963 non-fiction book of the same name by J. Campbell Bruce that tells the story of the 1962 prison break from Alcatraz. The escape contributed to factors resulting in the infamous maximum security prison being closed a year later.
This is what it’s about according to the internet:
“Frank Morris (Eastwood), a hardened con with a history of prison breaks, is sent to serve the rest of his life sentence at Alcatraz - America's most infamously brutal and inescapable maximum security prison. Morris quickly realises the prison's dehumanising effects and clashes with its cruel warden (McGoohan). Fed up with life at Alcatraz, Morris and two convict brothers (Fred Ward, Jack Thibeau) meticulously plan the unthinkable: an escape from the island.”
I’ve come to realise that I have a strange obsession with prison movies.
I’ve always been fascinated with Alcatraz, particularly the “escape”, so maybe that’s where it all stems from.
Add to that the era it was made (I love these 70s era movies) and it’s no wonder I love it!
I used quotation marks on the word escape by the way because while the official FBI report concluded that the three men drowned trying to reach the mainland, no bodies were ever recovered. For this reason they remain on the U.S. Marshall’s Service’s wanted list even today.
This film has everything you’d expect from a prison movie: A mean warden, guard brutality, attempted rape/murder, the fellow prisoner friendship, smuggled contraband and of course, the inevitable escape attempt.
The pace is slow but in an agonisingly brilliant way. You know where it’s going and how it’s all going to end but it’s the journey, seeing how the prisoners go about making their escape and the close calls along the way that make this film such an enjoyable watch.
Clint Eastwood is excellent as the mastermind behind the escape, Frank Morris (who apparently ranked in the top 2% of the general population for intelligence with an IQ of 133). He’s every bit “Clint Eastwood” as you’d expect him to be.
A youthful looking Fred Ward puts in a solid performance as one of the other escapees, John Anglin, as does Larry Hankin who plays Charley Butts, the one that didn’t make it (I always feel so sorry for him during the escape scene).
It’s the brilliant Patrick McGoohan who steals the show though as Warden Arthur Dollison, who as fate would have it, was only the acting warden at the time of the escape. Alcatraz’s actual warden was on vacation.
Interestingly this was Danny Glover’s first film role. He plays one of the inmates that Clint Eastwood’s character offers a book to from the prison library. He was only 34 at the time. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it part so keep your eyes peeled.
This is such a great film!
If like me you enjoy a tense thriller with a well told story based on true events, as well as liking prison movies like The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Lock Up (1989), The Longest Yard (2005), and The Last Castle (2001), I can highly recommend this film.
Seen it? Let me know what you think. 👇