HOME |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
Newest Reviews
Pain and Glory
Judgment at Nuremberg
Rambo: Last Blood
Sansho the Bailiff
Iron Fury
Ride in the Whirlwind
Deathstalker II
Cloak and Dagger
Honeyland
Love Ban, The
Western Stars
League of Gentlemen, The
Higher Power
Shinsengumi
IT Chapter Two
Rich Kids
Arena
Glory Guys, The
Serial Killer's Guide to Life, A
Lovers and Other Strangers
Shiny Shrimps, The
Good Woman is Hard to Find, A
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark
Doctor at Sea
Spear
Death Cheaters
Wild Rose
Streetwalkin'
Mystify: Michael Hutchence
Devil's Playground, The
Cleanin' Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters
Hustlers
Mega Time Squad
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Souvenir, The
Birds of Passage
Ma
Woman at War
Happy as Lazzaro
Mickey's Christmas Carol
   
 
Newest Articles
Completely Different: Monty Python's Flying Circus Series 2 on Blu-ray
Bash Street Kid: Cosh Boy on Blu-ray
Seeing is Believing: Being There on Blu-ray
Top Thirty Best (and Ten Worst) Films of the 2010s by Andrew Pragasam
Top of the Tens: The Best Films of the Decade by Graeme Clark
Terrorvision: A Ghost Story for Christmas in the 1970s
Memories Are Made of This: La Jetee and Sans Soleil on Blu-ray
Step Back in Time: The Amazing Mr. Blunden on Blu-ray
Crazy Cats and Kittens: What's New Pussycat on Blu-ray
No Place Like Home Guard: Dad's Army - The Lost Episodes on Blu-ray
A Real-Life Pixie: A Tribute to Michael J. Pollard in Four Roles
We're All In This Together: The Halfway House on Blu-ray
Please Yourselves: Frankie Howerd and The House in Nightmare Park on Blu-ray
Cleesed Off: Clockwise on Blu-ray
Sorry I Missed You: Les Demoiselles de Rochefort on Blu-ray
Silliest of the Silly: Monty Python's Flying Circus Series 1 on Blu-ray
Protest Songs: Hair on Blu-ray
Peak 80s Schwarzenegger: The Running Man and Red Heat
Rock On: That'll Be the Day and Stardust on Blu-ray
Growing Up in Public: 7-63 Up on Blu-ray
Learn Your Craft: Legend of the Witches and Secret Rites on Blu-ray
70s Psycho-Thrillers! And Soon the Darkness and Fright on Blu-ray
Split: Stephen King and George A. Romero's The Dark Half on Blu-ray
Disney Post-Walt: Three Gamechangers
But Doctor, I Am Pagliacci: Tony Hancock's The Rebel and The Punch and Judy Man on Blu-ray
   
 
  Birdman of Alcatraz Winging ItBuy this film here.
Year: 1962
Director: John Frankenheimer
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Neville Brand, Betty Field, Telly Savalas, Edmond O'Brien, Hugh Marlowe, Whit Bissell, Crahan Denton, James Westerfield
Genre: Biopic
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Alcatraz: prison home to notorious criminals like Al Capone once upon a time, but now perhaps the most famous inmate is Robert F. Stroud (Burt Lancaster), for he was the well-known Birdman of Alcatraz, that convict who was a cause celebre among the public and press of the day once his activities were publicised. He was first incarcerated for killing a man back in the nineteen-tens and proved an uncooperative and dangerous prisoner who the warden, Harvey Shoemaker (Karl Malden), was wary of to the extent that he promised Stroud would be behind bars for a very long time. And so he would be, but he would find a flock of companions even in solitary confinement...

Birdman of Alcatraz was a much-admired film in its day for its portrayal of an apparently irredeemable criminal who found a form of redemption through his work with his pet birds, a tale of the indomitability of the human spirit where even the worst of us can make something better of our character given the right circumstances. Now, of course, it's as well-known for glossing over some unpalatable facts of Stroud's case, for there was a reason he was incarcerated until the day he died, and it wasn't because he was a thorn in the side of the prison authorities for his drive for prison reform, it's because he was a genuinely unpleasant individual who was a threat to the public.

That means you would not find details about the other people he attacked and even killed, before and after he was jailed, in this story: we are told he was sentenced for one murder and then see him kill a guard for preventing him from seeing his mother (Thelma Ritter), which according to this is the only motive for keeping him locked up for the next fifty or so years. You also won't find so much as a whisper about Stroud's love of child pornography, which he enthusiastically wrote to pass the time in his cell, though it does render Lancaster's line about the children of the staff on Alcatraz, supposedly down to humane concern, a lot less comfortable with that information in mind.

On the other hand, he did love his birds, and director John Frankenheimer (taking over from Brit Charles Crichton, who was fired from what might have been a major break in Hollywood) guided this in a surprisingly gentle fashion, both given his antagonistic reputation on the set and also the subject's violent tendencies. This was assisted by Lancaster's performance, which began as closer to the truth of Stroud's brutality, then suggested his mellowing after the significant act of rescuing a sparrow chick from a nest that fell into the exercise yard during a storm. After he keeps the bird as a pet, he takes an interest in avian matters and begins to collect canaries like there was no tomorrow, which for Stroud there more or less wasn't, or not a tomorrow he could live as a free man, at any rate.

Lancaster's ability to divine the dignity in an undignified man was what made this compelling, a tightrope act when any slip as the film progressed would have seen our sympathies evaporate. Yet as he is nice to his birds and cures them of their maladies, we can discern even the irredeemable can have their good days, though the knowledge that Stroud's pioneering in looking after the creatures was mostly gleaned from other, existing texts and guesswork does put a dent in the myth the movie wished to propagate. The supporting cast were uniformly fine as well, from Ritter and Malden to Betty Field as Stroud's wife who he married in prison, Neville Brand as the guard who warms to the convict and Telly Savalas offering a very decent account of himself as a fellow con who becomes as far of a friend as it was possible for Stroud to have thanks to the idea of pets becoming popular among the inmates. It was a long film, no doubt about it, but Lancaster was so intriguing it didn't feel that way; no matter the facts, Birdman of Alcatraz as a film found hope in the hopeless, and that's an achievement. Music by Elmer Bernstein.

[There are two featurettes on Eureka's Blu-ray, plus an audio commentary. Picture and sound just fine.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

This review has been viewed 882 time(s).

As a member you could Rate this film

 

John Frankenheimer  (1930 - 2002)

American director, from television, who really shone in the sixties with intelligent suspense movies and dramas like Birdman of Alcatraz, The Manchurian Candidate, The Train, Seven Days in May, Seconds and Grand Prix, but lost his touch from the seventies onward, with titles like The Iceman Cometh, 99 and 44/100% Dead, Black Sunday, Prophecy, The Holcroft Covenant, 52 Pick-Up, Dead Bang and The Island of Dr Moreau standing out, not always for the right reasons. Thriller Ronin was his swan song.

 
Review Comments (0)


Untitled 1

Login
  Username:
 
  Password:
 
   
 
Forgotten your details? Enter email address in Username box and click Reminder. Your details will be emailed to you.
   

Latest Poll
Which star is the best at shouting?
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Brian Blessed
Tiffany Haddish
Steve Carell
Olivia Colman
Captain Caveman
Sylvester Stallone
Gerard Butler
Samuel L. Jackson
Bipasha Basu
   
 
   

Recent Visitors
Graeme Clark
Andrew Pragasam
Darren Jones
  Rachel Franke
Enoch Sneed
Paul Smith
Paul Shrimpton
  Desbris M
   

 

Last Updated: