HOME |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
 
Newest Reviews
Morfalous, Les
Dreambuilders
Everything Went Fine
Lux AEterna
Rum Runners
Fairy and the Devil, The
Mad God
Outside the Law
I Remember Mama
Superman Unbound
Lawrence of Belgravia
House Across the Lake, The
Wonder Park
Hornsby e Rodriguez
Operation Mincemeat
5 Kung Fu Daredevil Heroes
Scoob!
Earwig
Offseason
Peau Douce, La
Double Indemnity
Na Cha and the Seven Devils
Deep Murder
Superman vs. the Elite
Adam Project, The
Osamu Tezuka's Last Mystery of the 20th Century
Horse, La
Buffaloed
Train Robbers, The
Let Sleeping Cops Lie
Abominable
Funeral, The
Burning Sea, The
Godzilla Singular Point
Ace of Aces
Innocents, The
Beast and the Magic Sword, The
Last Hard Men, The
Found Footage Phenomenon, The
Night Trap
   
 
Newest Articles
3 From Arrow Player: Sweet Sugar, Girls Nite Out and Manhattan Baby
Little Cat Feat: Stephen King's Cat's Eye on 4K UHD
La Violence: Dobermann at 25
Serious Comedy: The Wrong Arm of the Law on Blu-ray
DC Showcase: Constantine - The House of Mystery and More on Blu-ray
Monster Fun: Three Monster Tales of Sci-Fi Terror on Blu-ray
State of the 70s: Play for Today Volume 3 on Blu-ray
The Movie Damned: Cursed Films II on Shudder
The Dead of Night: In Cold Blood on Blu-ray
Suave and Sophisticated: The Persuaders! Take 50 on Blu-ray
Your Rules are Really Beginning to Annoy Me: Escape from L.A. on 4K UHD
A Woman's Viewfinder: The Camera is Ours on DVD
Chaplin's Silent Pursuit: Modern Times on Blu-ray
The Ecstasy of Cosmic Boredom: Dark Star on Arrow
A Frosty Reception: South and The Great White Silence on Blu-ray
You'll Never Guess Which is Sammo: Skinny Tiger and Fatty Dragon on Blu-ray
Two Christopher Miles Shorts: The Six-Sided Triangle/Rhythm 'n' Greens on Blu-ray
Not So Permissive: The Lovers! on Blu-ray
Uncomfortable Truths: Three Shorts by Andrea Arnold on MUBI
The Call of Nostalgia: Ghostbusters Afterlife on Blu-ray
Moon Night - Space 1999: Super Space Theater on Blu-ray
Super Sammo: Warriors Two and The Prodigal Son on Blu-ray
Sex vs Violence: In the Realm of the Senses on Blu-ray
What's So Funny About Brit Horror? Vampira and Bloodbath at the House of Death on Arrow
Keeping the Beatles Alive: Get Back
   
 
  Birdman of Alcatraz Winging It
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: BiopicBuy from Amazon
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 2882 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 probably has psychic powers?
Laurence Fishburne
Nicolas Cage
Anya Taylor-Joy
Patrick Stewart
Sissy Spacek
Michelle Yeoh
Aubrey Plaza
Tom Cruise
Beatrice Dalle
Michael Ironside
   
 
   

Recent Visitors
Darren Jones
Andrew Pragasam
Graeme Clark
Enoch Sneed
Mary Sibley
  Desbris M
  Sheila Reeves
Paul Smith
   

 

Last Updated: