Escape From Alcatraz (1979)

“No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz — and no one ever will!”

Synopsis:
Four prisoners (Clint Eastwood, Jack Thibeau, Fred Ward, and Larry Hankin) plot their escape from the island of Alcatraz.

Genres:

Review:
As noted in Vincent Canby’s review for the New York Times, Don Siegel’s Escape From Alcatraz “is not a great film or an especially memorable one.” There’s little character development and even less background exposition — everything we see and hear is either meant to show us why Eastwood is so eager to get out of this notorious hell hole (who wouldn’t be?), or how he goes about doing so. Plus, since the movie is based on a real story, there aren’t many surprises: we already know that three of the four men will successfully escape, and that their bodies will never be found.

Although Escape From Alcatraz is guaranteed to appeal to hardcore prison-break film fans, I’ll admit I found it to be a disappointment. It features all the classic tropes we’re already so familiar with in prison movies — the sadistic warden; the beloved elderly prisoner with an innocuous hobby; the aggressive sexual predator — without providing any new insights. You’re better off watching a more recent classic on the same theme: Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • On-location footage in what is possibly the world’s most famous prison
    Footage
  • Some genuinely tense moments — such as when a prison guard nearly learns the truth about Eastwood’s dummy-head
    Guard

Must See?
Yes, simply for its status as a seminal prison-break flick.

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One Response to “Escape From Alcatraz (1979)”

  1. Although this apparently has a slew of fans, I can’t call it a must. Besides, there’s such a glut of prison films that one has to pare down. ‘EFA’ was the last of five movies Eastwood and director Siegel made together. Siegel was, of course, quite a craftsman – his presence tended to be so subservient to story that demanding film fanatics may find most of his work once-and-done stuff, like something with the power of newspaper headlines that you move on from. (It’s been a while since I’ve seen most of Siegel’s more famous work, but that’s my overall feeling; I may eat words later, tho I can’t say enough good things about ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’!)

    We don’t look to Eastwood for great acting and here he doesn’t project much of his real-life character’s high IQ. Why do we know almost nothing about the real Frank Morris from this film? Siegel establishes Alcatraz and its routine well at the outset, and the escape itself is a shot/edited display of fine technique. Everything in between (as stated) is something of a colorless disappointment – and shouldn’t a must be a must all the way through?

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