HOME |  CULT MOVIES | COMPETITIONS | ADVERTISE |  CONTACT US |  ABOUT US
 
 
Newest Reviews
Perfect 10
Octaman
Red Penguins
China Syndrome, The
Babyteeth
Round-Up, The
Around the Sun
Once There Was Brasilia
Peripheral
Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street
Ice
She Demons
Good Girls, The
Hail, Hero!
Faces in the Crowd
Tamango
Traitor, The
Tomorrow
Third Generation, The
Saxon Charm, The
Spy Intervention
Moonrise
Mulan
Killer with a Thousand Eyes, The
Vigil, The
Liberation of L.B. Jones, The
Wizard of Baghdad, The
Ride
Good Manners
Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo
Sweet Home
Big Score, The
Siddhartha
Three Outlaw Samurai
Echoes of Fear
Guinea Pig, The
Truth, The
Good Die Young, The
Old Guard, The
Gumnaam
   
 
Newest Articles
Network On Air: Nights in with ABC 2 - Your Faces are All Blurred!
Eve Knew Her Apples: The Lady Eve on Blu-ray
Network On Air: Tempo - Gallery One
Network On Air: Nights In with ABC 1 - Welcome Once Again to Manchester!
Transformative Apocalypses: Phase IV and Southland Tales
The Happiest Days of Their Lives: The Guinea Pig on Blu-ray
Faced Poe: Three Edgar Allan Poe Adaptations Starring Bela Lugosi on Blu-ray
Hard Luck, Buster: The Cameraman on Blu-ray
At the Hop: Mr. Vampire on Blu-ray
Divine Madness: Female Trouble on Blu-ray
Country Matters: Further Out of Town on Blu-ray
Bat-Damn: Was Joel Schumacher's Batman Really That Bad?
The Beat Goes On: Takeshi Kitano Collection on Blu-ray
Dream Treats: Scorsese Shorts on Blu-ray
It's Only Money: Laughter in Paradise on Blu-ray
A Regular Terpsichore: Dance, Girl, Dance on Blu-ray
Teenage Trauma: Baby Love on Blu-ray
The Happening: Pet Shop Boys It Couldn't Happen Here on Blu-ray
Who Watched The Watchmen?
The Golden Age of Colonic Irrigation: Monty Python Series 4 on Blu-ray
Lady of Pleasure: Lola Montes on Blu-ray
Take You to the Gay Bar: Funeral Parade of Roses on Blu-ray
Hit for Ms: Mark Cousins' Women Make Film on Blu-ray
Look Sinister: The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse on Blu-ray
Star Wars Triple Threat: The Tricky Third Prequel and Sequel
   
 
  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 1249 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
Darren Jones
Paul Smith
Andrew Pragasam
  Lee Fiveash
  Mick Stewart
Enoch Sneed
  Dsfgsdfg Dsgdsgsdg
   

 

Last Updated: