Escape from Alcatraz is certainly one of the most famous prison movies of all times, and it based on one of the most incredible escape’s story. Don Siegel’s film is about three prisoners who managed to escape from the high security prison of Alcatraz, on the Alcatraz Island, in 1962.
The prison of Alcatraz is a perfect decor visually and narratively for a prison movie, because outwardly the place is very imposing and isolated from the land, and it seems impossible to escape from Alcatraz. Moreover, at the beginning of the film, the prison governor warns the principal character “No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. And no one ever will!”, whereupon the prisoner glowers at him thinking “we will see”.
“Alcatraz was built to keep all the rotten eggs in one basket, and I was specially chosen to make sure that the stink from the basket does not escape. Since I’ve been warden, a few people have tried to escape. Most of them have been recaptured; those that haven’t have been killed or drowned in the bay. No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. And no one ever will!”
The prison governor to Frank Morris
The main interest of the story is to answer to the question “how will they escape?”. Of course, no one other than the mighty Clint Eastwood could answer to the question. Even if the relationship between Frank Morris, played by the famous American actor, and the prison governor, played by Patrick McGoohan, is quite caricatural, it works.
Clint Eastwood embodies the stereotype of the strong and charismatic man who is afraid of nothing. He has always the good punchline.
Charley Butts: “I turned 35 today. Some birthday! When’s your birthday?”
Frank Morris: “I don’t know.”
Charley Butts: “Geez, what kind of childhood did you have?”
Frank Morris: “Short.”
Escape from Alcatraz is a well done classical adventure movie and entertaining by the action and the humour of the principal character.
Escape from Alcatraz (1979)
Director: Don Siegel
Writer: Richard Tuggle, based on the book Escape from Alcatraz by J. Campbell Bruce
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Jack Thibeau, Fred Ward, Larry Hankin, Patrick McGoohan, Paul Benjamin…
Running time: 1h47
The prison of Alcatraz
Alcatraz Island is located in San Francisco Bay, 1.25 miles offshore from San Francisco in California. The small island was developed with facilities for a lighthouse, a military fortification (1850-1909), a military prison (1909-1933), and a high security federal prison from 1934 until 1963. Today, the island’s facilities are managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It is open to tours.
The federal prison of Alcatraz was designed to hold prisoners who continuously caused trouble at other federal prisons.
“If you disobey the rules of society, they send you to prison; if you disobey the rules of the prison, they send you to US. Alcatraz is not like any other prison in the United States. Here, every inmate is confined ALONE… to an individual cell. Unlike my predecessors, Wardens Johnson and Blackwell, I don’t have good conduct programs, I do not have inmate counsels. Inmates here have no say in what they do; they do as they’re told. You’re not permitted to have newspapers or magazines carrying news; knowledge of the outside world is, ah, what we tell you. From this day on, your world will be everything that happens in this building”.
Warden (the prison governor) to Frank Morris
During the 29 years it was in use, the jail held some of the most notorious criminals in American history, such as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Bumpy Johnson, Rafael Cancel Miranda, Mickey Cohen, Arthur R. “Doc” Barker, James “Whitey” Bulger, and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis (who served more time at Alcatraz than any other inmate).
During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed that no prisoner successfully escaped. A total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice, 23 were caught alive, six were shot and killed during their escape, two drowned, and five are listed as “missing and presumed drowned”. The most violent occurred on May 2, 1946, when a failed escape attempt by six prisoners led to the Battle of Alcatraz.
On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin carried out one of the most intricate escapes ever devised.