classic siegel/eastwood collaboration
Director: Don Siegel, Script: Richard Tuggle, Novel:J. Cambell Bruce,
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Roberts Blossom, Jack Thibeau,
Alcatraz prison was said to be absolutely inescapable and the few
inmates who have tried drowned in the bay. Three men, Frank Morris and
the Anglin brothers managed to escape and many people believe that they
made it to shore because their bodies were never found. This cannot be
proved either way. This film is about their escape.
Great movie with its share of suspense and a perfect musical score by
Jerry Fielding to go along with it. We already know that they escape so
the movie focuses on how they go about it. It is a film one has to see
more than once to get all the details. Frank Morris is was said to have
a superior I.Q. Like most creative people, he sees potential out of
things that other people would not notice. For example, he sees a fan
sitting on a piano that he see as potential to help in their escape.
Other people would just see a fan.
Don Siegel takes his time in his direction of this film. The film moves
at a pretty slow pace but it is never boring. Most of the action is at
the end. Eastwood says very little in this film. He gives off the same
silent mysterious persona that he does in his Fistfull of Dollars
trilogy. Siegel does a very fine job of making this film feel
claustrophobic. Another thing I like about this film is its somewhat
open ending. It shows them breaking out and using their makeshift rafts
in the bay and then it ends there. At the very end of the film when the
warden is searching the shore with other law enforcement personal, he
spots a flower on the shore to symbolize that they mad it across but it
is just a little hint of maybe. No one knows for sure if they made it
although many think it to be highly unlikely. This film leaves it open
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The Ones Who (Might Have) Got Away
Alcatraz: the escape proof prison located on an island in San Francisco
Bay. During its 29 years as a U.S Federal Prison there were over a
dozen escape attempts which failed. Yet one attempt in 1962 might just
have succeeded in breaking three of its inmates out. That attempt is
the focus of the 1979 film Escape From Alcatraz, a superb example of
how to bring a real-life story to the screen.
The cast is stellar but low key throughout. Clint Eastwood plays the
ringleader of the escape, Frank Morris. Eastwood portrays Morris as
being a low key, intelligent and yet charismatic individual who uses
both his brain and personality in the lead up to the escape. His
nemesis is the cold, ruthless and at times even vindictive prison
warden played by Patrick McGoohan in a role that seems tailor made for
him even if he only pops up in the film every so often but does so to
great effect. Appearing about mid-way through the film to aid in the
escape are the Anglin twins who are the played with charm and charisma
by Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau. Along the way we meet some of Alcatraz's
other prisoners including Paul Benjamin as English, Roberts Blossom as
the painter Doc, Frank Ronzio as long term prisoner Litmus, Bruce M.
Fischer as the appropriately named prison animal Wolf and Larry Hankin
as potential escapee Charley Butts (though the name of the actual
prisoner was changed for the film). The performances are all low key
which adds to the atmosphere and suspense of the film immensely.
The entire film has an atmosphere of menace and suspense to it. From
the moment Morris is brought to the island, director Don Siegel places
the viewer into the exact same situation the character (and by
extension the real prisoner) finds himself in: a world confined to a
small piece of island where time passes by slowly, escape seems
impossible and, thanks to fellow prisoners like Wolf, death could
potentially hit you at any moment. The film was shot inside the
infamous prison itself, the film therefore has a strong sense of
authenticity to it that is hard to achieve in a studio set. Sequences
such as Morris' time in solitary confinement in D-block or the escape
attempt itself showcase this fact.
That sense of authenticity is combined with the work of those behind
the camera to create the aforementioned atmosphere. The solitary
confinement sequence, for example, is inter-cut by Ferris Webster to
include shots of the sun rising and setting over the prison to help
give the audience a sense of time that I suspect would have been a
luxury to anyone who has ever experienced it. The score from Jerry
Fielding is, like the rest of the film, low key to be point of barely
being noticeable yet highly effective when it is used. The one thing
that brings that atmosphere though is the cinematography of Bruce
Surtees which gives the entire film a cold look akin to a permanently
gloomy day and permanently dark nights. The result is a film that keeps
you on edge the whole time, even if you know how it ends.
Which, in a way, brings us to the script. Richard Tuggle's script,
based on the J. Campbell Bruce book of the same name, has the feeling
of being a meticulously researched, well thought out piece of writing.
The script stays very true to the known facts of the escape with only a
few minor changes (such as the name of the potential fourth escapee for
example). As a result this film isn't fast paced or action packed. The
story builds as we see Morris settling into the prison, adjusting to
it, formulate the escape plan and then work towards carrying it out.
There's plenty of suspense along the way as each stage has its own
risks and potential to go wrong, which keeps the viewer waiting to see
what happens next. The result is that the escape attempt itself is made
all the more powerful in terms of its suspense. Yet Tuggle keeps his
characters at the center and keeps their characterizations firmly
anchored in reality. As a result the script makes the film real and
suspenseful without ever letting never letting the facts, overwhelm the
Escape From Alcatraz is a superb example of how to bring a true story
to the screen. From its low key but effective performances to its
authenticity and sense of menace, the film is highly effective both as
a docudrama and as a suspense film. While those who can only stand the
fast pace editing and highly stylistic films of today might find it
utterly dull, others will find a fascinating true story brought to life
in fine form..