Escape from Alcatraz

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The story begins as Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) arrives at the maximum security prison Alcatraz, having been sent there after escaping from several other prisons. He is sent in to meet the warden (Patrick McGoohan), who curtly informs him that no one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. Eventually he meets his old friends, brothers John and Clarence Anglin (Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau), and he makes the acquaintance of the prisoner in the cell next to his, Charlie Butts (Larry Hankin). Morris befriends numerous other inmates, including English (Paul Benjamin), a black inmate serving two life sentences for killing two white men in self-defense; the eccentric Litmus (who keeps a pet mouse and calls himself Al Capone), and the elderly artist and chrysanthemum grower Doc (Roberts Blossom).

Morris also makes an enemy of the rapist Wolf (Bruce M. Fischer), whom Morris beats in the shower room after Wolf attempts to come onto him. Still seething from this encounter, Wolf attacks Morris in the yard and both men spend time in the hole. When the warden discovers that Doc has painted a portrait of him, as well as other policemen on the island itself, he permanently removes Doc’s painting privileges; in response, a depressed Doc cuts his fingers off with a hatchet from the prison workshop and is led away. Later, the warden finds one of Doc’s chrysanthemums and crushes it in front of the inmates; an angry Litmus leaps at the warden and suffers a fatal heart attack. The warden coldly reminds Morris that “some men are destined never to leave Alcatraz–alive.”

Morris notices that the concrete around the grille in his cell is weak and can be chipped way, which evolves into an escape plan. Over the next few months Morris, Butts, and the Anglins dig through the walls of their cells with spoons (which have been soldered into makeshift shovels), make papier-mâché dummies to act as decoys, and construct a raft out of raincoats. On the night of their escape, Butts loses his nerve and does not go with the others. Morris and the Anglin brothers make it out of the prison and are last seen paddling their raft into the night. When their escape is discovered the following morning, a massive manhunt ensues. The warden is adamant that the men drowned, despite no bodies being found. He finds a chrysanthemum on the shore of Angel Island and throws it into the bay after being told that they do not grow there.

REVIEW:

So, this morning, since I’m stuck here at home thanks to the icy roads for a 3rd straight day, I turned on Netflix and decided to check out Stephen Fry in America. Quite the interesting viewing, if you get the chance. Seeing all 50 states from the point of view of a British guy. When he reached San Francisco and visited Alcatraz, he mentioned no one escaped from there except Clint Eastwood, which prompted me to look up the reference. This is how I came to view Escape from Alcatraz.

What is this about?

Sent to Alcatraz for life, hardened crook Frank Morris plans his unauthorized departure from the island prison. Enlisting two bank-robber brothers as accomplices, Morris meticulously works out every detail before commencing his daring escape attempt.

What did I like?

Deception. Clint Eastwood is the star, but that doesn’t mean that he is the hero. As a matter of fact, there is no true hero in this film. To some extent, the “good guys” are the bad guys.. We only happen to cheer for Eastwood because we want him to escape. The deception is a bit of a switch from what we are used to, thus making for some interesting filmmaking.

No sugar. Alcatraz is not a happy place and this film doesn’t sugarcoat how horrible the inmates were treated by the guards. I’ll get into some other parts of life there a little later, though. For the tone of this film, it really works. This is a flick that has a couple of sympathetic, comedic characters, but for the most part is serious and dark in its tone. Would you really expect anything less from a film about Alcatraz?

Escape. As you can imagine the escape scene is quite exciting. What is really worth mentioning about it, is that they mange to keep it exciting without the use of explosions, gunplay, or anything other than just the actors doing what they were supposed to do. It should also be noted that these are not stunt doubles, but the actual actors.

What didn’t I like?

Work, boy. In the beginning of his stay in Alcatraz, Eastwood’s character is put to work in the library. The way this scene plays out, it would appear that it was going to go on and become something more important to the main plot and also the relationship with English, who turns out to be one of the most respected guys in the prison, should have been a bigger, but didn’t turn out that way. There is a relationship there, just not as much focus is placed on it as the audience expects.

Hotel Alcatraz. Early on, we meet the Warden who tells Eastwood’s character the rules. One of the points he makes sure to drive home is that the inmates aren’t there for a vacation, unlike other prisons. Then we turn around and see that each of the prisoners get certain amenities given to them, such as art supplies, accordions, etc., things that aren’t exactly given to prisoners.

D-block. After a prison fight with some inmate named Wolf, Eastwood’s character is sent to the dreaded D-block. After what seems like a couple of days, they release him back to his regular cell (the other guy is apparently there for 6 months or so). What’s so bad about this? Well, for such a bad place, it isn’t mention, except in passing in one scene, then it is never brought back, even when he returns to the regular cells. It just seems to me that a prisoner or two would be curious, its just human nature.

Every year, it seems that there is a loop of The Green Mile. I noticed some similarities between the characters in it and Escape from Alcatraz, showing that this film has etched quite the legacy for itself. Does that mean it is worth watching? Well, it isn’t the most exciting, thought-provoking, dramatic, or funniest film, but it is solid enough from beginning to end to warrant a viewing or two, so sure, give it a shot!

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “Escape from Alcatraz”

  1. […] Earlier this year, I watched Escape from Alcatraz, which was a true story about inmates breaking out of Alcatraz, which was supposedly impossible to […]

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