Clint Eastwood plans to ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ
“Some men are destined never to leave Alcatraz… alive.”
Don Siegel’s 1979 prison film Escape From Alcatraz marked the fifth and final collaboration between the director and friend/star Clint Eastwood. The story is based on true events surrounding an escape from the infamous maximum security prison on Alcatraz Island in the early 60s. Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) is a new inmate that arrives on Alcatraz due to his various escapes from other prisons. He is introduced to his latest residence by the Warden (Patrick McGoohan), a cold calculating figure that explains Alcatraz is inescapable…or so he thinks. Morris begins making alliances with some of the prisoners including the racially conflicted English (Paul Benjamin) a black man who was convicted of killing two whites in self defense and the affable “Litmus” (Frank Ronzio) who got his nickname because his complexion which changes with the weather. Like any prison tale, there’s got to be an enemy figure involved and in this film that is the brutish blockhead Wolf (Bruce M Fischer) who approaches Morris to be his personal “punk” but is swiftly beaten up for his trouble. Not one to stay around prisons long, Morris finds some younger veterans of the criminal system, The Anglin Brothers (Jack Thibeau and Fred Ward) and the impish Charlie Butts (Larry Hankin) and suggests they work together to plan a new breakout. The manner in which they do this concerns air vents in the cells which have been eroded by the salty sea air over the years. The men each dig through the walls and make fake vent covers using paper mache and paint. They also design dummy heads to use in case the guards walk by their cells as they perform recon missions to the outside nightly. Meanwhile, the warden watches Morris closely while manipulating the prisoners in often sadistic ways. One of his targets is Doc (Roberts Blossom) an kindly older inmate and gifted painter who creates a portrait of the warden, after which his art tools are suddenly taken away causing him to have a breakdown. I think what is most interesting about this movie for me is how it makes Morris a sympathetic figure. He’s never presented as a hardened vicious criminal, but merely someone that just happens to be stuck in prison and is trying to survive. He becomes another Eastwood anti-hero we root for while the Warden is presented to be an almost Bond-like villain. Over the years since, films have covered similar themes such as Lock Up with Sylvester Stallone and The Shawshank Redemption. Escape From Alcatraz is a finely crafted effort with solid performances, great pacing and a sharply written screenplay. It remains one of Siegel and Eastwood’s best team ups. It’s another furious film classic we highly recommend.