Escape From Alcatraz (1979) – A Review
It’s 1960 and Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) has arrived at his new home – the maximum security prison Alcatraz.
Morris has been transferred due to his history of escaping from multiple prisons. Alcatraz warden Patrick McGoohan flatly states escape is impossible, so Morris best follow the rules and enjoy his time on the Rock.
But with his superior IQ, creativity, determination and some patience, Morris and some cohorts craft a plan to break out of the inescapable and legendary Alcatraz.
And it’s all true.
On June 11, 1962 Alcatraz inmates Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and Johbn Anglin broke out of the most notorious and famous prison of them all. Did they survive and live an anonymous life outside of prison walls or did they all drown in San Francisco Bay? The mystery remains and their escape continues to fascinate and has entered into near legend.
This docudrama of the real life escape from Alcatraz was the final collaboration between Eastwood and director Don Siegel and it’s a great one. It delivers on exactly what the title suggests. You know, I hear the name Escape From Alcatraz I’m expecting a cool thriller of a prison movie with a lot of suspense, and boy does this movie succeed!
The movie doesn’t waste time with Morris arriving at Alcatraz and meeting McGoohan as the warden, who you take an instant dislike to. You can tell the guy is an arrogant pain in the ass. the moment Morris walks into his office The way he clips his nails while lecturing you, uh I couldn’t wait for the guy to get owned.
The first hour or so is Morris settling into life on ‘The Rock’. There’s a lot of standard prison movie tropes that drop in. Along with the nasty warden. there’s the old timer, the new arrival, making friends, making an enemy, defending himself, getting thrown into solitary, the dismal conditions of the place, setting up the obstacles of what needs to be overcome.
A lot of prison movies have this stuff not just later ones, like The Shawshank Redemptionreally comes to mind, but earlier ones like Cool Hand Luke, Papillion, A Man Escaped. heck even Stir Crazy. There’s these recurring road signs that come up on the road of most prison movies. That doesn’t mean that stuff has to feel tired and they can’t be effective, it’s all depends on how it’s executed and Escape From Alcatraz makes it all compelling. You may have seen these clichés before but Siegel and the actors make all the characters and scenes effective.
There’s those close call moments of Eastwood and the guys almost getting found out after all their work
One funny tidbit while I was rewatching this. I hadn’t seen it in years and I’m watching the older man who loves painting and he’s getting friendly with Morris. I really felt bad for him when the warden exercises his control over the poor guy. What a skunk! Anyway, I was listening to the actor talk, I knew he sounded familiar and then it hit me – he’s the old guy from Home Alone! Wow, I never made that connection before.
The first hour is a setup to the layout, rules and security of Alcatraz. When the escape kicks in it becomes a quiet exercise in watching Morris plan and execute. It gets really riveting how he maneuvers his way around the limitations he’s faced with. How he deceives the guards, the intricate planning and how he gets so inventive with the tools he has.
From what I read about the real life story the movie is very accurate to all the methods they used for the escape. What Morris and the guys managed to pull off is really impressive! I think even the guards had to give them a round of applause. I always wondered if any prisons showed Escape From Alcatraz for one of their movie nights. I’m guessing not. It would be like showing an airplane disaster movie on a real flight.
You really start to zero in on the close-ups of what Eastwood pockets, the meticulous scraping of his cell wall, manufacturing a fake vent front. There’s barely any dialogue and those scenes of him at work fill the screen and they completely hold my attention.
One really cool thing is how quiet the movie is. That silence begins to build up so by the time Morris gets to work the sound of footsteps of a guard or a soft whistle creates instant tension. Any little sound can spell disaster. for the whole plan. A lot of the escape work takes place at night, so there’s plenty of darkness with wisps of light and shadows of bars framing Eastwood, but it’s the moments of noise that interrupt the stillness in the prison that really gets you on the edge of your seat.
They probably could of eliminated all the dialogue completely and just used the sounds of the prison and Eastwood at work and the movie still would have worked.
Fred Ward, Larry Hankin, Jack Thibeau are fine as Eastwood’s escape accomplices, but it’s really Clint’s show. His taciturn performance fits in perfectly with this story. When Eastwood does talk he always says the most perfect succinct response or one-liner.
This is a great Saturday night ‘Guy Movie’. It has all the ingredients of a well made macho, suspenseful entertaining flick. You got Eastwood, Alcatraz, true story, breaking out – that’s all Siegel needed and thankfully Escape From Alcatraz delivers on it all.