Action Movie Fanatix Review: Escape From Alcatraz

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No One Has Ever Escaped From Alcatraz… And No One Ever Will.

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Patrick McGoohan, Fred Ward, Larry Hankin, Jack Thibeau

Director: Don Siegel

1979  |  112 Minutes  |  PG

“Wolf wanted to get friendly.  I didn’t.” – Frank Morris

What guy doesn’t like a prison escape movie?  It’s that thing deep down that makes you believe that if you were to have the misfortune of being imprisoned somewhere we would somehow be able to use our brains and brawn to escape.  Now, I know full well I would never make it out of Alcatraz and if somehow I did, I would never make that swim but Escape From Alcatraz still does a great job of reeling me in to believing that, just maybe, I could.

A group of inmates led by Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) attempts a daring escape from Alcatraz, from which no man had ever escaped before.

The similarities are very evident between Escape From Alcatraz and more recent prison escape movies like Shawshank Redemption.  Obviously Escape From Alcatraz came first so I am left to believe that Stephen King and Frank Darabont borrowed from this at some level.

As I do with movies that are “based on a true story”, I started Googling after watching Escape From Alcatraz.  I was impressed to find that the creators stayed pretty close to the real story of the escape.

The story starts slowly, with a room full of showering naked dudes.  I don’t imagine life in a prison is exactly action packed and the minute Frank Morris starts hatching his plot to escape I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  It’s not a roller coaster, it’s a long mountain climb toward the final escape.  The ride is fun to watch though as we witness the crazy innovation of the inmates.  I loved the realism of it all.

Along the way we are introduced to a few other inmates such as Doc, the elderly painter, Litmus, the kooky mousekeeper, Charlie Butts, a young Mr. Heckles from Friends, and English, the black librarian.  Even though we have shared a cell with Frank for many long minutes as he chisels away at the wall of his cell, we feel like we know these other characters better than we know him.  Frank is something of a mystery.  He doesn’t talk much.  We are told that he doesn’t have any family.  We don’t know his history other than that he has escaped prisons before.  And yet, he is the guy we root for.  Frank could have been a horrible serial killer for all we know.

The warden isn’t quite as nasty as some other wardens in prison movies.  He isn’t holding cage fights or killing people for no good reason but he definitely has a certain prickish quality to him.  He isn’t above reminding the prisoners that he is in control and that they are going to be there a while.

The one low point of the movie is Litmus’ death.  The whole thing just felt weird and poorly executed.

I wouldn’t say that I LOVED Escape From Alcatraz.  Shawshank Redemption is probably a superior movie to me still but the fact that this is something of a true story makes it that much more impressive.  I really enjoyed it and it is the type of movie I could definitely see myself watching again.

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