By Marc S. Sanders
Okay. I’m gonna give this a shot. Granted Escape from Alcatraz came out over a decade prior to that other famous prison movie with Morgan Freeman, but how do you not avoid a comparison?
Clint Eastwood is Alcatraz inmate Frank Morris who believes he’s uncovered a way to break out of the most inescapable prison located on an island that’s at least a mile away by San Francisco Bay sea water from civilization. The film is directed by Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”) who depicts the true life inspired events that occur in the early 1960s.
Even before Morris begins to plot his steps to freedom with three other inmates, Siegel shows the brutal life of living in the Federal Government’s most notoriously secure prison. The Warden assures Frank that escape is impossible. Others who have tried were either shot or drowned in the ice cold waters of the bay. Still, Frank Morris, who has accomplished prison escapes in the past, is certain that he’s found a way.
“Escape from Alcatraz” isn’t just about digging through walls with a makeshift tool combo of a nail file and spoon. Siegel shows what occurs in a day in the life in the cafeteria, out in the yard and in the work shop. Prison guards patrol with rifles. The black prisoners have their spot on the bleachers. An old guy paints portraits to occupy himself. There’s even a library. Look!!! There’s Danny Glover accepting a book from Clint.
Actually, it comes off pretty tame all these years later when compared to many other prison films. Frank is bullied by one bruiser, but also remember this is Clint Eastwood. So this big guy doesn’t have a chance in a bare knuckle brawl.
The prison escape is calculated and you see step by step of how the guys climb through piping and vents and over fences and down walls. Frankly, it looks a little too easy. As Frank digs, all he has to do is turn off his light in his cell and the guards never catch a glimpse of what he’s up to in the dark. Same could be said with the papier mâché dummy heads he and his cohorts make up to lie in bed. The guards just don’t catch on.
“Escape from Alcatraz” doesn’t give me all the feels like “The Shawshank Redemption” or “The Green Mile.” It’s simply another easy go-to watch of many of Eastwood’s 1970s tough guy flicks. I did find it interesting, however, that this is based on a true story and when the conclusion arrives, I’m informed how in real life the result of the escape remained open and uncertain of what happened after the events of the film. So I appreciate that the story kept me curious. That’s saying something, and therefore I’m glad I watched the film.