Escape from Alcatraz (1979)


A convict with a habit of breaking out of prison, Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood, The Outlaw Josey Wales), is sent to serve the remaining of his life sentence to the Alcatraz Island, known as a escape-proof prison. But Morris is determined to do what no one has been able to do before: escape from the maximum security facility.

Reaction & Thoughts:

“No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. And no one ever will!”

My dad is a huge Clint Eastwood fan, so Escape from Alcatraz was a movie my family watched on a regular basis. After watching the film again for the first time in many years, I was happy to discover that it holds up to my childhood memories — it’s a compelling, absorbing fact-based prison drama with Eastwood at his restrained best.

Richard Tuggle’s (Tightrope) script is partially based on the 1963 non-fiction book of the same name by J. Campbell Bruce about the legendary 1962 jailbreak from the Alcatraz Island. Tuggle is probably responsible for the film’s biggest strength: The movie shows, patiently and realistically, the monotony of life behind bars.

Despite what the presence of action-star Eastwood might suggest, Escape from Alcatraz is more of a mood piece than a thrill-a-minute recreation of the 1962 prison break. It’s done in a low-keyed manner. Director Don Siegel’s minimalist style serves the story well. It’s a superbly-crafted movie that pulls you in and doesn’t let you go.

One of the most interesting things about the movie is its lack of moral grandstanding. Yes, we see the lack of humanity in the penitentiary, but you never get the feeling that the film wants to say something substantive about the criminal justice system.

I did think that movie should have been longer. I thought that the actual escape happened too fast, and the film ends abruptly. But none of these shortcomings hamper the film’s overall impact. Escape from Alcatraz is an intelligent and involving drama, and this is coming from someone who isn’t a huge fan of prison movies.

As I mentioned before, Eastwood is splendidly understated. Because he is playing a real person, life-long criminal Frank Morris, this is one of Eastwood’s most atypical performances. There are moments when you are sure he is going to get up and slap someone, but Eastwood never does that, and that’s interesting to watch.

The supporting cast is good, too. Patrick McGoohan (Braveheart) somehow manages to infuse life into the admittedly cardboard role of the Warden. Fred Ward (The Right Stuff) is Eastwood’s partner-in-crime. I particularly liked Roberts Blossom’s (Deranged) performance as a convict who loves painting. You have to pay careful attention, or you’ll miss Danny Glover (The Color Purple) as an inmate.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Escape from Alcatraz marked the fifth and final teaming of director Don Siegel and actor Clint Eastwood. The other four films are Coogan’s Bluff (1968), Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), The Beguiled (1971) and Dirty Harry (1971), and there isn’t a bad one in the bunch. Escape from Alcatraz is a wonderful bookend to one of Hollywood’s most fruitful creative collaborations. Color, 111 minutes, Rated PG.

19 responses to “Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

  1. Thank you, Eric, for reviewing the first Clint Eastwood film I saw when I was a kid. I liked it and I especially liked Patrick McGoohan as the warden.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Love this movie.
    Own this movie.

    In this scene, the inmate nicknamed ‘Doc’, whose only passion in prison is his paintings, protests in the most extreme way after his brushes, paints and canvases are removed as part of a warden crackdown in his unit.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Shocking scene, isn’t it? I didn’t expect it. Eastwood’s reaction is equally upsetting. I’m surprised the movie is rated PG (in addition to that, Eastwood appears briefly in the buff).

      Liked by 2 people

  3. I saw this a while ago and remember enjoying it a lot. I like your description of how Eastwood’s character seems like he’s on the verge of violence many times…but never gets there. And nothing is better than just telling a story without soapboxing on some issue. So I appreciated that.
    Did you like Unforgiven? He was pretty restrained in that too. That’s one of my favorite Eastwood movie ever.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Okay, haha. But if you don’t remember much, it sounds like you weren’t very engaged. Maybe you were preoccupied when you saw it before. Maybe that’s why. Yeah…that sounds like a good theory, lol. Well, I shall we waiting……….:) 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Saw this with my Dad when it came out, and loved it. I think even at that young age I appreciated Eastwood playing a ‘regular guy’ role, and keeping his actions low-key, and smart. That scene of putting the piece of metal in his shoe, to get through the metal detector, has always stuck with me for some reason!

    Liked by 3 people

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