johnlink ranks ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979)

I’m a sucker for prison escape flicks. This movie had been on my radar for some time, and I finally got a chance to catch it. The fact that it used the real Alcatraz gives this movie a unique sort of feel. Despite the events being mostly extrapolated from hypothesis, the realness of the location gives the story a genuine sense of history. Some SPOILERS below, but nothing too crazy.

I watched ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979) on 9.21.10. It was my first viewing of the film. TRAILER HERE (sort of)

It’s easy to see some of the inspiration that the greater SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION drew from this film. The library, the old man, the biracial friendship dynamic, walking dust out into the yard. etc. Where Andy of Shawshank felt like he had a loud, big redemption, Clint Eastwood’s Frank here gets a quieter, gentler, redemption.

This is truly an Eastwood showpiece. The side characters (other than Paul Benjamin’s English) get little developmental time. The things which happen to those characters are used mostly to heighten the stakes for Frank. The despair or the failure of these supporting characters make Frank more desperate to get out. We get little of his co-escapees. In fact, the one who doesn’t have the balls to go gets forgotten by the end of this film. So if I have two criticisms of this film, the first would be that.

The second would be the abruptness of the ending. This film supposes that the three escapees live, which is certainly a questionable hypothesis. So the film brings them to the waters edge and out into the Bay. We don’t get anything beyond that. I was hoping for some sort of epilogue, but there really isn’t anything there. The entire film is build, build, build… and then quick conclusion.

Despite those two points, this is still a great flick. The banter in the prison (particularly between Frank and English) works very well. The build (even if the end doesn’t live up to it) is great. There’s a moment with a mannequin head which is as intense as anything in any prison flick. Great stuff. Eastwood is very good, even if his cohorts are given little to do.

But the star of this film, truly, is Alcatraz itself. The set designers did an amazing job of bringing it back to operational quality, and it really does shine. Having visited the Rock myself, it’s crazy to see places I sat, or places I saw, used so extensively. It helps to understand the limited space and claustrophobia of the place when you see the same four or five locations over and over again. That little island isn’t exactly a sprawling landscape!

Is this film a classic? Marginally. It doesn’t have every piece of the puzzle in terms of a classic movie, but it’s pretty darn close. I guess the best way to put it is this: I’d recommend it without hesitation to anyone who enjoyed THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION.



The bonus here is for the set design, not that they had to do more than dress the skeleton of Alcatraz. The place looks somehow beautiful and barren at the same time.



~ by johnlink00 on September 21, 2010.

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