BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ is based on the book by Thomas E. Gaddis. The movie was directed by John Frankenheimer from a screenplay by Guy Trosper and stars Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Betty Field, Neville Brand, Edmond O’Brien and Telly Savalas. Birdman of Alcatraz was photographed by Burnett Guffey and scored by Elmer Bernstein.
Birdman of Alcatraz, director John Frankenheimer’s biographical drama, stars Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud, the “birdman” of the title, who, as the film begins, is incarcerated at Leavenworth Prison for murder, a sentence that will eventually lead him to Alcatraz. Seeing his days stretch out to life without parole for the murder of a prison guard, Stroud will pass his days in solitary confinement caring for a baby sparrow, an act which eventually blossoms into caring for an array of birds sent as gifts to fellow inmates. Birdman of Alcatraz offers supporting performances by Thelma Ritter as Stroud’s mother; Karl Malden as prison warden, Harvey Schoemaker; Betty Field as Stroud’s future wife, Stella; Telly Savalas as fellow inmate Gomez; Neville Brand as Bull, a prison guard who befriends Stroud; and Edmond O’Brien as Thomas E. Gaddis, the author of the book based on Stroud’s life.
Robert Stroud starts out as a young man who enters Leavenworth Prison as a cold-hearted killer and he doesn’t get along well with others in the beginning. The man doesn’t have any hope for parole but he ends up changing into a better person thanks to his love for birds. This hobby not only helps him to pass the time away while he’s locked away in solitary confinement but it allows him to educate himself where he literally becomes a genius that outsiders look to for help and advice. This bird fascination also serves as some much needed therapy for the rehabilitated killer who ends up becoming a mild-mannered inmate as he ages into an old man.
Stroud also has his mother and new bride on the outside who help him out at times with his “bird business” but even these relationships don’t work out like Stroud would have hoped. It’s almost like when things start going good for him, something else bad happens. Most of his stay takes place inside Leavenworth but in his later years he gets transferred to Alcatraz where he’s not allowed the perks that he once had. This grim stop is also a dangerous one but Stroud does survive his stay, and even though he never gets paroled, he does end up transferring out to another prison that allows him a little freedom. Thomas E. Gaddis ends up becoming fascinated with Robert Stroud’s story and makes sure the rest of the world gets to read all about it in his book.
The front of the packaging features the artwork you see at the top of the page and the back includes movie details, some images and specs. The Blu-ray disc features the movie logo. Inserting the disc, the menu screen was simple and easy to navigate. The picture and sound quality for this high-definition release were both really good. I didn’t have any issues with the video and audio.
Bottom line is, Birdman of Alcatraz was a fascinating first time watch for me and it’s a movie that I’ve heard so much about over the years. I really liked the touching story of how this prisoner with no hope finds some much needed therapy with his simple fondness of birds that leads to a remarkable transformation. He ended up becoming a self-educated genius that outside experts respected and fellow bird lovers admired. I enjoyed the movie for the most part with the only flaw being its extremely long run time but it was still a fairly smooth watch. Burt Lancaster’s touching performance as this rehabilitated bird lover is nothing short of stellar with John Frankenheimer’s directing showcasing his talents. This 1962 classic is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films and is worth checking out – especially if you’ve never seen it before.
Distributor: Olive Films
Run Time: 149 Minutes
Rated: Not Rated
Blu-ray Video: 1080p High-Definition (1.66:1) B&W
Blu-ray Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 (2.0 on some players)
Special Features: There’s not much as far as the extras go but we do get some audio commentary and the official trailer.
- Audio commentary by Kate Buford, author of Burt Lancaster: An American Life
- Official Trailer (03:04)