Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

Yes, they may have been debunked it, but I still like to think that these three are somewhere out there right now, just sippin’ on Pina Coladas, with a couple of honeys by their sides.

Lifer Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) has just landed his ass in The Rock for apparently trying to break out of his last prison-stay in Atlanta. The Rock is Alcatraz, and apparently nobody can escape it, no matter how hard many have tried and seemingly failed to do so. Frank finds this almost as a challenge as he, and a couple of other fellow inmates pick out every little clue that they can find to bust them out of the joint. Some of it’s a bit ridiculous, but it’s all they got and it’s all that they’ve got to live for, unless they want to rot away in a place that could care less if they were even around.

We all know the story about the dudes who escaped from Alcatraz, and were never to be found again. Some think they survived and lived under scrutiny for the rest of their days; while others, well, they think they just drowned, died, and got their remains eaten by all sorts of creatures of the lake. Nobody knows what the truth really is since they never found any bodies of any sorts, however, the fact of the matter is that these men did escape out the prison that was deemed “inescapable”, and got by without ever being noticed until 12 hours later. I don’t know about you, but that deserves it’s own movie, especially one starring everybody’s favorite leading-man: Clint Eastwood.

"Can't wait to get home and tell those kids to get off my lawn."
“Can’t wait to get home and tell those kids to get off my lawn.”

But what makes this movie pretty good, even after all of these years, is that everything in it seems reasonable as if it was meant to be put in the film, only to further on the emotion and the intensity of the prison escape itself. With a movie like this, for something that actually happened, there needs to be feeling, heart, and depth with these characters and the situation, so that when they do get the hell out of jail (literally), you feel more and more towards them and whether or not they’re going to make it out alive. We all know how the story ends and it all depends on what side of the boat you’re on as to whether you believe that they’re dreams were fulfilled or not.

For me, I think the dudes lived and are still having a grand old time to this day, but that’s just me. You know me, the type of person who believes that the human-spirit who can overcome anything. Even the deep, dark, and freezing waters of San Francisco, on a very cold night. Yup, even then, the human-spirit overcomes all, baby.

And that’s sort of the idea that this movie taps into, but not too much to where it feels like it’s preachy or overly-dramatic. It keeps itself subtle, steady, and relaxed, as if you are along with these guys, just living out the nights and days as they continue to wait and wait until their time to go bye-bye comes around. It also allows the movie to pick itself back up once the prison escape actually begins and really get you involved by making you wonder if they’re going to make it, how, or if they’re going to get caught by somebody. Like I said before, you and I all know how the story begins, continues on, and ends, but the fact that it might just go against expectations and really take you for a loop still shows up in your mind many times. That’s when you know you have a good movie on your hands, albeit, a very tense one as well.

If anything, the tension does swell back up what’s a pretty straight-forward story, especially one that I’m not too sure I believe in after seeing it a couple of times already (3 to be exact). The reason why Morris decides that he wants to get the hell out of the prison and be free is a bit cheap. There’s this character Doc, who’s the usual harmless and innocent dude you’d see in any prison movie, who has a bit of a problem that Morris apparently takes notice to and gets upset about. So upset, that he decides it’s his time to flee from serving his life-sentence. Let’s all forget though, that the dude has an IQ of “Superior”, as they show early on in the movie, he looks around everywhere he goes, and also has broken out of the last prison he was in, hence why he’s in this one. Yup, forget about that. Nope, just add the old cooky guy that the warden throws his power and anger on, to seal the deal and give Morris some inspiration. I thought this way of making Morris more human and giving him a reason to break out was sort of stupid and didn’t fit well with the rest of the movie, as it didn’t seem to really go with the over-the-top dramatics of what a usual movie such as this goes for. There could have been somebody like Doc in prison when these guys decided that they wanted to get the hell out, but I highly doubt it.

The thought inside everybody's minds right at that moment, "Shit, he gonna finish that?"
“Shit, he gonna finish that?”

But at least Morris is given some sort of levity as a human-being, due to Clint Eastwood playing him, or, essentially playing himself. When it comes to Clint Eastwood, you don’t get much else different other than him playing himself. I can’t say that’s a bad thing because the dude’s pretty damn good and charming at playing it, while also being able to give him a smarter attitude towards certain situations and predicaments that makes it seem understandable as to how he figured out how to break out, and why. I mean, the movie does tell us early on (remember the IQ level thingy?), but even if it didn’t, we would have already known that this dude was one smart cookie that was not to be messed with. Why? Cause it’s freakin’ William Munny! That’s why!

The supporting cast in this movie is pretty solid, especially Paul Benjamin as “English”, the worker from the library that Morris befriends. Together, they share a nice dynamic that’s not just playful, but full of respect and touched my heart a bit more once they get their final scene together. It’s a good one, so just wait for it. Also, be on the lookout for a very young and dashing Fred Ward in a role as one of the escapees. Nice to see when the dude was such a young whippersnapper!

Consensus: Some may consider Escape from Alcatraz “slow” and “boring”, but if you’re in the right mood for a prison movie that takes its grand old time to develop characters and tension, then you’ll be watching the right flick. Not one of the best, but definitely one of the more definitive ones.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

A beaut, ain't she?!?
A beaut, ain’t she?!?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo


  1. I actually own this movie and it is one of my favorite Clint movies. You mention so many valid points in your review about the tone and pace of the movie. Sometimes it’s great to pop in, do other stuff, and then watch the good parts. Great in depth review.

  2. Clint Eastwood is always gonna play Clint Eastwood in every film he is in, despite this I find Escape from Alcatraz a fine movie. Its not without its dull moments but the overall premise and execution of Don Siegel film is quite fantastic, especially the later acts. Nice Review Dan

  3. Yes sir. I remember when I first saw this on the network movie of the week when I was a kid. I was exhilarated. Rewatched this several years back and it still holds up really well. Great review.

  4. Despite the the actual prison break itself not as cool as other movies, I enjoyed this a lot. Its about the characters and life in prison here. But then again, prison movies are always entertaining. Can’t recall many bad ones.

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