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Tagline: No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz... And no one ever will!

Pizza: Valley's Pizza Land

Preshow Entertainment: WOODSTOCK: THEN AND NOW (We didn't get to watch much of this, so we'll try again next month).


Escaping from Alcatraz was a huge thing. It was only done once, and the three inmates who escaped the island may not even have made it to shore alive. And though that was nearly 50 years ago, the story is still captivating (pun!). Why, The History Channel, only a couple of years ago, did a one hour doc on the Frank Morris & Co. escape, and MYTHBUSTERS recreated the escape to see if it could be done (it can). That's because everybody loves a vanishing act. After all, Houdini is still the most famous escape artist, but has anyone reading this ever seen him escape from anything?

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979) marks the fifth and final time Clint Eastwood and director Don Siegel teamed up. No mere prison escape movie, EFA is one of those rare instances where we get to watch it all hatch before our eyes. And for a slow-paced movie, it sure is riveting. How the hell did they do that? Okay, there is one (and only one) moment that's cheesy, corny and downright laughable, though one can argue it's intentionally there as an homage to the Prison Film genre. After the prologue, when Frank finally makes it to his new cell, he turns around to face us. The guard says, in his best horror film voice, "Welcome to Alcatraz," followed by the thunder/lightning combo plate. It's a Law of Cinema that every prison movie must contain at least one thunderstorm, so I guess they wanted to get rid of it early. So yes, EFA begins with thunder booms and lightning blazes...and a downpour soaking the police transport boat that's carrying criminal Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood). Frank gazes at the Rock for the first time, as if it's already challenging him. Before a single word is uttered, we follow the procedure for checking in to Alcatraz, and it is rigorous. So imagine how much harder it must be to get out.

It wasn't Frank's crimes (burglary, armed robbery, grand larceny) that got him Alcatraz, a hardcore facility that held the ranks of such notorati as Machine Gun Kelly and Mickey Cohen, it was his escapes from other prisons that got him inside.

Under a blood red sky...Morris' (and our) first moments at Alcatraz start with a roll call (there are twelve a day), with all the inmates exiting their cells wearing tan pants and blue button-down shirts like a league of Blockbuster employees gone sour. It's off to eat some prison food, where we learn things like there are no forks. And Frank, being the new fish, has seemed to catch the eye of a tubbo named Wolf.

As a newbie, Frank gets to meet the warden, who is only referred to as "the warden" (Patrick McGoohan, ironically known as THE PRISONER in the acclaimed 1960's Brit series). It's here that the laws are made clear, as the warden hovers over a scale model of Alcatraz like a giant. He tells Frank that this is like no other prison. You have no news from the outside world other than what they choose to tell you. You must shower twice a week and shave once a day. I would have been fine in Alcatraz with prison food and two showers a week. If only they didn't have that "shave once a day" policy. Anyway, before Frank is dismissed two things happen; the warden tells him "no one has ever escaped from Alcatraz," and Frank clips the warden's nail clippers. Ohh, okay. I see who's really in charge here.

Frank Morris is an anti-hero, a bad guy, and yet we like him. But we don't like Frank because he's cute or funny (though I suppose he is), we like him because life has dealt this loner a bad hand. Surely not an excuse for his criminal behavior, but a way to understand him. A righteous bad guy. Plus he's Clint Freakin' Eastwood and he's in jail, so how can you not root for him? Hell, I even rooted for him in CITY HEAT. Frank's inherent fairness, rare for a con, is really why we love him and want him to win.

And his high I.Q is going to help him a lot; not just in his escape, but in his relationships with others. Like the guy who works the library and goes by the name English. It doesn't take long for these two embittered souls to understand each other. Their subtext-filled dialogue is almost a code. Then there's Doc, who finds solace in his painting privileges. When Frank asks Doc about the flower he drew, Doc responds that it's "something inside of you. You can't lock it up with bars and walls." Yeah, it's poetic, but it's also the core of the movie. The core of Frank.

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ seems less like a classic three-act structure to me and more of a two-act play. The entire first half of the movie we're treated to a primer on what it's like to live in prison, with many facts from many characters about how it's impossible to escape. Act Two doesn't begin to form for forty-five minutes, after two events occur (one involving a friend, another an insect). That's when Frank's escape plan is hatched, making the entire second half of the movie one helluva suspense ride.

Director Don Siegel (or Donald Siegel, depending on the movie) also directed the spectacular INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, which holds up as much today as it ever did. Siegel sure knew how to make movies that last. He was the first director to use the pseudonym Alan Smithee, but he didn't have to use it here. ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ is a smartly directed movie, making you not only understand life in prison, but feel it. From the overhead shot of the inside of a cell, which is smaller than a studio apartment in Greenwich Village, to the loss of freedoms, like not being able to make a call to your mother when you find out that she is dying.

EFA was written by Richard Tuggel, who, like Frank Morris, tricked the guard (in this case, Don Siegel's agent) into thinking Siegel was interested in his script after "meeting him at a party."

When we watched AVANTI! recently, it made me want to visit Italy. And now, after this movie, I want to visit Alcatraz, where you can take a tour. I can only hope THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU doesn't come up one day.


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