Birdman of Alcatraz

1962

Birdman of Alcatraz

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

86%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 22

84%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 7,825
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Movie Info

This moving prison drama tells the fascinating story of prison inmate Robert Stroud. Stroud's prison life is unrelenting, and he becomes increasingly withdrawn, until one day a sickly sparrow flies through the bars of his cell. Stroud, using homemade medicines, cures the bird. Fascinated, he begins studying ornithology.

Cast

Burt Lancaster
as Robert Franklin Stroud
Karl Malden
as Harvey Shoemaker
Telly Savalas
as Feto Gomez
Thelma Ritter
as Elizabeth Stroud
Betty Field
as Stella Johnson
Neville Brand
as Bull Ransom
Edmond O'Brien
as Tom Gaddis
Whit Bissell
as Dr. Ellis
Hugh Marlowe
as Roy Comstock
James Westerfield
as Jess Younger
Stella Johnson
as Betty Field
Leonard Penn
as Eddie Kassellis
Chris Robinson
as Young Convict
Robert Burton
as Senator Lewis
Lewis Charles
as Chaplain Wentzel
Nick Dennis
as Crazed Prisoner
Harry Jackson
as Reporter
Adrienne Marden
as Mrs. Woodrow Wilson
George Mitchell
as Father Matthieu
Edward Mallory
as John Clary
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Critic Reviews for Birdman of Alcatraz

All Critics (22) | Top Critics (1) | Fresh (19) | Rotten (3)

Audience Reviews for Birdman of Alcatraz

  • Jul 24, 2014
    Before the Iceman... cameth (I guess), John Frankenheimer saw the coming of the birdman! Lame jokes aside, this is pretty much the definitive representation of all those bird symbols arguably too many prison dramas have to work in, which is only fair, seeing as how Robert Stroud actually kind of looked like a bird. I can see why birds, if you will, "flocked" to him, because he wished he looked like Burt Lancaster, although I suppose we'll have to run with it, seeing as how this is supposed to be a largely fictionalized biopic of Stroud. You have to at least give this film credit for its taking realistic liberties, because I don't know how ill-mannered Stroud could be in real life if he looked like Burt Lancaster. Actually, I don't know how much realism you can put into the biopic of Harvey Birdman, but this still ought to be an interesting way to kick off this cartoon franchise. I can't believe that this film is actually older than "Birdman and the Galaxy Trio", but that barely counts, because this film was probably still running by the time the Hanna-Barbera cartoon in question launched, five years after the projectors started up. I can't even joke about that after starting this article with a reminder of "The Iceman Cometh", and at any rate, the film keeps you interested, no matter how long it very much is. As long as this film is, some focal unevenness derives from storytelling's paying little mind to the extensive development of plot layers and supporting roles which jar in and out as major narrative aspects, no matter how much exposition meanders for two-and-a-half hours. This film may be a study on most of a man's adult life, but its scale in minimalist, yet its structure is excessive, thus, it's only a matter of time before storytelling becomes repetitious, almost monotonous, due to the final product's taking so much time to say only so much, and hardly anything new as a biopic. This is ultimately a rather formulaic biopic which hits a number of tropes, including those of the time, such as some surprisingly cheesy dialogue pieces and happenings whose fluffiness proves to be almost as detrimental to a sense of weight as fluffiness to the drama itself. The film is a loose biopic, and therefore with a lot of opportunities to take liberties which really do feel manufactured, in their dramatics, whose histrionic conflicts, thin characterization and sentimental approach make a melodramatic film that ambitiously struggles to compensate for some lack of depth. Being fictionalized, this biopic has an opportunity to draw rich, challenging character as a study on a somewhat evil man showcasing redeemable qualities, but subtlety issues both demonize antagonistic men of justice, and glorify protagonistic men of crime, to where the film really does feel manufactured as an allegory against capital punishment, and superficial as a potentially gripping prison drama which falls victim to sensibilities of the time. Now, this story is so strong that the limited inspiration that goes into this film proves to be enough to make a rewarding final product, yet whether it be because of '60s superficialities or simply because structure and dramatics aren't quite as realized as they ought to be, the reward value goes challenged. Of course, in the end, if you're able to embrace this sometimes misguided melodrama, you'd be hard-pressed to not be engrossed, largely because of the subject matter. Robert Stroud, arguably one of the most notorious criminals in American history, underwent more than his fair share of struggles during a prison life that defied capital punishment and saw Stroud doing the improbable by mastering of and making important contributions in the field of ornithology without ever leaving a cell, - until an eventual transfer took away everything he held dear in his life - and it's mighty challenging to make subject matter of that type uninteresting. As irony would have it, novelist Thomas E. Gaddis and screenwriter Guy Trosper dilute the value of this narrative by trying too hard to humanize the lead and juice up the dramatics surrounding him through fictionalizations, and yet, there are still more than a few areas of manufacturing which feel believable enough to actually supplement the value of this story, which still can't quite reward without being, at the very least, well-built. Set predominantly in a prison cell of some sort, this sprawling character study is intimate alright, to be the point of a minimalism that threatens intrigue by making the draggy storytelling feel repetitious, and yet, at the same time, the claustrophobic setting of this drama augments engagement value in a lot of ways, partly because of Burnett Guffey's black-and-white, yet captivatingly shadow-heavy cinematography, and largely because of John Frankenheimer. Frankenheimer had a knack for doing a good bit with very little, at least after a while, but here, his intimate direction falls slave to '60s dramatic sensibilities, thus, you shouldn't go in expecting a film as surprisingly engrossing as, say, 1973's "The Iceman Cometh", and yet, Frankenheimer's thoughtfulness - which never gets too slow - is allowed to thrive enough to play quite the important role in securing the final product as decidedly rewarding. Like I said, Frankenheimer's talents rest largely in his doing plenty of little, and sure enough, there's not much to praise in this very flawed film, but I also noted that there is a high value to this story concept to be done justice by generally inspired direction, and consistently inspired acting. Although acting material is pretty limited, just about every member of this small cast delivers as more convincing than the characterization of their roles, yet it does ultimately come down to the great Burt Lancaster, who, with little emotive flare, continues to showcase then-innovative acting sensibilities by utilizing impeccable charisma and nuance to sell the gradual aging and development of good intentions of a criminal with much that benefited the world to offer. The film very rarely takes focus away from Lancaster, and Lancaster never fails to prove himself worthy of all of the attention by carrying the final product, though not alone, because event though this drama could have been more, what it ultimately is is a melodrama which immerses and compels enough to reward the patient. When the sentence is completed, uneven, repetitiously overdrawn and formulaic storytelling mixes with either manufactured-feeling or superficial dramatics in order to threaten the final product's reward value, which is ultimately firmly secured by the subtle, but solid strengths of gripping subject matter, immersive visual style, tasteful direction and strong acting - especially by the captivatingly nuanced Burt Lancaster - which make John Frankenheimer's "Birdman of Alcatraz" an ultimately rewarding, loose portrait on the life and times of one of America's most notorious criminals and ornithologists. 3/5 - Good
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • May 05, 2010
    (1962 Director: John Frankenheimer) I especially like Daniell's & Danny's reviews of this classic book-into-movie based on a true story. Certainly passes along the truism that was shared with me by a Principal at a middle school where I did my first student observations: "Prison populations are figured based on the number of third graders who cannot read." REMEMBER to read to your child....
    Teresa S Super Reviewer
  • May 01, 2010
    John Frankenheimer's shattering motion picture is one of the finest prison films ever made. It tells the fascinating true story of convict Robert Stroud, played magnificently by Burt Lancaster, who delivers a powerful Academy Award nominated performance, which is one of the greatest acting accomplishments of his distinguished career. Robert Stroud during his lifetime of solitary confinement becomes a world-renowned bird authority while serving time for murder. It all began when he finds a feeble sparrow in the isolation yard and brings his newfound companion to his cell and nurses it back to heath, despite having only a third grade education and no hope for parole Stroud achieves a greater sense of freedom and purpose behind prison walls by becoming a master ornithologist. Superior adult drama with brilliant direction by John Frankenheimer, and extraordinary supporting performances by Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Neville Brand, Betty Field, and a standout Academy Award nominated turn by Telly Savalas. Exquisite black & white cinematography by Burnett Guffey and a excellent score by Elmer Bernstein. A rewarding cinematic experience that earned 4 Academy Awards nominations: Best Actor: Burt Lancaster, Best Supporting Actor: Telly Savalas, Best Supporting Actress: Thelma Ritter, Best Supporting Actress: Betty Field. An inspirational and compelling classic. Highly Recommended.
    Danny R Super Reviewer
  • Oct 15, 2009
    More a tale of personal growth and ultimate succes than a prison film, this one is a great story that could have been even greater, if it wasn't so polished, in order to meet Hollywood's criteria for a crowd-pleaser. The obvious symbolization of bird=freedom of the soul (even though behind bars) transforms Stroud from a vicious killer to a saint. The true story of Robert Stroud is not exactly the one we see on the film. His darker sides are brushed off or ignored - like the fact that he killed people in cold blood for trivial reasons. Prison historians have said that the real Stroud was a merciless killer who showed no remorse for his crimes. Still, the performance of Burt Lancaster makes it a classic film of human-interest, concentrating on Stout's intelligence and the fact that he he wrote two books: " Diseases of Canaries " and "Stroud's Digest on the Diseases of Birds". He also made several important contributions to avian pathology, most notably a cure for the hemorrhagic septicemia family of diseases, which gained him respect and also some level of sympathy in the bird-loving field.
    Anastasia B Super Reviewer

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