Olive Films Brings John Frankenheimer’s ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’ to Blu-ray

VANAPHASE™ the Vanadium powerhouse!

Birdman of Alcatraz

Watching the classic Birdman of Alcatraz thanks to a new Blu-ray edition from the good people at Olive Films, I found myself wonder what is a movie’s obligation to the truth when telling a true story. I mean, we all accept that any movie based upon a true story will take dramatic license, bending the facts for dramatic effect, but we still expect a movie to retain the spirit of its real life inspiration. Birdman of Alcatraz tells the partially fictionalized story of Robert Stroud, a felon who spend more than 50 years behind bars and during his incarceration became interested in ornithology, the study of birds.

In the film, the great Burt Lancaster plays Robert Stroud as a kindler, gentler inmate. It’s one of Lancaster’s finest performances and earned him an Oscar nomination. But whether or not director John Frankenheimer’s cinematic adaptation of the non-fiction book by Thomas E. Gaddis is too kinds to its subject is a matter of debate, one that continues for more than 50 years since the film’s debut. By many accounts, Stroud was most certainly an intelligent person, quite possibly a genius. By many accounts as well, Stroud was a violent psychopath. Does Birdman of Alcatraz actually lionize its protagonist? Was the film too kind to a convicted killer?

Luckily for Frankenheimer and screenwriter Guy Trosper, the tone of the film didn’t result in an ethical debate as to whether or not Robert Stroud was rehabilitated and worthy of release, as Stroud passed away behind bars only a year after the film’s release. However, the film’s kindly portrayal of Stroud did result in a movement to release Stroud (something the book’s author Gaddis most certainly intended), though it failed to gain much traction.

Ethical questions about the nature of truth in cinema aside, Birdman of Alcatraz represents the start of one of the finest runs any director has ever had. In the ‘60s, John Frankenheimer had a nearly unparalleled run in quality, including such classics as The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, and Seconds. It all started with Birdman of Alcatraz. The 1962 prison drama was nominated for four Academy Awards gets a lush transfer in the new Olive Films edition, one that highlights the amazing black and white cinematography of Burnett Guffey, who secured one of the film’s nominations.

Burt Lancaster gives a tender as the famed felon Stroud. Starting in 1912, as Robert Stroud is entering Leavenworth Prison for murder, the convict is greeted to his new life behind bars by Warden Harvey Shoemaker (Karl Malden), an authority figure who will play a large role Stroud’s incarcerated life. As a character, Shoemaker is an amalgam of various figures that Stroud interacted with in his life behind bars. Eventually, Stroud’s sentence is expanded when he kills a guard upon hearing that his beloved mother (played by Thelma Ritter) was turned away. Now Stroud is sent to solitary confinement, and it is within that caged solitude that he discovers his love of birds, eventually collecting hundreds of caged creatures that line the confined space of the eponymous caged creature.

Three out of four of Birdman of Alcatraz’s Oscar nominations were for acting, and each nomination was earned as the film is populated with great actors delivering stellar performances. Burt Lancaster gives one of the finest performances of his storied career as Robert Stroud, and it’s not the actor’s fault that the screenplay focuses much more on the quiet and tender side of Stroud as opposed to his violent, menacing streak. Thelma Ritter was nominated for her role as Stroud’s mother, bringing a sense of maternal love that persists despite the crimes of her son. She’s dogged in her pursuit of clemency for her convict son, and her efforts are successful in getting her off death row. The final actor in Birdman of Alcatraz to secure an Oscar nod was the great Telly Savalas as Feto Gomez, Stroud’s neighbor in solitary confinement in Levanworth and eventually a fellow resident of Alcatraz. Savalas brings a manic energy to his inmate, which provides a nice balance to Lancaster’s stoic and contemplative Stroud. Karl Malden didn’t earn a nomination for his performance as Shoemaker, but he brings a veteran’s sturdy presence to the film, the beacon of law and order struggling to maintain control as attitudes towards inmates change over time.

John Frankenheimer would later be known for his work in action films, such as The French Connection II and the (fairly) modern classic Ronin. Birdman of Alcatraz isn’t much of an action film, but Frankenheimer is able to pull out one stellar action sequence towards the end of the film. Two inmates in a failed escape attempt secure guns and a riot breaks out on Alcatraz. Frankenheimer and Guffey’s camera tilts in many of these sequences, giving an off-kilter feel to the chaos unleashed in the cellblock. It’s as if all this quiet tension that builds over the course of the film is unleashed in this visceral scene that teases what Frankenheimer will accomplish later in his illustrious career.

Birdman of Alcatraz is a quiet, contemplative work by a great director just as he’s starting to work at the top of his game. It features some of the era’s best black and white cinematography and a career-best performance by a screen legend. It does, however, stick with a one-sided portrayal of its troubled protagonist which creates a series of questions about the nature of truth in cinema. Regardless, this classic now is on Blu-ray with a great, pristine transfer of a masterfully crafted drama with a great cast working at the top of their game.


Leave a Reply

Animation/Anime Interviews Animation/Anime News Animation/Anime Reviews Film/TV Interviews Film/TV News Film/TV Review
The Catcher Was a Spy
‘The Catcher Was a Spy’ Turns an Amazing True Story Into a Mediocre Movie

Being a baseball fan means that you’re keenly aware of the...

Is She or Isn’t She? Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Unsane’ Arrives on Blu-ray

All film lovers should be grateful that Steven Soderbergh’s self-imposed retirement...

Pacific Rim: Uprising
The Big Dumb Fun of ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ is Unleashed on Blu-ray

Sometimes a movie just knowing what kind of movie it is...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
PowerA Xbox One
Up Your Game with New Enhanced PowerA Xbox One Controllers

Up your game and get ready for the upcoming Xbox Exclusive...

Skull Tales
Skull Tales: Full Sail! Voyage Far Passed Their Kickstarter Goal

Skull Tales: Full Sail! completely overshoots their Kickstarter destination with over...

Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn Collector’s Edition Announced

How is Shaq Fu: A Legend Reborn Collector’s Edition not gonna have...

Comic Creator Interviews Comic/Graphic Novel News Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews Manga News Manga Reviews Novel/Novella Author Interviews Novel/Novella News Novel/Novella Reviews
Wrestling Writer Legends Bill Apter & Gary Morgenstein Announce, ‘The Last Wrestler’

To names that are synonymous with professional wrestling journalism and well...

thousand year beach
The Thousand Year Beach – Viz Media Debuts Acclaimed Sci-Fi Novel

“The Thousand Year Beach presents an idyllic virtual world, still running...

Action Comics No. 1000 gets a Super-Sized Deluxe Edition Release

From DC Comics – Burbank, CA – (April 30, 2018) –...

Apparel/Personal Maintenance News Apparel/Personal Maintenance Reviews Entertainment Product News Entertainment Product Reviews Food/Beverage Reviews Hardware News Hardware Reviews Mystery Box News Mystery Box Reviews
Out Of Space on Your Xbox One? Fantom Drives Has Your Back

Fantom Drives will ensure you have enough space on your Xbox...

New Toast Covers
A Toast to New Toast Covers, Now Covering More Than Tech

Raise your glasses for a toast to New Toast Covers for the...

UDOQ – The Perfect Gift for Dads, Grads, or anyone with Tabs

For families with multiple devices, for offices with the same, or...

Arena Football Automotives MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
Jeanie Buss & MGM TV Tags AXS TV to Broadcast WOW-Women of Wrestling Events

Jeanie Buss and MGM Television Tags AXS TV to Broadcast WOW-Women...

Kevin Belington Faces Martin Nguyen for the ONE FC Interim Bantamweight Title

From ONE FC – 07 June 2018 – Manila, Philippines: The...

Showtime to Air ‘Bipolar Rock ‘N’ Roller’ Mauro Ranallo Doc on May 25th

From Bellator MMA and Showtime – New York – April 30,...

Adult Continuity Comics on the Can Cultural Junk Drawer Future Comic Rock Stars Is That Racist? Revisiting the Reviled THAT'S NOT ROTTEN! The B-Reel The Cantina Scene This Week in Crowdfunding What the HELL Did I just...?
Cultural Junkdrawer – Season’s end: The Flash season 4


Adult Continuity Issue #13 – Avengers XXX – A porn parody

I review AvengersXXX and make masturbation jokes. Be smart with your Fapdollar(tm);...

Comics on the can – Black Panther (Priest run) Issue #46

Comics on the can muses about Black Panther during Priest's legendary...

Event News Event Reviews
Gundam Booth
Bluefin and Bandai Spirits Hobby to Host an Expansive Gundam Booth at AX18

Bluefin and Bandai Spirits Hobby is bringing an interactive Gundam Booth...

KLabGames Site
Official KLabGames Site Now Open and Will Have Booth at AX2018

KLabGames officially launches their site, and will be hitting AX2018 to...

Jurassic Park Screening
25th Anniversary Jurassic Park Screening at The Greek Theater

Monday, June 11th, before you see the next Jurassic World, 25th...

Gaming Uncensored Toon-In-Talk
Gaming Uncensored: Year in Review 2016

A look back at the year in gaming. Related

Gaming Uncensored Roundtable: December 2016

December’s roundtable discusses story in games with Chad, Josh, and Spencer....

Gaming Uncensored: Podcast #349

Jamie reflects on some of his time with the HTC Vive....

Music Interviews Music News Music Reviews
Rising Country Music Artist Kaylin Roberson Talks About her work with St. Jude

Kaylin Roberson is a singer, songwriter and pianist from Raleigh, North...

MTV Unveils Performers for ‘TRL Live’ on October 3rd at 3 p.m. E.T.

NEW YORK, NY (September 26, 2017) – MTV today announced that...

Long Beach Punk Band ‘Spider’ Rocks ‘It’s Not Dead’ Festival

Spider is a heavy hitting punk band out of Long Beach,...

%d bloggers like this: