Written by / 6/23/2016 / No comments / , , , ,

BURT LANCASTER IN BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ

Twilight Time Blu Ray YEAR: 1962
It's impossible to know the truth, the real truth, about something, or in this case, someone who gained fame from accomplishing something pretty amazing. That being Robert Stroud, given the name THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, which was more of a legendary status. On the infamous island fortress, he was already known and famous for what he did in Leavenworth, given free reign to work with birds since he was downright violent around people. Meanwhile, in Alcatraz, he had nothing to do with those feathery friends at all... His reputation proceeded him, and Alcatraz is a much edgier nickname than where he truly broke ground: A more lenient prison that, thankfully, the warden (or actually, several wardens) permitted this strange, desperate lone wolf, in prison for murdering a man who supposedly beat up one of his "girls," be able to keep a good number of birds inside his isolation cell. Much of the film, directed in a beautifully contained and hypnotic manner by John Frankenheimer, shows Stroud during the good times and bad, the birds he raised eventually dying from unnamed illnesses; one he eventually cures them of, which is what made Stroud famous – a violent man with a "third grade education" was able to find a vaccine to save birds – first his own, a mere microcosm for the world, including farm chickens and... Anyhow, when it came to his studies, Stroud, the BIRDMAN OF LEAVENWORTH, was more than an expert: He was a guru and a genius. And that brooding aura is captured nicely by Burt Lancaster in the first two acts in Leavenworth where he's treated like a king, befriended by guard Neville Brand in a surprisingly passive role, and an endearing lunatic in the cell-next-door played by Telly Savalas, who was able to have his own winged pet. But being more than pets to Stroud, Lancaster, with his expressions alone and no dialogue at all, captures the love one man had for a species, other than his own!

Movie Rating: ***
Alas, the third act, taking place in Alcatraz, is rushed and... well... Here's where Hollywood does a complete historic makeover. Stroud is shown as being too passive and gentle, and supposedly, he only fought in defense. Much of the finale includes an attempted breakout of six prisoners that was, for cinema's sake, turned into an all-out riot having to do with bad prison conditions: just so Stroud could make a idealistic speech in the wake. Like the New Testament is to the Old, partaking in wise words over previous actions, is basically how things wind up... Yet the fact, even at an old age, NO ONE allowed him to go free isn't quite clear. He died in another prison, although much more happily than if he remained in Alcatraz... So there must be a reason for this... something that we never experience or learn in the movie, or even catch a glimpse of. And it must be noted that this movie, like COMPULSION did for one of the two famous former-teen murderers, was made with an agenda other than entertainment: to help free the subject at hand, in that case, a sympathetic turn by Dean Stockwell against Bradford Dillman's more instigative menace. Lancaster, in playing this part, was pushing for Stroud's release, and what could have provided a much more intense performance is held back during the soft 11th hour. A more violent, scathing undertone would have given the performance more edge, all the way through. It's obvious Stroud, even at an old age, couldn't be trusted on the outside; and unlike ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, they couldn't blame everything on one vicious warden: Throughout his entire prison life, there were many wardens. And even more prisoners. Several who remember a guy that was, away from his birds and amongst the human zoo, more of a Chicken Hawk than Bluejay. Now THAT would have been a performance! 
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