Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

*. 1979. For some reason I thought this movie was later than that.
*. In 1979 Clint Eastwood was still very much Dirty Harry. In fact, he’d even visited Alcatraz as Harry at the end of The Enforcer just a few years earlier. Now he was back, and reunited with Don Siegel, who’d directed the original Dirty Harry. This was to be their fifth and final colllaboration.
*. I’m not just being glib calling this Dirty Harry Goes to Prison. Eastwood didn’t have much range, and the laconic tough guy he plays here might as well be Harry going undercover. You know Wolf is never going to make Frank Morris his bitch, just because. Just like you know everything’s going to be cool between Frank and the brothers. Even if, just like Harry, Frank says he “hates niggers.” They know he’s only kidding.
*. But this isn’t a movie that does anything with the irony of Eastwood fighting against the forces of law and order. All the inmates we meet, aside from the bestial Wolf, are decent men. The one in for murder only killed in self defence and was railroaded because of his race. The warden and the bulls, on the other hand, are a bunch of dummies and sadists. One understands that Eastwood, whatever character he’s playing, is the hero around whom the moral universe turns. It doesn’t matter if he’s cop or a criminal.
*. I mentioned in my notes on Play Misty For Me how Eastwood seems to have an unnatural curve to his spine, giving him a funny walk. Now look at the scene where he’s lifting weights here in the prison yard. What terrible form! Is this how he worked out? No wonder his back was out of whack.
*. It’s based on the true story of the “escape” (they may have died in the attempt) of three inmates in 1962. But I don’t find it to be realistic. It’s very much a movie. What I mean by this is epitomized by the opening scenes showing Morris’s arrival during a rain storm, with his slow naked walk to his cell followed by his being locked in just as lightning strikes, thunder booms, and the guard says “Welcome to Alcatraz.”
*. This made me laugh. And the warden with his bird in a cage and his rage at Doc’s flower made me roll my eyes. It’s all so clichéd. But I don’t think Siegel or Eastwood were bothered in the slightest by clichés. I think they felt that movies were formulaic and that the most successful ones were those that did the best job of handling those formulas.
*. Well, they do an OK job handling the prison break formula, following the gang’s plan through all its different stages. It’s still watchable enough, but plays kind of small screen today. I think it seemed more important forty years ago.


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