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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Birdman Of Alcatraz (1962)

In 1909, a bitter and rebellious young man (Burt Lancaster) is imprisoned for murder. He will spend the rest of his life behind bars but he gains fame when he becomes a specialist in ornithology. Based on the non fiction book by Thomas E. Gaddis and directed by John Frankenheimer. The film is a highly fictionalized account of the life of Robert Stroud. The film makers soft pedal the real Stroud in the film. According to those who knew him, he was at the very least a jerk and at the worst, a psychopath rather than the benign presence fighting for both birds and rights of prisoners. That aside, if you can get past that, it's a superior example of a genre I normally dislike, the prison picture. It's a compelling portrait of life in the penal system and the often inhumane treatment of prisoners. In addition to Lancaster's excellent performance, two other performances stand out. Thelma Ritter drops her usual wisecracking persona and gives a frightening performance of a possessive and spiteful mother and Neville Brand, usually cast as villains, gives a sympathetic performance as a prison guard. There's also a lovely score by Elmer Bernstein. With Karl Malden, Telly Savalas, Betty Field, Hugh Marlowe and Edmond O'Brien, who's barely in the movie.

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