How does bitter convict Robert Stroud cope with a lifetime of solitary confinement? The answer, in a sense, comes from abovein the form of a feeble sparrow he finds in the isolation yard. Stroud brings this newfound compan... more »ion to his cell, nurses it to health and, from that point on, there's no turning back. Despite having only a third-grade education, and no hope of parole, Stroud becomes a renowned ornithologistand achieves a greater sense of freedom and purpose behind prison walls than many in the outside world will ever know. The "finest prison picture ever made" (Variety), this inspirational and compelling classic stars Burt Lancaster in an OscarĀ(r)-nominated* performance as Stroudthe convict who, in his power to heal birds, finds the power to heal himself. *1962: Actor« less
I am not much for Black and White movies but this one had an outstanding plotline and story.
Another Frankenheimer winner
K. Gittins | CA USA | 06/26/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Birdman of Alcatraz" is another fine movie directed by John Frankenheimer. His next 3 movies are "The Manchurian Candidate", "Seven Days in May", and "The Train". I have seen them all and rate them 5 stars as well - he makes great movies. As is Frankenheimer's style, there is great depth of focus from foreground to background, but his "big head/little head" wide-angle shots are not as pronounced as in "The Manchurian Candidate" or "Seven Days In May".
Burt Lancaster earned an oscar nomination for his role of Robert Stroud, a convicted killer who was sentenced to solitary confinement while awaiting execution. His impending hanging was subsequently commuted, but he did spend over 50 years behind bars, with very little contact with other people and even less with the outside world. The movie presents Stroud in a pretty benevolent light, although in reality he was apparently very strange and disliked by most others.
Originally banned from having nearly any kind of activity as a hobby, Stroud eventually begins to raise sparrows and other birds while imprisoned in Leavenworth prison (he never had any at Alcatraz). Although Stroud only had a few years of grade school education, he teaches himself several languages and many sciences while in prison. As a result of making "home remedies" to treat his birds when they begin to die off, he eventually writes some well-regarded books on bird diseases and their treatment.
The black-and-white movie was released while Stroud was still alive in 1962 but he never saw it. He died of natural causes on November 21, 1963, just one day before president Kennedy was assassinated, and his death went largely unnoticed.
Co-starring Karl Malden as the warden, Neville Brand as a guard, and Telly Savalas (oscar nominated) as a fellow immate, it was well-acted through out. The 149 minute film has French and Spanish subtitles, chapters and a trailer."
Burt Lancaster: He Had It All
carol irvin | United States | 05/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"You know that someone is a great film star when he or she can convey great charisma and deliver an A+ performance in a very quiet role. Burt Lancaster was one of these stars. He wasn't known for quiet roles but if that was what was called for, he could deliver. Lancaster's character, Robert Stroud, was a real criminal who had to find a way to endure long term penal confinement. Today he might become an outsider artist or be attending college classes in prison. Decades ago, when these things were yet unknown to our prison system, he had to be even more improvisational. Thus, he became an expert on birds and their diseases and treatments after a wounded sparrow came to his attention. This intense portrait of a character couldn't be any more opposite from Lancaster's most well known performance as Elmer Gantry, the barnstorming evangelist with earthy appetites. Lancaster was also a very physical actor who liked to move around in a film but he was able to restrain himself beautifully within the confines of this role. One really has to look to find junk roles done by Lancaster because he was very committed to the art and craft of acting, even at this point in his career when he was the most "bankable." Everyone else involved in this film also does very good work but I don't think the project would have seen the light of day without Lancaster's coming on board."
A Critique of Penal System, Great Human Drama
William Hare | Seattle, Washington | 01/22/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Burt Lancaster won an Academy Award nomination and could easily have corralled another Oscar statuette to go with the one he secured two years earlier for his excellent effort in "Elmer Gantry" as he portrayed convicted killer Robert Stroud in "Birdman of Alcatraz." This was also a peak period for the film's director, John Frankenheimer, since in a five-year period beginning with this triumph he also scored big with "Seven Days in May," which also starred Lancaster, along with "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Seconds."
Stroud is depicted as a mamma's boy gone wrong who will not allow any fellow Leavenworth Penitentiary fellow inmates to look at his mother's picture or mention her name. He is sent to Leavenworth for killing a man in Alaska after the victim had beaten up a prostitute friend of Stroud's. The convict is then sent a hair's breath from the hangman's rope after he kills a prison guard in a rage. The explosion occurs after he has been told he would not be allowed to see his mother, who has journeyed from Alaska to Kansas to visit him.
Thelma Ritter, in a performance for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Academy nomination, battles zealously for her convict son throughout, and when he is sentenced to death she journeys to Washington, D.C. and obtains an appointment with First Lady Edith Wilson. President Wilson commutes Lancaster's sentence to life shortly before the execution is scheduled to occur. The result, however, is that the prisoner will spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement as a result of his hair trigger temper and homicidal propensities.
Lancaster verbally spars for the entire picture with his nemesis, prison warden Karl Malden, although they do achieve something of an understanding by film's end. Lancaster ultimately develops a world of his own in taking care of birds. A man of high intellect, he becomes one of the world's leading experts on bird diseases, and eventually is able to supply Malden with advice on his arthritic right arm.
The character arc revealed in the film is Lancaster losing his formidable shoulder chips and intense rage when he develops a fondness for birds that germinates into a full-fledged profession behind bars. He even launches a business with pet shop owner Betty Field, who marries him as well. Lancaster also develops an association with fellow solitary confinement prisoner Telly Savalas, who earned an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category.
Ultimately Lancaster is transferred from Leavenworth to Alcatraz, the island-based high security federal prison near San Francisco. He is reunited with Malden, who is now warden there. While crushed that his move west compels him to give up his birds, Lancaster continues to read and supply advice concerning birds and humans. At one point he serves as peacemaker during the notorious Alcatraz prison riot. He also gets a chance to meet the man who has written a bestselling book on his life, played by Edmond O'Brien, who also serves as the film's narrator.
It is during his Alcatraz period that Lancaster becomes involved in preaching prison reform. When Malden sees the manuscript that Lancaster is writing critiquing the prison system he becomes initially insulted and enraged, then, after reflection, begins to see the validity of points being raised. Malden, tired after years as a warden in the prison system, dies shortly thereafter.
In addition to the earlier mentioned Oscar nominations for "Birdman of Alcatraz," Frankenheimer was also honored in the directing category, as was Burnett Guffey in the Cinematography grouping. Lancaster secured a major international honor by being named Best Foreign Actor for 1962 by the British Film Academy for "Birdman of Alcatraz."
While controversy continues to abide over whether Robert Stroud was realistically depicted in the film and mellowed to the degree demonstrated on screen, it is undeniable that "Birdman of Alcatraz" made excellent points in the dramatic category as well as in the ongoing discussion of how to deal with prisoners in the ongoing pursuit of helping them adapt to life both inside and outside institution walls.
Guy Troper wrote the script and Elmer Bernstein provided the musical score. The film's chief producer was Lancaster partner Harold Hecht."
William Hare | 11/12/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I really think that this is a great anti death penaly movie - It was also a very interesting movie for its time- Burt Lancaster was often known for playing unsympathetic charaters. Some think that Strouds character was portrayed too soft i.e. that he was much more of a psychopath with not one shred of humaness- But that is drama! If you want a totally factual film make a documentary- movie making is notorius for humaninzing bad people to make the charater have more universal appeal and make it easier to connect to the audience.I really think the film is more about how a man could do something quite extraordanary in prison( i.e.) become such an expert on birds under such horrible conditions. Stroud was also a man who would not give in to anyone, a charateristic that I know personally was very appealing to Burt Lancaster. This movie is really well acted and directed, well worth seeing!"
"Take a Bite Out of the Stars for Me"
Ruth Z. Deming | Willow Grove, PA | 08/27/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This classic B&W film, one of nearly 80 flicks made by the ever-versatile Lancaster (1913-94), bears the sober and important distinction of NOT being true-to-life, to the real Robert "Birdman" Stroud, who was a vicious and dangerous man who deserved to die in prison. Nevermind. It's an inspirational story that shows the potential for a human being to evolve and maintain his integrity under dreadful circumstances.
Since 1962 when the film was made, our prison system hasn't changed one iota. Rehabilitation is a matter of luck, not public policy, with recidivism rates climbing. Viewed as a social document of the sixties, it parallels the terrible Attica riots, and shows the corruptibility of everyone, a microcosm of life. Stroud's place as a genius in the avian world is the most exciting facet of the movie. He enters prison as a defiant young killer with no manners or humility who develops himself through his self-taught absorption into the biology of the caged bird. Through his love of birds, he comes to love himself and fellow man, and in his characteristically flat tones speaks to one of the birds he sets free, "Take a bite out of the stars for me."
Because of his truly homicidal nature, Robert Stroud himself could never be set free, but was allowed later in life to roam among the meadows of a locked facility until his death. Superb love angle with his wife, whom he insisted on setting free, and the contrast against his own jealous mother, whose motives he finally began to understand. Remember, this is a deep movie about self-understanding.
Also filled with other meaningful characterizations - and hello there, Telly Savalas & Karl Malden, nice to see you both again!"