Escape From Alcatraz

Escape From Alcatraz (Donald Siegel, 1979)

With Dirty Harry, Escape From Alcatraz is one of the best collaborations between director Donald Siegel and actor Clint Eastwood. The sober and slow moving prison escape film of Siegel distinguish itself by the low-key camera placing and the slowly coming climax of the film.

Opening with Morris’ (Eastwood) “welcome” onto the Rock we discover his world and the other prisoners. Having been on The Rock in 2010, his introduction is the path they make us visit the closed prison and it is very interesting to see how the buildings are well conserved in the movie. When I was there I was surprised on how Alcatraz was almost entirely abandoned and in such bad shape. Then, the story brings us the immediate confrontation between Warden the director of the prison (Patrick McGoohan) and Morris. It sets the tone of the film. The relationships of Morris with Doc (Roberts Blossom) and Litmus (Frank Ronzio), are touching and reveals the camaraderie of this world of men. And indeed, Clint fits perfectly for the few words but very keen and bright multi times escapist he portrays.

Just like Siegel’s other work, there is a feel of TV editing and storytelling. It is almost in vignettes and many scenes aren’t all linked together but are there to represent how slow and monotonous life is in prison. Siegel doesn’t use superfluous effects to present the actual escape and he lets the tension raise just from the depicting of the events without much music or useless fast pacing. It reminds a little to Robert Bresson’s much stronger work A Man Escaped clearly a masterpiece of greater depth and meaning.

Siegel was a good director in his mastery of his elements. Clint Eastwood dedicated his Unforgiven for him representing him as his master and the man who showed him everything he knew. It is clearly an influence on the work of Eastwood because both directors don’t need to use too much cinematic tricks to exploit their strong naturalistic mise en scène that can also relate to the master of Westerns John Ford. Sobriety, correctness and precision is what can define their directing.

Escape From Alcatraz is a very pertinent film that demonstrates how a real story can be rendered simply and almost like a documentary without falling into the stereotypes of heroes and the superman syndromes. Recommended.

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