Birdman of Alcatraz (film)

Birdman of Alcatraz (film)

Infobox Film
name = Birdman of Alcatraz

caption =
director = John Frankenheimer
producer = Harold Hecht
writer = Thomas E. Gaddis (book)
Guy Trosper
narrator =
starring = Burt Lancaster
Karl Malden
Thelma Ritter
Neville Brand
Telly Savalas
music = Elmer Bernstein
cinematography = Burnett Guffey
editing = Edward Mann
distributor = United Artists
released = 3 July 1962
runtime = 143 minutes
country = U.S.
language = English
budget =
preceded_by =
followed_by =
website =
amg_id = 1:5725
imdb_id = 0055798

"Birdman of Alcatraz" is a 1962 film starring Burt Lancaster and directed by John Frankenheimer. It is a fictionalized version of the life of Robert Stroud, a federal prison inmate known as the "Birdman of Alcatraz" because of his life with birds.

The film was adapted by Guy Trosper from the 1955 book by Thomas E. Gaddis. It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Burt Lancaster), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Telly Savalas), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Thelma Ritter) and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White. Stroud was never allowed to see the film.

Plot summary

The movie is told in flashback, narrated by Edmond O'Brien, who plays Gaddis, the author of the book upon which the movie is based.

Robert Stroud is imprisoned as a young man for committing a murder in Alaska. He is shown as a rebellious inmate, fighting against a rigid prison system. In an early scene he breaks open the window of a prison train, to allow the suffocating inmates to breathe.

He is sentenced to life in prison after stabbing a guard who denied him a visit from his mother (Thelma Ritter). The terms of the sentence require that he be kept in solitary confinement for the rest of his life. His rebellious attitude—portrayed in the film as justifiable—puts him in conflict with the warden of Leavenworth Prison (Karl Malden).

To break the monotony, Stroud adopts a bird as a pet. When the bird gets sick, he experiments with a cure. As the years pass, working with many birds, he becomes an expert on bird diseases. He publishes a book on bird remedies, and then writes a history of the U.S. penal system that is suppressed. He remains rebellious and at odds with authority. He marries and then divorces a woman who had corresponded with him about birds. This turns his mother against him.

Stroud is abruptly transferred to the federal penitentiary at Alcatraz, a new maximum security institution where he is not permitted to keep birds. He is now growing elderly, and though still rebellious he is a positive influence, and helps stop a prison rebellion in 1946. He is transferred to a prison hospital after Alcatraz closes, but efforts to gain his freedom fail.

Fact versus fiction

Burt Lancaster’s impersonation of Stroud stirred sympathy with the general public. However, prison historians have pointed out that the real Stroud was a merciless killer who showed no remorse for his crimes.

Cultural references

The 1967 song, "Birdman Of Alkatraz," by psychedelic band Strawberry Alarm Clock gets its title from this film, although the song's theme is very different from that of the film.

External links

* [ Crime Library article on Robert Stroud]

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