The Birdman of Alcatraz

1962 bestiality epic

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Robert Stroud, our hero, is serving a life sentence at Leavenworth prison for killing somebody. While there, he has problems getting along with the guards and other cons, spends some time in solitary, and then kills a guard who was going to report him for getting too aggressive earlier. He's sentenced to die, but his mommy whines until he gets the sentence reduced to life in solitary. One day, he finds a new friend, an injured canary. This new buddy gets him interested in ornithology. He gets some more birds, builds some cages, gets Telly Savalas interested in ornithology, and becomes an expert in the field.

This is a heavily-fictionalized account of the real Robert Stroud. "Loosely-based" probably a strong enough, and I'm sure Stroud's family appreciates having their relative's history rewritten like this. But that's not my main problem with the film. My main problems are that it manages to be both too long and have a story that's undercooked. Things are also pretty flat, and it's just too much of a movie. I liked Burt Lancaster in this version of Stroud. The character's development isn't 100% believable, but Lancaster's able to go from violently apathetic to delicately nurturing in a believable way. I enjoyed seeing Savalas with some hair, and I also thought Karl Malden was good as the warden in this one. The film is weakened by Thelma Ritter's annoying performance as Stroud's mother. I also liked a lot of the shots of Lancaster's life in prison. The black and white photography's crisp, and at times I wished it was a little grittier. The birds, specifically the training involved in getting them to do what they do, really steal the show. All the scenes with the birds are wonderful, from the simple moment when Lancaster gets his bird friend to fly to his finger for the first time to the more complicated multi-fowl shots later on. An extended scene showing the birth of a bird (or maybe some sort of alien being) is also cool. This is hampered a bit with far too much narration (part of what makes it too movie-ish), but my favorite scene might be when the narrator briefly shifts to second person to describe life in solitary confinement.

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