Birdman of Alcatraz

Birdman of Alcatraz 
 
(John Frankenheimer, 1962) 
 
☆☆☆☆☆
 
Reviewed by Dave Lancaster 
 
Summary: A beautiful film about the cracks in the dark walls that let light in, Birdman of Alcatraz is both a tender and brutal examination of prison life. 
 
From the wonderful Saul Bass opening title sequence, you know you’re in for a quality watch. Bass’ stark black and white titles show a fragile bird cradled by large human hands - a symbol of freedom held tight by an incarcerated prisoner. They make for powerful images and you’re only a few minutes in. 
What follows, as John Frankenheimer’s film progresses, is something extraordinary. This film takes flight and soars. Burt Lancaster gives one of his greatest performances as Robert Stroud - a jailbird who has been behind bars for much of his life. He’s guilty of murder and has resigned himself that this life is his and nobody elses. He won’t give anyone an inch. He’s a steadfast non-conformist whose morals are higher than his past actions. He’s a lot of things but most of all his impenetrable. It seems his mother (an Oscar nominated Thelma Ritter) is his only ally and gap in his armour but a twist of fate may just turn that around. 
 
 
One day he adopts a bird from the storm-ravaged prison yard as a pet. Soon he has more birds and so do his fellow convicts (including a remarkable, again Oscar nominated turn by Telly Savalas). Against the odds, Stroud becomes an expert on birds and their sicknesses to a point whereby he becomes a respected authority in the outside world. But it’s more than that. The birds are a symbol of freedom - forever threatened by the oppression and violent rebellions of the prisons but not aware of what the bars on the windows symbolise when they can so easily pass between them. 
 
Lancaster does fine tying all of these poetic elements together with a performance that bridges the tender and brutal extremes of incarceration and rehabilitation. As with The Shawshank Redemption, we find hope and light amid the seemingly hopeless dark corners of a cell. Birdman of Alcatraz soars. 
 
DUAL FORMAT SPECIAL FEATURES
 
  • 1080p presentation of the film on Blu-ray, with a progressive encode on the DVD.
  • LPCM mono soundtrack (Uncompressed on the Blu-ray)
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
  • Audio commentary with film historian and editor Paul Seydor, moderated by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman
  • Illusion of Freedom: Richard H. Kline on John Frankenheimer's Birdman of Alcatraz (29 mins) - a new video piece on the film
  • An exclusive new video interview with film historian Sheldon Hall
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • A collector s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Travis Crawford, as well as a selection of archival imagery from the film's production

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