Adept at action movies throughout his career, Don Siegel crossed paths with an ascendent Clint Eastwood when they made Coogan’s Bluff (1968). That would be the first of five collaborations between director and star, with Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970), The Beguiled (1971) and Dirty Harry (also 1971) soon to follow; Clint would return the favor by casting Siegel as Murphy the bartender in his directorial debut Play Misty for Me. However, it would be 8 years before they would reunite for one final collaboration: Escape from Alcatraz. Previously released on DVD and Blu-ray by Paramount, Kino has licensed the movie for its UHD Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 4.5/5
“No one has ever escaped from Alcatraz. And no one ever will.”
When the Warden of the United States Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island (Patrick McGoohan) uttered those words in January 1960, he was right; previous attempts by prisoners trying to escape the notorious prison ended in failure. However, the newest inmate the Warden speaks those words to – Frank Morris (Clint Eastwood) – is not the typical Alcatraz prisoner. An exceptionally intelligent convict who has escaped from previous penitentiaries, Morris – after a couple of years of confinement – believes he has found a way to escape from the prison. With fellow inmates Charley Butts (Larry Hankin) and the Anglin brothers (Fred Ward & Jack Thibeau), the plans are set in motion, but only 3 of the 4 will manage to pull off the impossible and paddle through the waters of the San Francisco Bay into history.
Escape from Alcatraz marked the fifth time – and apparent swan song due to tensions between them during production – that director Don Siegel and actor Clint Eastwood worked together, and this might just be their best work out of the five films overall. Adapted from the non-fiction book by J. Campbell Bruce, screenwriter Richard Tuggle not only stuck to Morris’ story faithfully, but also included an incident from 1937 woven into the script; however, slight anachronism aside, the story itself has a timeless quality that hasn’t aged the film since its initial release. But the film’s major plus is the authentic atmosphere generated by actually shooting in Alcatraz; Paramount paid up to half a million dollars to restore the then decaying prison and recreate the cold atmosphere that the infamous prison was known for. Finally, under Don Siegel’s direction, the film crackles with tension, supported by solid performances all around and is imbued with great visual style to match the story, courtesy of cinematographer Bruce Surtees; the contributions of film editor Ferris Webster, composer Jerry Fielding, production designer Allen E. Smith & set decorator Edward J. MacDonald shouldn’t be overlooked here either. A riveting account of the true-life prison break once thought impossible, Escape from Alcatraz gave its director one final great film for his career while giving its star another feather in his cap to close out the 1970’s.
While Clint Eastwood brought his signature steely presence to the proceedings, the supporting cast is worth mentioning as well. Patrick McGoohan – taking on the part originally offered to John Vernon – casts a memorable impression as Alcatraz’s no-nonsense warden; Jack Thibeau – in the first of four appearances alongside Eastwood – is notable as Clarence Anglin. In what was only his third appearance in American films afear a brief sojourn in Italy earlier in the decade, Fred Ward is an appropriately determined John Anglin; Larry Hankin has one of his best film roles as Charley Butts (the character was loosely based off the inmate Allen West, who was left behind on the night of the escape). Roberts Blossom memorably incarnates the role of the artistical inmate Chester “Doc” Dalton (the scene where Doc chops off his fingers is loosely based off the aforementioned incident in 1937); Paul Benjamin – familiar to TV audiences in the 1990’s on ER in the recurring role of the homeless Al Ervin – just as memorably incarnates the role of English, one of the inmates Morris befriends during his time in captivity. Rounding out the cast here are Frank Ronzio as the eccentric Litmus, Bruce M. Fischer as the rapist Wolf, Candace Bowen as English’s daughter, Regina Baff as Charley’s girlfriend Lucy and Danny Glover in one of his earliest film appearances as one of the inmates.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:78:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new HDR/Dolby Vision master created and remastered by Paramount Pictures from a 4K scan of the original camera negative; the movie is presented in HDR on the UHD Blu-ray disc while the Blu-ray disc accompanying this release presents the movie in SDR. Film grain, color palette (including inky blacks) and fine details are all faithfully represented with minimal to no cases of scratches, tears or dirt present here. This release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses all previous DVD and Blu-ray releases of the film.
There are two audio options on this release: a 2.0 lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track and a 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio track on both UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray discs. Dialogue, sound mix and Jerry Fielding’s sparse yet effectively tense music score are all faithfully presented with minimal cases of distortion, crackling, hissing, flutter, popping or clicking present on both tracks. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever sound on home video and easily bests all previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Special Features: 4/5
UHD Blu-ray & Blu-ray Discs
Commentary by film historians Steve Mitchell & Nathaniel Thompson – Newly recorded for this release, Mitchell & Thompson go over the background of the movie from cast and crew bios to production notes and some stories during filming.
Blu-ray Disc Only
The Ghosts of Alcatraz (12:20) – Screenwriter Richard Tuggle talks about how he managed to adapt the book for the screen and the journey it took to get there in this new interview.
Tales from the Cell Block (14:16) – Larry Hankin – who portrays Charley Butts in the movie – talks about his career and his memories of working on the film and with Clint Eastwood in this new interview.
Theatrical Trailer (2:01) – Newly remastered in 2K
Bonus KLSC Trailers – A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Two Mules for Sister Sara, The Beguiled, Play Misty for Me, Joe Kidd, High Plains Drifter, Thunderbolt & Lightfoot & The Eiger Sanction
Both a critical and box office success upon initial release, Escape from Alcatraz closed out the collaboration between Clint Eastwood and Don Siegel on a high note with both style and substance. Kino has likely delivered the definitive home video edition of the movie, with a superb HD transfer on both UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray discs along with a solid slate of special features on the Blu-ray disc (the UHD Blu-ray disc has the newly recorded commentary only). Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from all previous DVD and Blu-ray releases.
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