Birdman of Alcatraz [VHS]

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Product Description

John Frankenheimer scored his first success with this, his third theatrical feature and his second collaboration with producer-star Burt Lancaster (they would make five films together all told). Lancaster delivers an angry, brooding performance as real-life criminal Robert Stroud, a violent killer who, while in solitary confinement, became an internationally recognized authority on birds and their diseases. Based on the book by Thomas E. Gaddis, Frankenheimer creates a portrait of a withdrawn, antisocial prisoner who discovers his own potential after reluctantly rescuing a wounded sparrow from a storm and nursing it back to health. Lancaster's quiet portrayal comes from his eyes and restrained body language, earning him his second Oscar nomination. Costars Telly Savalas (as the talkative "neighbor" from the cell next door) and Thelma Ritter (as his controlling mother) were also nominated, but Frankenheimer's sensitive direction draws equally fine performances from Neville Brand, playing against type as the prison guard who slowly befriends Stroud, and Karl Malden as the tough warden whose ideas of confinement and punishment prompted Stroud to follow-up his studies of birds with a treatise on prison reform. This somber, subdued tale offers no truly happy ending, but it does present a powerful portrait of one man's efforts to earn back his dignity and respect in the worst of conditions. --Sean Axmaker

Customer Reviews:

  • Birdman of Alcatraz
    I purchased the DVD for my brother, as a Christmas present. It has been many years since I have seen it, but remember that it was a very good movie. My brother whom I bought the DVD for, raves about the movie....more info
  • Movie Is Lot Better Than The Real "Birdman"
    GOOD NEWS: This is a riveting film start-to-finish, which is hard to do considering it runs over two hours. Burt Lancaster, one of the better actors, perhaps, of all time, gives a tremendous and very memorable performance. It's a clich? but this IS one story you will not forget!
    Director John Frrankenheimer also is one of the best ever. Check out his resume, if you question that last statement. He has some masterful camera shots in here. In addition to the talents of the director and main actor, you have Karl Malden,Thelma Ritter, Telly Savalas and Edmond O'Brien - no slouches they - in solid supporting roles. The DVD also helps highlight the wonderful black-and-white photography.
    Most prison stories are bleak and depressing. This one is not. Oh, it has some melodrama and a few tough scenes which include prison violence, but generally it is a fascinating character study....and, even for those of you who are not bird lovers, full of interesting information about our feathered friends. How they trained the birds to do some things in here also is amazing.

    BAD NEWS: What a disappointment to do some research about the real "birdman," Robert Stroud. It turns out, as other reviewers have noted, the man was a sleaze-bag. No sense going into details since some of them are simply revolting. For those who simply want to remember this as a great movie and a great performance by Lancaster, do yourself a favor and leave it at that. In this case, ignorance IS bliss!

    ...more info
  • Exceptional
    As someone noted previously, this role was unusual for Lancaster in that it required him to project a thoughtful, quiet intensity and and a more introverted personality, rather than the extroverted, flamboyant personalities he tended to portray before in such movies as Elmer Gantry or From Here to Eternity. Playing a convict rather than a handsome leading man, Lancaster never did anything like it before or since. Telly Savalas also turns in a notable performance many years before his well known TV series Kojak debuted. Playing a fictionalized warden character, Malden also turns in an excellent performance.

    Robert Stroud eventually became famous for researching and writing on bird diseases. I once looked up his book in a college library, and read some of it to see what it was like, since I was a physiology major and interested in medicine. Interestingly enough, the edition I found had included with the text many of the letters Stroud received commenting on his book, along with his replies. Many of the letters were from academic veterinarians who had questions, criticisms, or comments on the book, and it was interesting to see Stroud's responses. He came across as intelligent and thoughtful, although a bit piqued at times, pointing out that he never had the advantages of a college education, compared to the professionals who were critiquing his research.

    Much of the movie is devoted to the story of Stroud's famous research and his book, and the sensation it created among the public. The idea of a convicted murderer who spent most of his time in solitary becoming a published author and respected scientist was certainly sensational.

    How it all got started was innocent enough. Since Stroud spent so much of his prison career in isolation, he's allowed to keep a few canaries, which eventually leads to his famous discovery, when he wins a research contest to find a cure for septic fever, a common killer of birds. He eventually goes on to invent remedies for several other avian illnesses and conditions. Considering that Stroud only had a third grade education, his research and the resulting book is certainly a remarkable achievement.

    Stroud actually wrote four books while he was in prison. He wrote two books on birds, The Diseases of Canaries and Stroud's Digest on the Diseases of Birds. After being transferred to Alcatraz, he wrote an autobiography, Bobbye, and A History of the U.S. Prison System from Colonial Times to the Formation of the Bureau of Prisons.

    This is an interesting passage from the Wikipedia article on Stroud:

    "According to those who knew Stroud while he was in prison, the mild-mannered characterization of him, as presented in Gaddis's book and the subsequent film was largely fiction. In Full Circle with Michael Palin, one of his fellow prisoners said, "He was a jerk. He was a guy that thrived on chaos, turmoil, upheaval. He liked other people to be involved in these kind of things, but he was never a participant."

    Coincidentally, my sister once lived in the apartment complex in Alaska where Stroud committed his first murder. Overall, this is one of director Frankenheimer's and Lancaster's most remarkable movies, and still worth seeing today despite much of it being a fictionalized account of Stroud's life. ...more info
  • Slow, somber and ultimately quite touching...
    I will say this; I don't think that `Birdman of Alcatraz' is a remarkable movie, and I have some issues with the acting, but I also feel that the film is a touching and moving experience that is well worth watching; at least once. After watching the phenomenal `The Leopard' I have to say I was expecting greatness from Lancaster, and while I think he was effective I found myself a little numb to his performance.

    The film tells of convicted killer Robert Stoud. During his years in prison he fought for a chance to truly reform himself through the caretaking of birds. He studied them and became widely known for his knowledge of their diseases. Despite internal opposition, Stoud continued to develop that knowledge, which in turn led to his complete and total emotional change; going from a reserved brute of a man to a king hearted and compassionate one.

    The film has a lot to say even if it doesn't appear to say much at all. This is a blessing and a malediction. I often find films that are subtle in their delivery to be all the more affective, because they really reach you in an unexpected and lasting way; much more so than a film that browbeats you with its views on a subject. `Birdman of Alcatraz' is like that in that it is very quiet and slowly paced, so as to allow the audience to sink into the message being touted. The malediction is that it at times can appear so quiet that it loses the interest of the audience. A lot of this can be chalked up to Lancaster's performance, which is a times rather dull. I understand the importance of being understated, but there are long stretches where Lancaster is virtually non-existent here. If it weren't for the commanding performances by Thelma Ritter (who is sorely underused) and Karl Malden the film could have been labeled as boring.

    I think that the underlying message (or overlapping if you so please) of prisoner reform is a very important one and thus needs to be heard; and overall I think the film handles it rather well. I felt that recent films like `The Shawshank Redemption' handled it much better and thus picked up the ball that was dropped and carried it further so-to-speak.

    Still, this is a fine film that will be enjoyed and should be seen. Director John Frankenheimer knows how to control his film, delivering a sharply constructed picture that captures a mood and delivers that human feeling. This is much better overall than Frankenheimer's other 1962 film `The Manchurian Candidate'; that's for sure. It is not superb, but it is very good....more info
  • He Made an Incredible Contribution to Humanity
    I had heard, by name only, of the Bird Man of Alcatraz, but knew nothing else about him, or even who he was, before seeing this film.

    Burt Lancaster gives a fantastic performance in this film, right up with Gregory Peck, in To Kill a Mockingbird. Both movies are high drama with intriguing stories.

    The Bird Man of Alcatraz is a true story of a man in prison for murder (he killed a man who insulted a prostitute friend of his). With only a third-grade education, he eventually educates himself, while in prison, to become the world's foremost expert on bird diseases. He began by befriending a little baby sparrow he found, raising it, and training it, in his prison cell. Then the other prisoners began getting canaries, adn getting advice from the Bird Man. At a certain point, the birds began to die of a virus. This began the Bird Man's education, trying to find out why. He eventually did scientific research in his cell, and found cures for a number of bird diseases. This was especially helpful to the development of the poultry industry. He wrote two books while in prison, one on the diseases of birds (and cures), and the other on prison, and how prison affects the character of prisoners.

    I highly recommend this movie to anyone who likes drama, true stories, emotionally-moving stories, or who is interested in either animals, science, or prison life....more info
  • How Come Hollywood Always Portrays Prisoners as "Beautiful Losers?"
    This movie was made in 1962 and it appears that Hollywood was determined even back then to portray convicts in a favourable and somewhat romanticized light. This trend has continued in movies such as "Escape From Alcatraz", The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption to name just a few. It does seem kind of perverse to me that a guy locked up in a cage decides to lock up canaries in a cage!This guy is such a loser that even his mother wants the auhorities o keep him in prison and since when are convicts allowed to keep 100% Proof Alcohol in their cells? I do think the makers of turkeys such as this should pay a visit to any Maximum Security Prison where they will finally discover that the inmates are all lowlifes who would readily sell their mothers for some crack cocaine or a hit of heroin. I give this movie 5 stars because I think that Telly Sevalis was the real star of this movie....more info
  • "Take a Bite Out of the Stars for Me"
    This classic B&W film, one of nearly 80 flicks made by the ever-versatile Lancaster (1913-94), bears the sober and important distinction of NOT being true-to-life, to the real Robert "Birdman" Stroud, who was a vicious and dangerous man who deserved to die in prison. Nevermind. It's an inspirational story that shows the potential for a human being to evolve and maintain his integrity under dreadful circumstances.

    Since 1962 when the film was made, our prison system hasn't changed one iota. Rehabilitation is a matter of luck, not public policy, with recidivism rates climbing. Viewed as a social document of the sixties, it parallels the terrible Attica riots, and shows the corruptibility of everyone, a microcosm of life. Stroud's place as a genius in the avian world is the most exciting facet of the movie. He enters prison as a defiant young killer with no manners or humility who develops himself through his self-taught absorption into the biology of the caged bird. Through his love of birds, he comes to love himself and fellow man, and in his characteristically flat tones speaks to one of the birds he sets free, "Take a bite out of the stars for me."

    Because of his truly homicidal nature, Robert Stroud himself could never be set free, but was allowed later in life to roam among the meadows of a locked facility until his death. Superb love angle with his wife, whom he insisted on setting free, and the contrast against his own jealous mother, whose motives he finally began to understand. Remember, this is a deep movie about self-understanding.

    Also filled with other meaningful characterizations - and hello there, Telly Savalas & Karl Malden, nice to see you both again!...more info
  • Birdman of Alcatraz
    Based on the book by Tom Gaddis, who first told Stroud's remarkable story to the world, this involving tale of a caustic, antisocial man whose prison cell becomes a veritable bird sanctuary is beautifully directed by Frankenheimer. Lancaster's brooding, restrained performance steers clear of gushing sentiment, earning him an Oscar nod. Malden is excellent, too, as the peeved warden who makes it his duty to "punish" Stroud--and who gets his chance when the birdman gets transferred to "the Rock." Oscar nominees Thelma Ritter (as Harvey's mom) and Telly Savalas (as fellow inmate Feto Gomez) raise the film a notch with colorful supporting work. This "Birdman" flies high....more info
  • classic
    2.5 hours flies by when you watch this movie. It really keeps your attention. Good actors, good acting and a true story to boot. Well worth the $ and the time to watch...more info
  • Good picture, but need to really separate facts from fiction
    Finally, after 4 decades, I got to see Birdman of Alcatraz. And a year ago I visited the island for the first time.

    This is definitely a high-quality film, with a mixture of fact and artistic license. The rangers at Alcatraz still put emphasis on the dark side of Robert Stroud,and the role played by Burt Lancaster succeeds in offsetting this to a great extent.

    Reviewer "silentscott" points out that the rangers have been promoting the idea that the movie says that Stroud had all his birds at Alcatraz, while the fact is that they were at Leavenworth. I got the same impression in my own tour. But actually the movie makes it very clear that the birds were left behind at Leavenworth (fate unstated), and that he had none at Alcatraz. Maybe it's time for the otherwise capable guides on the island to review the film again and see where it does diverge from the truth.

    I was a young adult when the movie came out in 1962. Although I didn't get to see it until this past week (July 2004), I still remember the haunting Elmer Bernstein theme song that I would hear on the radio in the early 1960s. I now have that song in my own collection. But I am puzzled that while I watched that movie I did not hear any of the melody that was played on the air. Does anyone have an explanation for that?...more info

  • Excellent movie, though much of it is propoganda
    The Birdman of Alcatraz is a highly-entertaining, absorbing look into the life of a man condemned to life in prison, and the lead character is played wonderfully by Burt Lancaster. You won't be disappointed by this film on a purely "for entertainment" basis, because the acting is in each actor's case superb, but you will probably be disappointed -- if you do some research on the internet or at your library -- to discover that the title character was nowhere nearly as noble and complex as Lancaster portrayed him. The film comes off implying that what is on the screen is factual, and one is even inclined -- because of the writer (Actually, an actor portraying him) of the movie's original novel version introducing the film -- to think this is some kind of historical documentary rather than the almost entirely fictious (though admittedly engaging) hollywood fantasy we are actually treated to. The actor portraying the story's writer sort of adds an unintentionally laughable (and lamely histrionic) moment at the end of the film when, wracked with emotion, he throws his arms around the 73 year old murderer in a big bear hug.

    If you see this video at your local rental place I recommend it highly, but please be aware that the real "birdman" -- although a genius and highly intelligent -- lived and died a horrible, antisocial, remorseless murderer who could never possibly live up to the great [fictional] man Lancaster showed on screen. ...more info
  • First-rate storytelling
    Birdman of Alcatraz is a perfect example of cinematic storytelling. I vividly remember seeing it in the theater when it came out, and being strongly affected by the story, and by Lancaster's portrayal of Stroud.

    Unfortunately the real Stroud was nothing at all like the character depicted in the film. He was, from all accounts, a vicious sociopath, a man who killed when it suited his needs, manipulated people around him, and was able to game the prison system to his own ends.

    Still, this is a wonderful film that manages to craft an uplifting story from the life of a man who had little about him to admire. Quite an accomplishment....more info
    1962. One of John Frankenheimer's early masterpieces, based on Birdman of Alcatraz (Signet Book, D1550), features Burt Lancaster as Robert Stroud who spent more than 50 years in jail. This outstanding film will surely oppose once again the followers of the Rehabilitation thesis and those of the Repression's. As usual, only true movie lovers will agree that BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ is a masterpiece....more info
  • A Critique of Penal System, Great Human Drama
    Burt Lancaster won an Academy Award nomination and could easily have corralled another Oscar statuette to go with the one he secured two years earlier for his excellent effort in "Elmer Gantry" as he portrayed convicted killer Robert Stroud in "Birdman of Alcatraz." This was also a peak period for the film's director, John Frankenheimer, since in a five-year period beginning with this triumph he also scored big with "Seven Days in May," which also starred Lancaster, along with "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Seconds."

    Stroud is depicted as a mamma's boy gone wrong who will not allow any fellow Leavenworth Penitentiary fellow inmates to look at his mother's picture or mention her name. He is sent to Leavenworth for killing a man in Alaska after the victim had beaten up a prostitute friend of Stroud's. The convict is then sent a hair's breath from the hangman's rope after he kills a prison guard in a rage. The explosion occurs after he has been told he would not be allowed to see his mother, who has journeyed from Alaska to Kansas to visit him.

    Thelma Ritter, in a performance for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Academy nomination, battles zealously for her convict son throughout, and when he is sentenced to death she journeys to Washington, D.C. and obtains an appointment with First Lady Edith Wilson. President Wilson commutes Lancaster's sentence to life shortly before the execution is scheduled to occur. The result, however, is that the prisoner will spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement as a result of his hair trigger temper and homicidal propensities.

    Lancaster verbally spars for the entire picture with his nemesis, prison warden Karl Malden, although they do achieve something of an understanding by film's end. Lancaster ultimately develops a world of his own in taking care of birds. A man of high intellect, he becomes one of the world's leading experts on bird diseases, and eventually is able to supply Malden with advice on his arthritic right arm.

    The character arc revealed in the film is Lancaster losing his formidable shoulder chips and intense rage when he develops a fondness for birds that germinates into a full-fledged profession behind bars. He even launches a business with pet shop owner Betty Field, who marries him as well. Lancaster also develops an association with fellow solitary confinement prisoner Telly Savalas, who earned an Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category.

    Ultimately Lancaster is transferred from Leavenworth to Alcatraz, the island-based high security federal prison near San Francisco. He is reunited with Malden, who is now warden there. While crushed that his move west compels him to give up his birds, Lancaster continues to read and supply advice concerning birds and humans. At one point he serves as peacemaker during the notorious Alcatraz prison riot. He also gets a chance to meet the man who has written a bestselling book on his life, played by Edmond O'Brien, who also serves as the film's narrator.

    It is during his Alcatraz period that Lancaster becomes involved in preaching prison reform. When Malden sees the manuscript that Lancaster is writing critiquing the prison system he becomes initially insulted and enraged, then, after reflection, begins to see the validity of points being raised. Malden, tired after years as a warden in the prison system, dies shortly thereafter.

    In addition to the earlier mentioned Oscar nominations for "Birdman of Alcatraz," Frankenheimer was also honored in the directing category, as was Burnett Guffey in the Cinematography grouping. Lancaster secured a major international honor by being named Best Foreign Actor for 1962 by the British Film Academy for "Birdman of Alcatraz."

    While controversy continues to abide over whether Robert Stroud was realistically depicted in the film and mellowed to the degree demonstrated on screen, it is undeniable that "Birdman of Alcatraz" made excellent points in the dramatic category as well as in the ongoing discussion of how to deal with prisoners in the ongoing pursuit of helping them adapt to life both inside and outside institution walls.

    Guy Troper wrote the script and Elmer Bernstein provided the musical score. The film's chief producer was Lancaster partner Harold Hecht. ...more info
  • Great movie
    Burt Lancaster did a wonderful job exhibiting his inmate role in this film. I would recommend any fan to watch this movie....more info
  • Etched in my mind
    This is one of those movies that I first saw as a boy in the '60's and would watch every chance I got, which was 2-3 times. It's on PBS tonight so I'm excited to see it again.
    ...more info
  • a great burt lancaster performance!
    let me preface this review for those who may not know about Robert Stroud who spent a lifetime in the federal prison system with less than a grade school education and who became one of the world's leading authorities on bird diseases in the first half of the 20th century. all this while serving his sentence in solitary confinement for the brutal and senseless killing of a guard..... this is another example of the type of fine American movies that use to come out of Hollywood. first thing is the audio and video are both good. not great but good. they appear to have taken some artistic liberties with the truth in regards to Robert Stroud? from everything I've ever read about him he was a very unpleasant human being to say the least, however brilliant he might have been. the thing that makes this film work is the acting. period! this is certainly one of the best performances of Mr. Lancaster's long and distinguished career. all of the performances are exceptionally good as a matter of fact. from Telly Savalas in a early role for him to Thelma Ritter as Stroud's mother to Karl Malden to Neville Brand. Mr. Lancaster plays his part mostly in a gentle understated way especially as his character [ Robert Stroud ] ages, it is quite effective. so to wrap this up i have to say historically the film plays loose with the facts but the performances across the board more than redeem this film. if you're a movie buff or a Lancaster fan[ you pretty much have to be 50 or so to even know who Burt Lancaster was I'm afraid to say ] i highly recommend this near great older American film....more info


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