Thursday, June 25, 2015

Clint Eastwood stars in this week's #ThrowbackThursday movie: Escape from Alcatraz


My son has a t-shirt that we bought at least a dozen years ago on a family trip to San Francisco. It's black with an illustration of Alcatraz on it. He used to wear it all the time, hanging down big and baggy, almost covering the tips of his shorts, the way the young boys used to do. At twenty two he still wears it from time to time, except now it actually fits. 


There is something mythical about the idea of the island of Alcatraz and the escape-proof prison, the prison that housed Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly, Micky Cohen and Whitey Bulger. Seeing the title pop up on Netflix, and having those escaped convicts back east on my mind,  I decided to plug Escape from Alcatraz in as this week's #ThrowbackThurday movie. I also confess to a pro-Eastwood bias. Not for his empty chair politics but the other stuff; the movie guy, that's our Clint. While it didn't win any awards, and there are times you wonder how can the guards be so clueless, I loved it and if you've never seen or haven't watched it in awhile, I hope you do too.


Made in 1979—and who doesn't especially love a 1970's Clint Eastwood movie—Escape from Alcatraz details a prison break in 1962,  just one year before they closed the doors of Alcatraz to everyone but the tourists. Take a trip down Lombard Street, ride the cable cars, pick up some pork buns in Chinatown and visit a maximum security prison. Make sure you volunteer to get locked in the solitary confinement cell with the lights off. Good times!

The movie is an exercise in nerve-control as it lays out the process of planning and executing in painstaking detail by Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers, the only escape ever from Alcatraz prison. The only possible escape, that is, prison officials were adamant that Morris (Clint Eastwood) and the other men John Anglin (Fred Ward) and his brother Clarence (Jack Thibeau) could never have survived the journey from the island across the San Francisco Bay. Chilly waters and all. 


Just one of the stories told by J. Campbell Bruce in the nonfiction book Escape from Alcatraz, the movie bets on our fascination with  the concept of escape. The way Tim Robbins hides his escape route behind the sexy posters of Rita Haworth, Marilyn MOnroe and Raquel Welch in Shawshank Redemption, the way the men carried the soil they dug out of the tunnel and carried out in their pant legs, releasing it with each step on the yard, in The Great Escape, the way Clint Eastwood painstakingly forges a digging tool from a spoon and nail clipper: they're all gripping and absorbing examples of the you could hear a pin drop variety of building tension. 


We especially like it when we think the cons are innocent, or at least not cold-blooded killers. None of us would be rooting for those guys from the Clinton Correctional Facility even if they did charm the pants off of that idiotic female prison employee. No, we wouldn't like that. Prison breaks are better left to the movies and to actors with faces like Clint Eastwood. Watchable, mesmerizing faces and strong, no-nonsense do you feel lucky, punk attitudes. Well, do ya?

The film was directed by Don Siegel who helmed a handful of Clint Eastwood movies including Two Mules for Sister Sarah and the iconic Dirty Harry. The screenplay was written by Richard Tuggle who would go on to write and direct Tightrope again starring Clint Eastwood in 1984. He also happens to have co-written one of the Tales from the Crypt episodes that I actually worked on: The Switch, directed by none other than The Governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, back in 1990. It's about a man who will do anything for a younger face. It's pretty creepy, just as Arnold turned out to be. 

We watched Escape from Alcatraz on Netflix but it's available to stream on Google-Play, Vudu and Amazon Instant.


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