Movie Review: Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the 1979 movie starring Clint Eastwood and Fred Ward.

Synopsis: Frank Morris is transferred to Alcatraz maximum security prison in 1960 and, after noticing the concrete around a vent in his cell is weak and can be chipped away, comes up with a plan to escape the inescapable prison and shares the plan with three other inmates he has befriended. The movie is a dramatic re-telling of a real-life escape attempt that occurred in 1962.


I had seen pieces of this movie in the past but, despite the fact it looked interesting, never seemed to be able to find the time to watch the entire film. This finally occurred this past weekend (after some difficulty) and, after finally watching the movie in its entirety, I have to say I was actually much more impressed with it than expected.

I like Clint Eastwood but always felt his movies, or at least the characters he plays in them, were a bit too similar to each other. And, when I started watching this film, I was expecting that to be the case this time too. However, even though he still manages to be the tough guy in this film, I liked how the movie focused more on him using his brains and allegiances with other inmates. 

Along those same lines, unlike many other movies I've watched, the talented ensemble cast in this film was not wasted. This was actually the first time I remember seeing Fred Ward in a movie that wasn't related to the Tremors films (he was probably in other films too, I just don't remember him) and he did a great job holding his own when paired with the top-billed Eastwood. And Hankins' character, Charley Butts, was also very likable though, at times, I did admittedly think he was going to double cross everyone.

The film was also surprisingly fast paced. I figured, since the actually digging out of the prison was going to take time, the movie would start to drag on. However, that was not the case. There were plenty of entertaining scenes leading up to the escape, including a couple that were surprisingly intense because, for a while at least, it looked like the escape attempt would be discovered. Plus, as I said, it was hard to know who they could trust since the group seemed to be sharing their plan with just about everyone and I found it hard to believe every single inmate would be willing to keep their secret.

Final Opinion

This probably won't ever be one of my favorite Clint Eastwood films. However, the movie was much better than I was expecting it to be and, overall, I found I enjoyed it. I do recommend taking the time to watch it if you get a chance.

My Grade: A

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Updated: 01/04/2016, StevenHelmer
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DerdriuMarriner on 03/29/2022

StevenHelmer, Thank you for practical information, pretty pictures and product lines.
The library system does have Escape from Alcatraz among its Blu-ray and DVD collections. Online sources indicate that this escape helped finalize the decision to close Alcatraz and that perhaps the escapees really survived.

What would you think of a colored reboot or remake, and who would you envision stepping into Clint Eastwood's interpretive shoes?

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