As an inmate at Leavenworth prison, Robert Stroud has a series of confrontations with the guards and with the other convicts. When Stroud kills a guard, he is sentenced to be executed, and only his mother's impassioned intervention gets his sentence commuted to life imprisonment, which he must serve in solitary confinement.
As he serves out his sentence in boredom and despair, one day he finds a helpless baby sparrow in the exercise yard. Stroud soon takes a deep interest in caring for birds, which gives him a new purpose in life, but which also brings new conflicts with prison authorities.
Burt Lancaster ... Robert Stroud
Karl Malden ... Harvey Shoemaker
Thelma Ritter ... Elizabeth Stroud
Neville Brand ... Bull Ransom
Betty Field ... Stella Johnson
Telly Savalas ... Feto Gomez
Edmond O'Brien ... Tom Gaddis
Hugh Marlowe ... Roy Comstock
Whit Bissell ... Dr. Ellis
Crahan Denton ... Kramer
James Westerfield ... Jess Younger
Director: John Frankenheimer
Nominated for 4 Oscars
Codecs: DivX 5 / AC3
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 cliché 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!
NB: the real Robert Stroud was never allowed to watch the film.
There are many combinations in Hollywood that produce fine work; and, then, there are those that produce tremendous work. Directors and actors can often be at odds, but when they are in sync, something wonderful can come of it. Hitchcock made classics with Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant; Scorcese and Deniro transcend their contemporaries; and Burt Lancaster and John Frankenheimer made great movies together.
I've always liked Burt Lancaster. At first, I had only seen his swashbucklers and his westerns. But, as I discovered his dramas, my respect grew. Lancaster was the perfect leading man. He was tall, good looking, charming, and loaded with charisma. What's more, he had talent. He could turn out a pirate yarn or play a con artist who finds love; a marshall in the most famous gunfight, or a general who abandons his oath; a ghost of a doctor who gets that one at-bat, or a prisoner who becomes an expert on birds. Lancaster is brilliant in this film.
Lancaster was more than a movie star; he was an actor. He never sought the easy route, his life had never been easy. Maybe that's why his movies stand out. Nothing good ever comes easy.
Lancaster presents a brilliant portrayal of Robert Stroud. Whether it is historically accurate or not is beside the point. Lancaster represents the indomitable human spirit; no matter what challenge life throws at him, he rises above. Lancaster is understated in this role, but so powerful. He doesn't need method or make up or any tricks; just his humanity.
So many movies shine due to the presence of Lancaster; but his collaborations with Frankenheimer shine brightest. Frankenheimer is highly underrated, due to his later work; but, there was a period when he was one of the best. The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Train, and Birdman of Alcatraz are clear examples of his talent. Do yourself a favor, when you see a movie in the video store, or on tv, look for the names Frankenheimer and Lancaster. If you find them, watch the movie. You'll be glad you did.
* Stroud really should be known as the "Birdman of Leavenworth," since it was there that he kept his birds and did his research. He was not actually allowed any birds during his time at Alcatraz.
* Robert Stroud died the day before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; therefore news of his death was not well publicized.
* Stroud was actually imprisoned in cell #42 located in the D Block. According to Frank Heaney, a former prison guard (1948-51), Stroud was anything but the sympathetic character as portrayed by Burt Lancaster. He was an extremely difficult and demented inmate who, though highly intelligent, was a villain and a psychopath.
* Karl Malden (Leavenworth warden Harvey Shoemaker) introduces a new warden to the institution. He identifies one of the prisoners as "Sekulovich", Malden's own real name.
* Due to this popular movie, the real Robert Stroud became one of the most famous inmates of the federal prison at Alcatraz, second only to mob boss Al Capone.
* At one point, the real Robert Stroud had over 400 birds in his cell.
* Charles Crichton was fired several weeks into production to be replaced by John Frankenheimer.
* According to the biography of Robert Stroud on the Court TV website, Stroud killed the prison guard because he was denied a visit from his brother, not his mother as portrayed in the film.