Birdman of Alcatraz


2h 23m 1962
Birdman of Alcatraz

Brief Synopsis

True story of Robert Stroud, the prison lifer who became an expert on birds.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Biography
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 3 Jul 1962
Production Company
Norma Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States
Location
San Francisco, California, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Birdman of Alcatraz; The Story of Robert Stroud by Thomas E. Gaddis (New York, 1955).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 23m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1

Synopsis

In 1909, Robert Stroud kills a man in Alaska and is sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He forfeits his chance for parole when he knifes another prisoner. While serving time at Leavenworth, he murders a prison guard who refuses to let his mother visit him, and he is condemned to death. Before his execution can be carried out, however, his mother visits Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, who persuades the president to commute Stroud's sentence to life imprisonment. The prison warden, Harvey Shoemaker, informs Stroud that he will spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. One day during exercise period in the isolation yard, he finds a wounded sparrow and takes it to his cell. Secretly he nurses the bird back to health and then teaches it to perform tricks. When Warden Shoemaker is replaced by a kindlier man, Stroud is given permission to keep his pet and also to have other birds in his cell. Through endless study, he becomes an authority on caged birds and eventually writes a textbook on their diseases. After winning a prize in a magazine competition, he is visited by Stella Johnson, a lonely widow who suggests that they manufacture his remedies. A change in the prison set-up threatens to deprive Stroud of his birds, but he finds a legal loophole that will permit him to marry Stella while he is still in solitary confinement. The newspaper publicity which is created permits him to carry on his work. Then he is abruptly transferred to Alcatraz where his old nemesis, Shoemaker, is warden. When Stroud is informed that he can no longer keep his birds, he shifts his interest to caged men and writes a book on penology. Shoemaker, however, has the work confiscated. Stroud acts as a peacemaker in a prison riot and is transferred to a minimum security farm at Springfield, Missouri. As he leaves Alcatraz, he is met by Tom Gaddis, a social worker and writer who became Stroud's defender by writing Bird Man of Alcatraz in 1955.

Photo Collections

Birdman of Alcatraz - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), starring Burt Lancaster. One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Biography
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 3 Jul 1962
Production Company
Norma Productions, Inc.
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States
Location
San Francisco, California, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Birdman of Alcatraz; The Story of Robert Stroud by Thomas E. Gaddis (New York, 1955).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 23m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Actor

1963
Burt Lancaster

Best Cinematography

1963

Best Supporting Actor

1963

Best Supporting Actress

1963
Thelma Ritter

Articles

Birdman Of Alcatraz


Based on a 1955 biography by Thomas E. Gaddis, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) is the story of Robert Stroud, a hardened criminal who was convicted of a murder in Alaska and later killed a guard while serving time in Leavenworth Prison. Through the efforts of his mother, Stroud's death sentence was commuted to a life sentence at Alcatraz and it was there that he had a life-altering experience. After nursing a wounded sparrow back to health in his prison cell, Stroud devoted himself to the study of birds, eventually acquiring over 300 birds and establishing himself as one of the world's leading authorities on canaries.

Director Joshua Logan was originally slated to do the picture but that changed when the project was passed to producer Jack Cummings who dropped his option after encountering resistance from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Screenwriter Guy Trosper then took his script to executive producer Harold Hecht, who felt it offered a great role for his partner, Burt Lancaster. The actor not only agreed to play Stroud but became heavily involved in all the creative decisions, including the selection of the cast and crew. British director Charles Crichton, who was most famous for his comedies, soon proved to be an inappropriate choice for helming the feature and was fired after a week of filming. On the rebound, Hecht managed to get a commitment from director John Frankenheimer whom Lancaster had previously worked with on The Young Savages (1961). Ironically, Frankenheimer had once been approached to do a live television drama about Robert Stroud, but it proved too difficult to film due to the unpredictable nature of working with birds on live TV, among other reasons.

According to Gary Fiskgall in his biography, Against Type: The Life of Burt Lancaster, the filming of Birdman of Alcatraz was an emotional experience for everyone. Lancaster said, "One of the problems an actor faces, and it's a very dangerous thing, is to get so involved in a role he loses control of what he is doing. With Birdman of Alcatraz - I couldn't stop crying throughout the film. I mean, if there was a line when someone said, 'Sorry, Stroud, you can't have your parole,' I'd burst into tears."

Co-star Karl Malden, cast in the role of Warden Harvey Shoemaker, probably felt like crying too when he was faced with numerous rewrites of the script constantly. He would learn his lines the night before only to be confronted with pages of new dialogue to memorize at the morning's shoot. Later, he admitted that his on-set frustrations with Lancaster helped create the necessary on-screen dramatic tension between his character and Stroud's.

Frankenheimer faced a more serious dilemma than Malden. He was stuck with a final cut that ran four and a half hours. In John Frankenheimer: A Conversation With Charles Champlin, the director said, "Lancaster had been offered a part in Judgment at Nuremberg and he didn't know what to do. I said, 'You go do Judgment at Nuremberg and we'll re-write the script.' That's what we did. Then we went back and re-shot the whole first part of the movie. As it happened, Burt now had to wear a toupee over his own hair. There's not a frame of the movie in which you see Burt's own hair. But the result was the movie you see. I was never allowed to meet the birdman, Robert Stroud. Lancaster finally saw him after the movie was completed. And Stroud himself was never allowed to see the movie. He died without having seen it."

Birdman of Alcatraz was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actor (Lancaster lost to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird), Best Supporting Actor (Telly Savalas - he lost to Ed Begley for Sweet Bird of Youth), Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter - she lost to Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker), and Best Cinematography by Burnett Guffrey. Unfortunately, Elmer Bernstein's touching, evocative score was not nominated but it remains one of his career highpoints.

Producer: Harold Hecht (executive producer), Stuart Millar, Guy Trosper
Director: John Frankenheimer
Screenplay: Thomas E. Gaddis (book), Guy Trosper
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey
Film Editing: Edward Mann
Original Music: Elmer Bernstein
Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Robert Stroud), Karl Malden (Harvey Shoemaker), Thelma Ritter (Elizabeth Stroud), Neville Brand (Bull Ransom), Betty Field (Stella Johnson).
BW-149m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford

Birdman Of Alcatraz

Birdman Of Alcatraz

Based on a 1955 biography by Thomas E. Gaddis, Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) is the story of Robert Stroud, a hardened criminal who was convicted of a murder in Alaska and later killed a guard while serving time in Leavenworth Prison. Through the efforts of his mother, Stroud's death sentence was commuted to a life sentence at Alcatraz and it was there that he had a life-altering experience. After nursing a wounded sparrow back to health in his prison cell, Stroud devoted himself to the study of birds, eventually acquiring over 300 birds and establishing himself as one of the world's leading authorities on canaries. Director Joshua Logan was originally slated to do the picture but that changed when the project was passed to producer Jack Cummings who dropped his option after encountering resistance from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Screenwriter Guy Trosper then took his script to executive producer Harold Hecht, who felt it offered a great role for his partner, Burt Lancaster. The actor not only agreed to play Stroud but became heavily involved in all the creative decisions, including the selection of the cast and crew. British director Charles Crichton, who was most famous for his comedies, soon proved to be an inappropriate choice for helming the feature and was fired after a week of filming. On the rebound, Hecht managed to get a commitment from director John Frankenheimer whom Lancaster had previously worked with on The Young Savages (1961). Ironically, Frankenheimer had once been approached to do a live television drama about Robert Stroud, but it proved too difficult to film due to the unpredictable nature of working with birds on live TV, among other reasons. According to Gary Fiskgall in his biography, Against Type: The Life of Burt Lancaster, the filming of Birdman of Alcatraz was an emotional experience for everyone. Lancaster said, "One of the problems an actor faces, and it's a very dangerous thing, is to get so involved in a role he loses control of what he is doing. With Birdman of Alcatraz - I couldn't stop crying throughout the film. I mean, if there was a line when someone said, 'Sorry, Stroud, you can't have your parole,' I'd burst into tears." Co-star Karl Malden, cast in the role of Warden Harvey Shoemaker, probably felt like crying too when he was faced with numerous rewrites of the script constantly. He would learn his lines the night before only to be confronted with pages of new dialogue to memorize at the morning's shoot. Later, he admitted that his on-set frustrations with Lancaster helped create the necessary on-screen dramatic tension between his character and Stroud's. Frankenheimer faced a more serious dilemma than Malden. He was stuck with a final cut that ran four and a half hours. In John Frankenheimer: A Conversation With Charles Champlin, the director said, "Lancaster had been offered a part in Judgment at Nuremberg and he didn't know what to do. I said, 'You go do Judgment at Nuremberg and we'll re-write the script.' That's what we did. Then we went back and re-shot the whole first part of the movie. As it happened, Burt now had to wear a toupee over his own hair. There's not a frame of the movie in which you see Burt's own hair. But the result was the movie you see. I was never allowed to meet the birdman, Robert Stroud. Lancaster finally saw him after the movie was completed. And Stroud himself was never allowed to see the movie. He died without having seen it." Birdman of Alcatraz was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actor (Lancaster lost to Gregory Peck for To Kill a Mockingbird), Best Supporting Actor (Telly Savalas - he lost to Ed Begley for Sweet Bird of Youth), Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter - she lost to Patty Duke for The Miracle Worker), and Best Cinematography by Burnett Guffrey. Unfortunately, Elmer Bernstein's touching, evocative score was not nominated but it remains one of his career highpoints. Producer: Harold Hecht (executive producer), Stuart Millar, Guy Trosper Director: John Frankenheimer Screenplay: Thomas E. Gaddis (book), Guy Trosper Cinematography: Burnett Guffey Film Editing: Edward Mann Original Music: Elmer Bernstein Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Robert Stroud), Karl Malden (Harvey Shoemaker), Thelma Ritter (Elizabeth Stroud), Neville Brand (Bull Ransom), Betty Field (Stella Johnson). BW-149m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Jeff Stafford

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)


Elmer Bernstein, the film composer who created unforgettable music for such classics as The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, and won his only Academy Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie, died of natural causes at his Ojai, California home on August 17. He was 82.

Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer.

Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954).

Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music.

After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969).

His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)

Elmer Bernstein, the film composer who created unforgettable music for such classics as The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, and won his only Academy Award for Thoroughly Modern Millie, died of natural causes at his Ojai, California home on August 17. He was 82. Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer. Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954). Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music. After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969). His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

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.

After the film's release, many letters were written pleading for Robert Stroud's release. Despite his sympathetic portrayal by Burt Lancaster, Stroud was a conniving and volatile sociopath who killed two people in prison (one a guard he stabbed in full view of the Leavenworth cafeteria), stabbed an orderly who snitched on his escape plan, wrote child pornography and (as an old man at a parole hearing) said that he "had a lot of people left to kill and I don't have much time to do it."

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.

Notes

Some location scenes filmed in San Francisco.

Miscellaneous Notes

Winner of the Best Actor Prize (Lancaster) and the San Giorgio Prize at the 1962 Venice Film Festival.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1962

Director John Frankenheimer died July 6, 2002 of a stroke at the age of 72.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1962

Voted One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1962 National Board of Review.