Seven Miles from Alcatraz
Cast & Crew
Champ Larkin, an embittered prisoner of Alcatraz Penitentiary, feels little empathy for his country's wartime plight. During a blackout one night, Champ uses the cover of darkness to escape from "the rock," and is accompanied by his cellmate Jimbo. Buoyed by a floating crate, the fugitives are swept along by an ebb tide to an offshore lighthouse inhabited by Captain Porter, his daughter Anne, radio operator Paul Brenner and Stormy. Once ashore, the convicts commandeer the lighthouse and take its residents prisoner. The sudden appearance of the fugitives interferes with the plans of Brenner, who, as a covert Nazi agent, has been sending coded messages between a spy ring in San Francisco and a U-boat anchored off the coast. By exchanging double reverse acrostic puzzles with an onshore radio operator, Brenner sends a message to the spies, notifying them that he will pick them up in the lighthouse boat and deliver them to the submarine at one o'clock that night. Jimbo, who is a fan of acrostics, becomes suspicious of Brenner's coded messages. As Brenner anxiously awaits his appointment, the convicts decide to seize the lighthouse boat and escape to the mainland. When Brenner tries to commandeer the boat for himself, Jimbo mortally shoots him and questions why the radio operator would risk his life for the boat. Meanwhile, on shore, the German spies--Fritz Weinermann, the Baroness and Max--become concerned about Brenner's tardiness and decide to visit the lighthouse. Upon arriving there, Fritz, thinking that Champ is Brenner, reveals their mission. After locking Stormy and the Porters in the cellar, Champ and Jimbo discover that the Germans are carrying a secret plan that details the destruction of San Francisco. When the spies offer the fugitives $25,000 and transportation to South America in exchange for the plan, Champ, declaring that he is "a man without a country," accepts the bargain. As Champ and the Germans negotiate upstairs, Captain Porter picks the lock in the cellar and after escaping, locks Champ and Jimbo in the cellar. When the Germans wrest control of the gun from the captain, Champ hides the plans in the generator. Becoming impatient when the U-boat radios that they must board immediately, Fritz theatens Anne's life unless Champ returns the documents. Although Anne is his daughter, the captain proclaims that he would sacrifice her life for the security of his country. The captain's words convince Champ that the war is his, too, and he and Jimbo overpower the spies and send Stormy for help. When Jimbo is wounded in a fight with Max, Champ holds the Germans at bay while the captain climbs into the light tower and signals the location of the submarine to the mainland. Champ is knocked unconscious after subduing the Germans, but in a half-conscious state hears Anne promise to wait for him to complete his prison term. After the air corps bombs the submarine, Champ and Jimbo return to Alcatraz, where the warden implies that they will receive a reduced sentence for their act of patriotism.
Albert S. D'agostino
Robert De Grasse
Feild M. Gray
John C. Grubb
John D. Klorer
Seven Miles from Alcatraz
Starting off as a prison drama and segueing into an espionage thriller, Seven Miles from Alcatraz (1942), directed by Edward Dmytryk, is a typical low-budget programmer from RKO during the war years that is heavily peppered with pro-American rhetoric and broad anti-Nazi stereotypes. It also throws in a romantic subplot Champ and Anne develop a love-hate relationship and some comic relief in the form of Stormy who is obsessed with growing a vegetable garden on the semi-barren outpost. The real thrust of the film, however, is the conversion of the two convicts from their apathetic stance toward the war to a courageous patriotic act when push comes to shove.
The screenplay and dialogue by Joseph Krumgold are often so overstated and ludicrous that it becomes entertaining in its clumsy attempts to inject propaganda into a standard genre effort. At first Champ is an object of scorn. "You're a new kind of animal," the captain tells him. "You don't seem to have the faintest idea of what it means to be an American, do you?" But once Champ becomes entranced with Anne, he is more than willing to play the hero and is soon shouting lines like "We're up to our necks in Nazis!" Even Jimbo gets in on the patriot act and helps decode some jumbled radio signals of the enemy due to his exceptional crossword puzzle skills.
The villains though provide some of the biggest unintentional laughs in Seven Miles from Alcatraz and are typical of the way Hollywood depicted German and Japanese soldiers and subversives during WWII. The trio that invades the lighthouse in its final act, triggering a climactic symbolic fight between democracy and tyranny, consists of two rigid, humorless German officers aptly named Fritz and Max and an icy blonde baroness who gets some of the campiest dialogue: "As individuals we don't exist. Only one thing lives. The superior race. And to think you can deal with it is a dirty presumption." Another priceless moment features Fritz, the chief German spy, preparing to shoot Champ as he exclaims, "There is no time to convert a man to National Socialism." And just so we know that we're dealing with despicable degenerates here, Anne is tied up at one point and whipped in front of her fellow captives.
With a running time of only 62 minutes, Seven Miles from Alcatraz is briskly paced and a completely serviceable second feature for a double bill with lively performances from B-movie leading man James Craig and blonde ingénue Bonita Granville, who would be featured prominently the following year in Hitler's Children (1943), also directed by Edward Dmytryk, and once again featuring a scene where Ms. Granville is whipped.
Seven Miles from Alcatraz was Dmytryk's first film for RKO but it rates only a brief paragraph in his autobiography: "By the time I had finished Sweetheart of the Campus [1941, for Columbia], my agent had gotten me an interview at RKO. The result was Seven Miles from Alcatraz with James Craig and Bonita Granville. Nazi shenanigans in a lighthouse. Good for experimenting with techniques, and I was getting damned sick of it. But at least I was in new territory." The movie was originally slated as a project for director Al Rogell (Li'l Abner , The Black Cat ) with Robert Preston in the lead but even if that collaboration had occurred, the result would probably have been the same considering the source material, an unpublished short story by John D. Klorer called "Sou'West Pass."
Typical of the film's reception was this review in The New York Times: "If double bills are the cause for pictures like "Seven Miles from Alcatraz"...then there should be no objection to abolishing this bargain-basement-sales policy as a practical war measure. The vital chemicals wasted in the manufacture of film for such an absurd and distasteful melodrama could have been put to far greater use in the making of explosives... Seven Miles from Alcatraz is also several miles from being good melodrama. It has, however, one robust, elemental touch a knockdown drag 'em-out fight sequence that starts on the first level of the lighthouse and continues all the way up the spiral iron stairway to the tower."
Producer: Herman Schlom
Director: Edward Dmytryk
Screenplay: Joseph Krumgold; John D. Klorer (story)
Cinematography: Robert de Grasse
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Feild M. Gray
Film Editing: George Crone
Cast: James Craig (Champ Larkin), Bonita Granville (Anne Porter), Frank Jenks (Jimbo), Cliff Edwards (Stormy), George Cleveland (Captain Porter), Erford Gage (Paul Brenner), Tala Birell (Baroness), John Banner (Fritz Weinermann), Otto Reichow (Max).
by Jeff Stafford
It's a Hell of a Life But Not a Bad Living by Edward Dmytryk
Seven Miles from Alcatraz
This picture was based on the unpublished short story "Sou'West Pass" by John D. Klorer. According to pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter, Al Rogell was originally slated to direct and Lou Greenspan to produce. Another Hollywood Reporter pre-production news item notes that RKO had planned to borrow Robert Preston from Paramount for the lead until Paramount decided to cast Preston in another film. This picture was director Edward Dmytryk's first assignment at RKO. Another news item in Hollywood Reporter adds that stage star Erford Gage's performance in this film won him a term contract at RKO.