Birdman of Alcatraz

Robert Stroud, “the birdman,” had no birds at Alcatraz-all the canaries sang at Leavenworth. Put that oversight aside and you still have a cagey drama about one man's redemption behind prison bars. Seventy-two years of age when the film was made, double murderer Stroud had spent forty–three years in solitary confinement. Not penned in by the part, Burt Lancaster gives a remarkable age-eclipsing performance as an inmate who begins with unbridled bitterness and ends, decades later, in a state of resigned optimism. The moniker of “birdman” wasn't just a jailhouse handle-after rescuing an injured sparrow, Stroud conducted ornithological research in his cell, publishing his authoritative Digest on the Diseases of Birds. Inside the existential confines of the prison, Stroud has few contacts-the hateful warden (Karl Malden), fellow con Feto (Telly Savalas), his compassionate guard (Neville Brand) who helps foster the flock, and a few others. Slowly unfolding this well-feathered fable about determined dignity, director Frankenheimer shows us why the caged birdman sings.

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