BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ [1962 / 2018] [Blu-ray + DVD] [UK Release] Inside the Rock Called Alcatraz They Tried to Chain a Volcano Called “The Bird Man”

Often acknowledged as one of the best prison films ever made. ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ was director John Frankenheimer’s first huge success and received rave reviews for its performances, which was helped with the great cinematography Burnett Guffey and John Frankenheimer’s directing.

Burt Lancaster stars as the notorious prisoner, Robert Stroud, sentenced to a life of solitary confinement for murdering a prison guard. When he finds an injured sparrow in the prison yard, Stroud nurses it back to health and discovers a new calling in life. Over the years he becomes a renowned ornithologist, and even a respected author, achieving a greater sense of purpose behind prison walls than many in the outside world will ever know. With an all-star cast that includes Karl Malden (‘A Streetcar Named Desire’), Thelma Ritter (‘Pickup on South Street’), Telly Savalas (‘The Dirty Dozen’) and Edmond O Brien (‘The Barefoot Contessa’), The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to present John Frankenheimer’s ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK.

FILM FACT No.1: Awards and Nominations: 1962 Venice Film Festival: Win: San Giorgio Prize for John Frankenheimer. Win: Volpi Cup for Best Actor for Burt Lancaster. Nominated: Golden Lion Award for John Frankenheimer. 1963 Academy Awards®: Nominated: Best Actor in a Leading Role for Burt Lancaster. Nominated: Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Telly Savalas. Nominated: Best Actress in a Supporting Role for Thelma Ritter. Nominated: Best Cinematography in Black-and-White for Burnett Guffey. 1963 Golden Globes: Nominated: Best Actor in a Drama for Burt Lancaster. Nominated: Best Supporting Actor for Telly Savalas. 1963 BAFTA Film Award: Win: Best Foreign Actor for Burt Lancaster [USA]. 1963 Directors Guild of America: Nominated: DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for John Frankenheimer. 1963 Laurel Awards: Nominated: Golden Laurel Award for Top Drama. Nominated: Golden Laurel Award for Top Male Dramatic Performance for Burt Lancaster. Nominated: Golden Laurel Award for Top Female Supporting Performance for Thelma Ritter. 1963 Writers Guild of America: Nominated: WGA Award (Screen) for Best Written American Drama for Guy Trosper.

FILM FACT No.2: The film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ was to have been the American film debut for British director Charles Crichton until he clashed with Burt Lancaster and was replaced by John Frankenheimer. According to Strother Martin, "I had a nice role in Birdman of Alcatraz. They fired the original director, Charles Crichton, and I went out with him. I was replaced by Leo Penn who was eventually cut out of the picture entirely."

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Neville Brand, Betty Field, Telly Savalas, Edmond O'Brien, Hugh Marlowe, Whit Bissell, Crahan Denton, James Westerfield, Robert Bailey (uncredited), Nicky Blair (uncredited), John Burnside (uncredited), Robert Burton (uncredited), Mushy Callahan (uncredited), James J. Casino (uncredited), James Cavanaugh (uncredited), Lewis Charles (uncredited), Noble 'Kid' Chissell (uncredited), Nick Dennis (uncredited), Tom Gilson (uncredited), Raymond Greenleaf (uncredited), William Hansen (uncredited), Wayne Heffley (uncredited), William Hellinger (uncredited), Harry Holcombe (uncredited), John Indrisano (uncredited), Harry Jackson (uncredited), Pete Kellett (uncredited), Len Lesser (uncredited), Fred Libby (uncredited), Mike Mahoney (uncredited), Edward Mallory (uncredited), Adrienne Marden (uncredited), Eric Martin (uncredited), Michael Masters (uncredited), Leo V. Matranga (uncredited), Kermit Maynard (uncredited), Joe McGuinn (uncredited), David McMahon (uncredited), George Mitchell (uncredited), Pat Moran (uncredited), Leo Penn (uncredited), Chris Robinson (uncredited), Victor Romito (uncredited), Ben Roseman (uncredited), Michael Ross (uncredited), Myrna Ross (uncredited), Art Salter (uncredited), Phil Schumacher (uncredited), Ray Spiker (uncredited), Irving Steinberg (uncredited), Art Stewart (uncredited), Dale Van Sickel (uncredited), Frankie Van (uncredited), Anton von Stralen (uncredited) and Robert B. Williams (uncredited)    

Director: John Frankenheimer  

Producers: Guy Trosper, Harold Hecht (uncredited) and Stuart Millar

Screenplay: Guy Trosper (screenplay) and Thomas E. Gaddis   (book) 

Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Make-up: Robert J. Schiffer

Bird Handler: A.W. Kennard (uncredited)

Cinematography: Burnett Guffey, A.S.C. (Director of Photography) and John Alton (Director of Photography) (uncredited)

Camera Operator: James Saper (uncredited) and Richard H. Kline, A.S.C. (uncredited)

Image Resolution: Blu-ray: 1080p and DVD: 1080i (Black-and-White)

Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1

Audio: English: 2.0 LPCM Stereo Audio
English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo Audio

Subtitles: English

Running Time: 148 minutes

Region: Region B/2

Number of discs: 2

Studio: Metro Goldwyn Mayer / EUREKA! Entertainment

Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ [1962] is a biopic film of imprisoned murderer Robert F. Stroud [Burt Lancaster], who was sentenced to spend 53 years in solitary confinement on the island prison. Discovering a new purpose when he nurses a sick sparrow back to health, he begins to study birds and over the ensuing decades becomes a renowned authority on the subject. Also starring in the film is Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter and Telly Savalas.

While serving a life sentence and in indefinite solitary confinement, convicted murderer Robert F. Stroud began raising birds. In so doing, he educated himself and discovered cures for several avian diseases, eventually publishing his work. Based loosely on Robert F. Stroud’s life, and director  John Frankenheimer’s 1962 film is a stately and moving depiction of the man’s capacity for dignity and improvement.

‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ is among the better entries to the canon of 1960’s films depicting man’s innate dignity, and a worthy and admirable portrayal of the redemption of individual dignity against an unjust system, and a powerful statement that liberty comes from within. Yhe film gets a glossing over the more unsavory qualities of the real convict and a former thief and pimp who killed a bartender. Burt Lancaster’s portrayal of the onscreen Robert F. Stroud is as a quiet, self-assured rebel and refuses to kowtow to Warden Harvey Shoemaker’s [Karl Walden] insistence on a blind adherence to the rules, even when his unbending principles land him in solitary confinement.

Warden Harvey Shoemaker is a brilliantly hateful villain and bumptious jobs worth, ceaselessly pedantic and officious. Yet his early two-dimensional characterization does eventually give way to nuance, particularly in the film’s final act, in which Warden Harvey Shoemaker r realizes he is unwittingly grown old with Robert F. Stroud. For all his ostensible freedom, he’s spent most of his life alongside convicts, behind bars just like them. The irony is that both ends up on the inescapable Alcatraz Island and are lost on neither man.

Telly Savalas as Feto Gomez brings levity as Robert F. Stroud’s neighboring solitary inmate, Gomez, an affable lank  ultimately broken by the crushing conformity of prison life. It’s here at Leavenworth Prison where the majority of the story is set, where Robert F. Stroud first discovers an abandoned nest housing a baby sparrow. At his lowest ebb,  the helpless, squawking creature gives him a purpose and routine, and in so doing, gives him cause to rediscover his humanity.

The film is at its strongest here, particularly visually, where the bird-cages that fills Robert F. Stroud’s cell give cinematographer Burnett Guffey ample opportunity to explore the liberating irony of a convict surrounding himself with cages. Later, during the climactic riot scene on Alcatraz, the visuals go fully into expressionist mode. The ransacked cells become all shadows and unsettling angles, a dark night of the soul for Robert F. Stroud as he is finally redeemed by a dying man who reminds him of the inherent value of living; even it is from within a cage.

Real-life killer Robert F. Stroud was apparently quite unlike the tough, taciturn inmate portrayed by Burt Lancaster here in director John Frankenheimer's thought-provoking study of one man's attempt to survive an unforgiving prison system. Robert F. Stroud used his years in solitary confinement to become a world authority on ornithology, despite the cruel injustices meted out by the prison warden and convincingly played by Karl Malden. Burt Lancaster was Oscar-nominated for his performance, which is ranked by many to be one of the finest of his career. Burt Lancaster is well supported by fellow nominees Telly Savalas and Thelma Ritter, and by the “Streets of San Francisco” star Karl Malden. Burnett Guffey's masterly black-and-white cinematography perfectly captures the claustrophobia of life in jail.

‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ is a totally amazing triumphant tour-de-force film, and if you have never seen the film, then you are missing something really unique and special and especially the actor Burt Lancaster who plays the real life notorious criminal killer Robert F. Stroud and that is why Burt Lancaster deserved to win the award for Best Actor for Burt Lancaster in 1962 Venice Film Festival.

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Blu-ray Image Quality – Metro Goldwyn Mayer and EUREKA! Entertainment presents us the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ with a wonderful 1080p image and is viewed with a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. The Blu-ray was sourced from the M-G-M master and it is a decent master, and really looks good in high-definition, especially when cinematographer Burnett Guffey pulls out all the stops and makes the Black-and-White image presentation sings with perfection. There is very little normal film damage to the film except for one shot at 03:31. The exterior night shot of a train is clearly a library shot, which sadly is very dirty and several generations away from an original negative and it is either that or John Frankenheimer's crew were pretty cack-handed with the original negative. At 38' 53" there's an odd jump cut mid-shot as if someone has deliberately cut out a frame and at 45' 50" a join judders through the gate warps the image. It's only four frames or so but it comes exactly at one of the most emotional moments of the film. If you are not sure whether to get the Olive Films Blu-ray release or the EUREKA! Entertainment Blu-ray release, then I definitely recommend the EUREKA! Entertainment release, because this is a much better image presentation, because the difference is especially obvious if you view this film on a large screen or via a video projector. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.

Blu-ray Audio Quality – Metro Goldwyn Mayer and EUREKA! Entertainment brings us the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ with just one standard 2.0 LPCM Stereo Audio experience. The audio is nicely rounded and also gives us a good dynamic range and is also very clear, well-modulated sound with no distortion or age-related surface noise, pops, or crackles. Subtleties, such as the delicate chirping of birds and shuffling of feet, are nicely rendered, while sonic sounds like gunfire, thunder, and the slamming of cell doors provide some good audio presentation. Elmer Bernstein's robust and dramatic film music score fills the room with great ease, and all the soft-spoken dialogue is very easy to understand. But with the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ tends to be most of the time very quiet, but the silences are clean and there is an elegant resonance to this understated track that's quite effective. So is a very good effort on the part of EUREKA! Entertainment!  

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Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:

Special Feature: Audio Commentary with Paul Seydor, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman [Audio only] [2018] [1080p] [1.66:1] [148:28] With this featurette, you get to experience a wonderful interesting and fascinating audio commentary with film historian, editor and producer Paul Seydor, and is moderated by Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman should serve as a template for more of the same, especially with other Blu-ray releases. Because this is not a group of three fans salivating over how good the film is, this audio commentary audio offers something commentaries do not usually provide – drama! Here we are first introduced to Paul Seydor Paul Seydor and moderated by Twilight Time’s Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman here is where both of them have moments of different strong opinions and it's good-natured and beautifully orchestrated by Nick Redman's soothing tones to calm the situation, as it could of got out of hand, because there are moments in this audio commentary where some fire and sparks started to get out of hand and of course it is only right we get some kind of balance out of this situation. Julie Kirgo as you will hear, to a small degree, somewhat compromised by her love for the film. Everyone gives their opinion on the history of the film and the dark nature of Robert Stroud evil intentions before he went into prison and the harsh realities of Robert Stroud enjoyed shooting birds and there were at the time there was no protection of bird’s organisations. They all comment that 1962 seems to have been an amazing year for world cinema. They also comment about the scene in the film of the extraordinary shot of the hatching bird. Near the end of this audio commentary, there is a very nice exchange between Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman modern Hollywood, you will have to make up your mind if you agree with these two and their audio commentary.

Special Feature: Illusion of Freedom: Richard H. Kline on John Frankenheimer’s ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ [2015] [1080p] [1.66:1 / 1.78:1] [28:26] With this featurette, we get to experience a new video piece by Richard H. Kline on the filming of ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ and we also get to hearing about a first-hand account of the shooting of John Frankenheimer's film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.’ In 1962, veteran cinematographer Richard H. Kline, A.S.C. who worked as a camera operator where he had to manoeuvre the camera for director of photography Burnett Guffey, A.S.C., on John Frankenheimer’s classic prison drama ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ and starring Burt Lancaster as the real-life notorious criminal killer Robert F. Stroud. In this exclusive interview, filmed in 2015, Richard H. Kline remembers in much more detail how this true story was finally brought to the screen, but also talks in-depth about the actor Burt Lancaster in playing the character of the real life cruel notorious criminal Robert F. Stroud [1890 – 1963] who we are informed had a really notorious temper and had no respect for authority. What is also fascinating is when Richard H. Kline focuses on the production value and informing us that cinematographer Burnett Guffey insisted that the film be shot in black-and-white, because if it was shot in colour the background would overpower the actors, as the film is character driven in black-and-white. On top of all that, again if it was filmed in colour, they would have had to use massive amount of lights that would have caused a lot of intolerable problems for the bird as they would have suffered really badly from the heat of the lights. Richard H. Kline talks about that the birds had to be trained to perform in the film and this was done by a wonderful professional man named Mr. A.W. Kennard who did an amazing job learning all the birds you see in the film, and took many months of hard work training all the birds before the film went into production. Richard H. Kline says that actor Burt Lancaster had a great deal of input into the film with cooperation with the director John Frankenheimer and also his process of getting into his character when he was 49 years old at the time of shooting and had to play a 20 year old right up to 70 years of age and it is a very impressive achievement and performance, one you tend to take for granted, and is helped with the hair and make-up by Robert J. Schiffer. So all in all we get to hear some really fascinating detail about the background detail on the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ with this special feature that is well worth viewing. One thing I found very negative about viewing this featurette with Richard H. Kline, is the terrible horrible skin problem on his face and bald head that to me made for very uncomfortable viewing experience while Robert J. Schiffer talks about his experience working on the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.’ Of course now again we get several clips for the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.’

Special Feature:  Sheldon Hall on the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ [2018] [1080p] [1.78:1 / 1.66:1] [35:30] With this featurette, we get to view this exclusive brand new interview with film historian Sheldon Hall who is an enormously well informed and well-prepared, who also gives us the overview on the genesis behind the production value and post-production of the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ that was equally brilliantly directed by the genius director John Frankenheimer. Sheldon Hall also informs us how the real Robert F. Stroud was revealed as more of a monster given the supposedly true historical facts and surprising ones, and watch the film and when you have viewed this special feature remember how history can be perverted in the name of so called entertainment. In America at the time when Robert F. Stroud had been in solitary confinement for some considerable time, there was a movement to get Robert F. Stroud paroled in the latter stages of his life. Sheldon Hall gives us much more in-depth information that was eluded from the audio commentary. Sheldon Hall also informs us that United Artists was reluctant to reveal that Robert F. Stroud’s aggressive homosexuality activity, but was also rumoured to have serious paedophile feelings and wrote several stories about having sex with young children and that is why the authorities and the bureau were very reluctant to be involved with the film and to also release Robert F. Stroud into the civilian population. In the last year of Robert F. Stroud’s life he was very ill and was admitted into the United States federal prison in Springfield Medical Center in Missouri and eventually Burt Lancaster finally got to meet this notorious criminal Robert F. Stroud to get an insight into the mind of this person and to have a sort of personal friendship so that Burt Lancaster could be able to play Robert F. Stroud in the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.’ On the 21st November, 1963, Robert F. Stroud died at the Springfield Medical Center at the age of 73, having been incarcerated for the last 54 years of his life, of which 42 were spent in solitary confinement. Robert F. Stroud was interred in the old Masonic Cemetery near Metropolis, Illinois, after a private funeral ceremony at Aikins-Farmer Funeral Home on the 25th November 1963. This special feature by Sheldon Hall is a totally fascinating accompaniment to the film and vital if you are at all interested in the detail of the history of this amazing story and also about the real Robert F. Stroud, is not to be missed. Of course once again we get to view several clips from the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.’

Special Feature: Original Theatrical Trailer [1962] [1080i] [1.66:1] [3:04] With this featurette, we get to view the Original Theatrical Trailer for the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.’ This is an earnest and cleverly structured original trailer and identifying Robert Stroud, who was still alive when the film was released and also shows that he was a stalwart American convict, and a genius. The real Robert Stroud was eventually tagged as "the most defiant man alive," who may have appealed to the rebel in all of us, but Burt Lancaster was the draw here and the trailer exploits his personality to the maximum. The dialogue throughout the film certainly contains the rebellious mood and attitude, like "I will not be pushed, filed, stamped, indexed, briefed, debriefed, or numbered."

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DVD Special Features and Extras:

Special Feature: BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ [1952] [1080i] [1.66:1] [148:00]

Special Feature: Special Feature: Audio Commentary with Paul Seydor, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman [Audio only] [2018] [1080i] [1.66:1] [148:18]

Special Feature: Illusion of Freedom: Richard H. Kline on John Frankenheimer’s ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ [2015] [1080i] [1.66:1 / 1.78:1] [28:25]

Special Feature:  Sheldon Hall on the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ [2018] [1080p] [1.78:1 / 1.66:1] [35:28]

Special Feature: Original Theatrical Trailer [1962] [1080i] [1.66:1] [3:04]

PLUS: FIRST PRESSING ONLY: A beautiful collector’s 32 page booklet featuring new writing on the film by Travis Crawford entitled BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ. But we also get PRODUCTION NOTES and PRODUCTION CREDITS. A nice selection of rare archival imagery from the films production. Plus a selection of some rare film posters from around the world.

BONUS: Reversible printed Blu-ray cover featuring original artwork and a Black-and-White scene from the film ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ.’

Finally, ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ [1962] is a totally cracking and beautiful film, full of strong drama, superb performances and is surprisingly moving at times. There is of course some terrific supporting other actors performances, it is Burt Lancaster's film and showed you what this great American actor can do at the top of his game and why he deservedly received his awards. ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ is a somewhat watered down of a portrait of Robert Stroud as a real monster but a rehabilitated one, a man whose own moral code allows him to commit a murder and accept the consequences. Robert Stroud who also committed a further killing because of his ferocious temper and excepts that price as well on his own terms. ‘BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ’ is a surprisingly very moving performance from Burt Lancaster and is a stunning and a heartfelt portrait of a real man played by an actor not known for revealing his cinematic sensitivity. So finally, this film is a true Hollywood classic and well viewing and if you have not got this Blu-ray in your collection, then this is definitely a must purchase. Very Highly Recommended!

Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado 
Le Cinema Paradiso 
United Kingdom

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