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Sunday, December 25, 2016

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979)

With a typically blunt, self-evident title, this late Don Siegel film is a fact-inspired paradigm of his signature no-frills æsthetic. Clint Eastwood, perfectly cast as a new prisoner on the fortress-like isle, there after escaping from other establishments, is determined to do the impossible: get out. The film, sticking to a moderate pace as it moves steadily forward (like a great conductor holding the tempo on Ravel’s BOLERO), refuses facile acceleration to force tension; instead, putting its faith in dispensing or withholding just the information needed to gain the desired effect. How Siegel got this out of newbie scripter Richard Tuggle (only two credits after this) is something of a mystery for this most unsung of American film masters. Bruce Surtees, who did a lot of late Siegel (and early Eastwood), puts out beautiful steely images though the DVD long available from Paramount needs an upgraded transfer to clean up some dark, murky sequences and its non-anamorphic WideScreen. The cast could hardly be bettered, with a big career bump for Fred Ward as a fellow escapee, and a masterful piece of work from an alarmingly good Patrick McGoohan as the cold-blooded warden.* With fat-free story development and nearly abstract characters (backstories are few and far between), the film is both model & acme, a masterclass in commercial Hollywood minimalism.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Patrick McGoohan is one of those actors best-remembered for tv work with too much technical facility for their own good, and taken for granted because of it.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Siegel’s chapter on this film in his auto-bio, A SIEGEL FILM, is particularly lively & funny, a neat look at late-‘70s studio politics & obstacles.

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