Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)

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Released 12-Feb-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1962
Running Time 142:31
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (73:36) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Frankenheimer

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Burt Lancaster
Karl Malden
Thelma Ritter
Telly Savalas
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music Elmer Bernstein

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Based on a true story, Birdman of Alcatraz is the story of prison inmate Robert Stroud. Played by Burt Lancaster, Stroud is a career convict. A man who, up to the making of the film in 1962, had spent almost his entire life in prison. Just before World War I he was convicted of murder and sentenced to a long term in Leavonworth prison in Kansas. It is apparent that Stroud is a fairly troubled and violent individual and when his temper gets the better of him, he kills a prison guard with whom he is having an altercation. This time around, leniency is not shown and Stroud is summarily sentenced to death by hanging. The current warden of Leavonworth, Harvey Shoemaker (Karl Malden) barely hides his hatred for a man he tried to give a second chance, but who has now lost all right to life. Shoemaker strives to make Stroud's last days as difficult as possible. But, somehow Stroud's mother, Elizabeth (Thelma Ritter), manages to get the sentence commuted to life imprisonment after a frantic plea to the President, with the rider that her son must serve the term in total solitary confinement. The time locked away by himself begins to have an effect on the highly violent murderer. When he rescues a small injured bird from a storm in his exercise yard, it appears that a softer side to the hardened criminal may be just below the surface and ready to break through. He is allowed to care for this bird, and others that he manages to collect. This is a turning point for a man who was considered a lost cause. The rest of the film chronicles Stroud's life behind bars, as he manages to study and even publish work on caring for birds and in particular diseases that affect them. He is eventually moved to the famous Alcatraz prison in San Francisco, and his ability to keep his birds is finally removed from him.

    Solidly directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) and based on a true story, but with apparently some poetic licence taken to increase the drama, this is a complex tale that really is a story on many levels. The simple will of a man to succeed and not let the system get the better of him is at the heart of Stroud's existence. Rehabilitation versus punishment in the justice system and the value of the death penalty are also themes that are visited. Whatever your stance on the subject, this film will leave you pondering that controversial debate.

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Transfer Quality


    Despite the 1962 vintage and this being a black and white film, the quality overall was more than passable. Presented in the original theatrical ratio of 1.66:1, the transfer is not 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is actually quite sharp and detailed. There is a little edge enhancement present, but it does not intrude on the enjoyment of the film. Some of the shadow detail is a little lacking at times and there is substantial grain in many scenes, but I never got tired of it. There appears to be no low level noise. The black and white tones are quite solid, the blacks especially. It certainly lacks any of the real three-dimensional punch that quality black and white productions enjoy, but it is more than adequate for the vintage.

    I saw no MPEG artefacts. Film artefacts were certainly not as numerous as I expected them to be, however there are a couple of glaring examples scattered throughout. A rather large white splotch at 2:30 and even the existence of some reel change markings at 17:34 sully an otherwise mostly clean print.

    There are several subtitle options present. I sample the English variety extensively and while not perfectly verbatim, they are close. The are presented in a solid white typeface on a dark grey background which does intrude slightly on the image.

    This is a dual layered disc that is RSDL formatted. The layer change occurs at 73:36, and is quite well placed, though very obvious.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    I wasn't expecting a whole lot in audio terms with this disc. There are a total of five audio soundtracks available. They are all Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtracks encoded at the bitrate of 192 Kb/s. Available languages are English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. I sampled only the English soundtrack. Overall this is quite a plain and at times harsh soundtrack. It lacks any real fidelity, but it is pretty much exactly what I expected.

    Dialogue is adequate, but is hampered by its monaural source, being quite flat and lifeless at times. There are no audio sync problems.

    Elmer Bernstein's score is fairly typical of early 60s drama, but it does contain some unique, poignant  moments. Quite loud and brash at times, and at others quiet and restrained, it suits the prison setting, though it does come across as being a little clichéd some forty years later.

    There is no surround or subwoofer use.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer

    Can you say grubby? More grain and film artefacts than you can poke a stick at. Running for 2:56 minutes, this is a pretty standard 60s style trailer. It is presented with 1.33:1 black and white video and mono sound.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 version of this DVD misses out on the additional soundtracks that the Region 4 disc is graced with. In all other respects it is identical. I'll certainly favour the local version for the slightly better specifications and PAL formatting.


    This is an interesting film to say the least. It is quite complex and on further exploration is so much more than just a story about a convicted criminal who finds some redemption in his life.

    The video is black and white, though even with no 16x9 enhancement is actually quite sharp and clean. A couple of large film artefacts are about the only major blemish.

    The audio is mono, with little fidelity or range. Don't expect too much and you won't be disappointed.

    The extras are limited to a rather ordinary trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Darren Walters (It's . . . just the vibe . . . of my bio)
Thursday, February 27, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDLoewe Xemix 5106DO, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Calida (84cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationHarmon/Kardon AVR7000.
SpeakersFront - B&W 602S2, Centre - B&W CC6S2, Rear - B&W 601S2, Sub - Energy E:xl S10

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