Escape from Alcatraz (1979)

PG | 112 mins | Drama | 1979

Director:

Don Siegel

Writer:

Richard Tuggle

Producer:

Don Siegel

Cinematographer:

Bruce Surtees

Editor:

Ferris Webster

Production Designer:

Allen Smith

Production Company:

Malpaso Company
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HISTORY

       The film represented writer Richard Tuggle’s first produced screenplay. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Tuggle visited Alcatraz, the former federal penitentiary island in San Francisco bay, CA, as a tourist during the mid-1970s and became intrigued with the real-life story of the three escaped convicts whose whereabouts were never discovered. When Tuggle was laid off from his job in health publishing, he used the opportunity to pursue a screen adaptation and contacted J. Campbell Bruce, author of the 1963 non-fiction book Escape from Alcatraz. After reaching an agreement with Bruce, Tuggle was able to obtain permission from the publisher, McGraw-Hill. Skeptical that a fledgling screenwriter could realize the project, McGraw-Hill simply relinquished film rights in a letter. While researching the 1962 escape, Tuggle had access to newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records about the case.
       On advice from Bruce, Tuggle approached director Donald Siegel, who had previously indicated interest in the book and had written a treatment titled The Rock in 1966. Siegel was impressed with Tuggle’s script and purchased it for $100,000, as reported in a 28 Aug 1978 LAT article. Siegel submitted the property to Paramount Pictures Corp. where it was swiftly approved for production. The LAT article mentioned that the budget was $8 million.
       The film marked the fifth and final collaboration between Siegel and actor Clint Eastwood. They were both familiar with Alcatraz; the director visited the prison while researching Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954, see entry) and Eastwood filmed there during production of The Enforcer (1976, ... More Less

       The film represented writer Richard Tuggle’s first produced screenplay. According to production notes in AMPAS library files, Tuggle visited Alcatraz, the former federal penitentiary island in San Francisco bay, CA, as a tourist during the mid-1970s and became intrigued with the real-life story of the three escaped convicts whose whereabouts were never discovered. When Tuggle was laid off from his job in health publishing, he used the opportunity to pursue a screen adaptation and contacted J. Campbell Bruce, author of the 1963 non-fiction book Escape from Alcatraz. After reaching an agreement with Bruce, Tuggle was able to obtain permission from the publisher, McGraw-Hill. Skeptical that a fledgling screenwriter could realize the project, McGraw-Hill simply relinquished film rights in a letter. While researching the 1962 escape, Tuggle had access to newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records about the case.
       On advice from Bruce, Tuggle approached director Donald Siegel, who had previously indicated interest in the book and had written a treatment titled The Rock in 1966. Siegel was impressed with Tuggle’s script and purchased it for $100,000, as reported in a 28 Aug 1978 LAT article. Siegel submitted the property to Paramount Pictures Corp. where it was swiftly approved for production. The LAT article mentioned that the budget was $8 million.
       The film marked the fifth and final collaboration between Siegel and actor Clint Eastwood. They were both familiar with Alcatraz; the director visited the prison while researching Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954, see entry) and Eastwood filmed there during production of The Enforcer (1976, see entry).
       Prior to shooting, the filmmakers spent two months updating the crumbling facility with electrical wiring and restoring the early 1960s appearance, at a cost of approximately $500,000. With the supervision of the National Parks Service, the production was careful to preserve Alcatraz’s legacy, such as remnants left by the Native American occupation during the late 1960s, and used only temporary paint to cover historical markings. They also agreed not to impede tour groups to the fortress, which often necessitated shooting at night. According to the 28 Aug 1978 LAT article, principal photography began 16 Oct 1978 at Alcatraz. Shooting continued there for seven weeks, followed by soundstage work at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, CA. A 22 Jan 1979 HR brief announced that filming had completed.
       Escape from Alcatraz was Paramount’s highest grossing release during the summer of 1979, reaching close to $35 million after nine weeks, per a 12 Sep 1979 Var item.
      End credits include the following written epilogue, "A massive search was conducted for Frank Morris, John and Clarence Anglin. Law enforcement agencies were certain they would find the bodies. They never did. Alcatraz was closed less than a year later."
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
1 Dec 1978.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jan 1979.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Jun 1979
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
28 Aug 1978
Section H, p. 7.
Los Angeles Times
22 Jun 1979
Section E, p. 26-27.
New York Times
22 Jun 1979
p. 5.
Variety
20 Jun 1979
p. 18.
Variety
12 Sep 1979.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
Paramount Pictures Presents
A Malpaso Company/Siegel Film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
2d asst dir
Prod mgr, studio features
PRODUCERS
Prod
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Cam op
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Cam asst
Key grip
Gaffer
Best boy
Still photog
Best boy
Rigging gaffer
Dolly grip
Dolly grip
Company grip
Company grip
Generator op
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Sketch artist
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATORS
Const coord
Prop master
Set des
Set des
Set des
Asst prop master
Swing boss
Labor foreman
Standby painter
Const coord
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Ward man
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
Sd eff ed
Sd eff ed
Sd mixer
Re-rec mixer
Boomman
Cable man
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Titles and opticals by
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Assoc to Mr. Siegel
Scr supv
Dial coach
Transportation coord
Transportation co-capt
Transportation co-capt
Casting
Auditor
Unit pub
Secy to the unit prod mgr
Secy to the prod
Secy to the dir
Prod, studio
Animal trainer
First aid
Extra casting, L.A.
Casting, S.F.
Secy to exec prod
COLOR PERSONNEL
Color by
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the book Escape from Alcatraz by J. Campbell Bruce (New York, 1963).
SONGS
"D Block Blues," by Gilbert Thomas, Jr.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1979
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 22 June 1979
Production Date:
16 October 1978--mid January 1979
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corporation
Copyright Date:
6 September 1979
Copyright Number:
PA43473
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision®
Duration(in mins):
112
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
25555
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On the night of 18 January 1960, convict Frank Morris enters the federal penitentiary at Alcatraz, an island fortress situated in San Francisco bay, California. Soon after arriving, Frank is summoned to the office of the warden, who warns him that Alcatraz is unique within the U.S. prison system for its exceedingly high level of security. According to his file, Frank has an exceptional I.Q. and has absconded from other facilities, but the warden informs him that no inmate has ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz. During the conversation, the warden fails to notice that Frank has stolen one of the nail clippers on the desk. Among the inmates, Frank makes acquaintances with “Litmus,” who keeps a pet mouse, “English,” an African American man serving two life sentences, and Chester “Doc” Dalton, an elderly man who paints portraits and once grew Chrysanthemum flowers at Alcatraz. However, Frank also encounters a bully named Wolf, who harasses him in the showers and later attacks him in the prison yard with a knife. The guards break up the fight, and both men are sent to solitary confinement cells in D block. After being released from the brutal, isolated conditions, Frank settles into the routine of Alcatraz and a job in the carpentry shop. He also befriends a new inmate in the adjoining cell, Charley Butts. Meanwhile, Doc’s painting privileges are permanently withdrawn without explanation. Devastated, he intentionally chops off three of his fingers in the carpentry shop. Frank and the other inmates soon learn that the warden found a portrait of himself among Doc’s paintings and was responsible for ordering the sadistic ... +


On the night of 18 January 1960, convict Frank Morris enters the federal penitentiary at Alcatraz, an island fortress situated in San Francisco bay, California. Soon after arriving, Frank is summoned to the office of the warden, who warns him that Alcatraz is unique within the U.S. prison system for its exceedingly high level of security. According to his file, Frank has an exceptional I.Q. and has absconded from other facilities, but the warden informs him that no inmate has ever successfully escaped from Alcatraz. During the conversation, the warden fails to notice that Frank has stolen one of the nail clippers on the desk. Among the inmates, Frank makes acquaintances with “Litmus,” who keeps a pet mouse, “English,” an African American man serving two life sentences, and Chester “Doc” Dalton, an elderly man who paints portraits and once grew Chrysanthemum flowers at Alcatraz. However, Frank also encounters a bully named Wolf, who harasses him in the showers and later attacks him in the prison yard with a knife. The guards break up the fight, and both men are sent to solitary confinement cells in D block. After being released from the brutal, isolated conditions, Frank settles into the routine of Alcatraz and a job in the carpentry shop. He also befriends a new inmate in the adjoining cell, Charley Butts. Meanwhile, Doc’s painting privileges are permanently withdrawn without explanation. Devastated, he intentionally chops off three of his fingers in the carpentry shop. Frank and the other inmates soon learn that the warden found a portrait of himself among Doc’s paintings and was responsible for ordering the sadistic penalty. In his cell one day, Frank sees an insect climb into the ventilator grill underneath the sink. Using the nail file he stole from the warden, he chips off a piece of the wall around the opening. Along with brothers John and Clarence Anglin, who are Frank’s friends from another prison sentence, and Charley, Frank plans an escape. Because the moist air and the salt water surrounding Alcatraz have softened the concrete foundation and corroded the metal, Frank thinks they can dig an opening around their ventilators large enough to crawl through and access the shaft leading to the roof. To mislead the guards during head counts, Frank suggests making papier-mâché dummy heads, using flesh-colored paint and hair from the barbershop. Since John works in the clothing shop, he can secure raincoats that can be combined with contact cement to make a raft and life preservers. As Charley keeps watch, Frank continues to scoop out his opening with the nail file and uses an accordion to disguise the hole. He later sneaks a spoon from the cafeteria and welds it to the file to provide a better grip for digging. Using a wedge taken from the carpentry shop, he is able kick out the metal grill and takes his first peak into the shaft. Charley and Angil start to chisel their openings, while Frank creates his dummy head. When the decoy is finished, Frank lays the head on the cot as if he is sleeping and takes his first trip into the passageway. Initially the guard is fooled by the dummy, but later becomes suspicious when he notices that Frank has not moved. However, Frank returns to the cot before the decoy is exposed. The following day, Frank learns that the Anglin brothers are making progress on their openings and heads, but Charley is behind schedule. During the next trip into the passageway, John brings the raincoats and begins preparing the flotation devices. Meanwhile, Frank investigates the iron rods and hood blocking the exit to the roof and devises a makeshift drill to remove their structural support. With the passageway clear and the rafts almost ready, Frank schedules the escape for Tuesday night. Later, during mealtime, Frank places a chrysanthemum at the table in honor of Doc, but the warden stops by and crushes it, reminding Frank of regulations. Litmus is enraged, but as he reaches out to grab the warden, he suffers a fatal heart attack. Later, the warden requests a shakedown of Frank’s cell and finds nothing unusual. However, when he hears that Frank and Charley stay up late conversing, he issues orders for the two inmates to be relocated to different cells as soon as possible. Meanwhile, Wolf has been released from solitary confinement and prepares to stab Frank with a knife, but English is able to intercept him. That night, Frank, John, Clarence and Charley plan to meet in the passageway and escape. However, Charley panics and fails to rendezvous with them. Carrying the flotation gear, Frank and the brothers access the roof and avoid the searchlights. From there, they scramble down the side of the building into the prison yard, climb over a barbed-wire fence and make their way to the shore of the island where they inflate the raft. The three men enter the water and begin kicking. At sunset, the guard orders Frank to get up and prepare for relocation to a new cell. When there is no response, the guard slaps the head and it rolls on the floor. The alarm sounds and English smiles, knowing that Frank has escaped. As police search the area, there is no evidence to indicate whether or not the three inmates survived, but the warden does not want to blemish his perfect record and insists they drowned. On a rock by the shore, he finds a chrysanthemum and throws it in the water. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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