Film Review: Escape From Alcatraz (dir by Don Siegel)

The 1979 film, Escape from Alcatraz, opens with Clint Eastwood and a group of policeman taking a barge across San Francisco Bay, heading towards Alcatraz Island.  As any fan of Eastwood’s 1970s film work can tell attest, this is hardly the first time that Eastwood has gone across the bay to Alcatraz.  In The Enforcer, Eastwood went to Alcatraz to kill a bunch of hippies and save the Mayor of San Francisco.  It wasn’t easy but, fortunately, Clint found a rocket launcher.

However, in Escape from Alcatraz, it’s hard not to notice that Clint is wearing handcuffs.  And the cops beat him up while traveling to the island.  And once they reach the prison …. oh my God, they’re making Clint Eastwood walk down a prison hallway naked and shoving him into a cell!  Is this some early form of 60 Days In or could it be that Clint Eastwood is playing a convict?  After starting the 70s in the role of Dirty Harry Callahan, Clint Eastwood ended the 70s playing one of the people who Callahan would have arrested.  (Or, if we’re going to be totally honest, shot.)

Specifically, Clint Eastwood is playing Frank Morris.  The real-life Morris was a career criminal.  He had a genius IQ but he loved to steal and he spent most of his known life in prison.  He was specifically sent to Alcatraz because he had a history of escaping from other prisons.  Because Alcatraz was sitting on an island in the middle of the difficult-to-cross San Francisco Bay, it had a reputation for being inescapable and, indeed, every previous escape attempt had failed and led to someone getting gunned down by the guards.  Morris, of course, immediately started to plot his escape.  Working with three other prisoners, Morris managed to tunnel his way out of the prison.  (Famously, Morris and his accomplices also managed to create papier-mâché dummy heads, which were left in their beds and kept the guards from realizing that they had escaped from their cells.)  No one knows whether Morris and his accomplices managed to cross the bay, though I think most people would prefer to think that they made it to freedom.  Our natural tendency is to root for the underdog, even if they are a group of car thieves fleeing from a federal prison.

For the most part, Escape from Alcatraz sticks to the facts of Morris’s escape.  Of course, because Frank Morris is played by Clint Eastwood, there’s never really much doubt as to whether or not he’s going to figure out a way to get out of the prison.  There’s not a prison in the world that could hold 70s-era Clint Eastwood! 

The casting of Eastwood, however, adds another layer to the story because Eastwood, especially at the time that Escape from Alcatraz was made, was the ideal representation of individualism.  From the minute the smug warden (played by Patrick McGoohan) tells Morris that it will be impossible to escape from Alcatraz, it becomes obvious why Morris has no other option but to escape.  The warden thinks that he can tell the prisoners what to do, when to talk, and what to think.  The warden expects his prisoners to live and act like monks who have taken a vow of silence but, instead of offering the hope of salvation, the warden is more concerned with exercising his own power.  The warden doesn’t flinch at taking away the rights of the prisoners, even after his actions lead to an otherwise harmless prisoner having a mental breakdown and chopping off his own fingers.  As such, Escape from Alctraz is not just another mid-budget, 70s action movie.  Instead, it’s the story of the State (represented by McGoohan) vs the Individual (represented by Eastwood).  It’s a film that says that yes, Frank Morris may be a criminal but he still has a right to his humanity.  Society may want to forget about the prisoners in Alcatraz but Frank Morris has no intention of being forgotten,

Escape from Alcatraz was Eastwood’s final collaboration with the director Don Siegel.  Siegel instinctively understood how to best use Eastwood’s laconic presence.  Siegel previously directed Eastwood in Dirty Harry, another film that featured a conflict between the State and the Individual.  Perhaps even more importantly, Siegel directed the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers, another film in which one man struggles to maintain his humanity and his sense of self.  In many ways, both Alcatraz’s warden and the alien body snatchers are portrayed as having the same goal.  They both want to eliminate free will and human emotion.  In the end, the viewer doesn’t just want Morris to escape because he’s Clint Eastwood.  Instead, the viewer knows that Morris has to escape before he’s robbed of his soul.

(Sadly, Siegel and Eastwood had a bit of a falling out during the direction of Escape from Alcatraz, with Siegel apparently buying the rights to the story before Eastwood could purchase them in order to make sure that Siegel and not Eastwood would be credited as the film’s producer.  This led to a rift between the two men, one that was wasn’t healed before Siegel’s death in 1991.  However, even after their rift, Eastwood continued to say that everything he knew about directing, he learned from watching Sergio Leone and Don Siegel.  Unforgiven was dedicated to both of them.)

Escape from Alcatraz is an enjoyable and entertainingly tense action film, one that convinces us that prison is Hell and which also features one of Eastwood’s best performances.  (Like many actors, Eastwood seems to have more fun playing a rule-breaking rebel as opposed to an upholder of law and order.)  The supporting cast is also great, with McGoohan turning the warden into a truly hissable villain.  Fred Ward, Jack Thibeau, and Larry Hankin all make good impressions as Morris’s accomplices while Roberts Blossom will break your heart as a prisoner who just wants to be allowed to paint.

Personally, I don’t know if Frank Morris survived his escape attempt but I know that Clint Eastwood definitely did.

Music Video of the Day: The Prisoner by Iron Maiden (1982, directed by ????)

Inspired by the cult 60s television show that was created by and starred Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner is one of Iron Maiden’s best songs.  This music video is taken from a 1982 performance at the Hammersmith Odeon.  One thing I like about this performance is that, even in the live show, the song still opened with a recording of McGoohan being interrogated in The Prisoner.

According to the band, getting McGoohan’s permission to use the dialogue from the show was the most intimidating part of recording The Prisoner.  The band’s manager, Rod Smallwood, was the one who called McGoohan.  McGoohan has apparently never heard of Iron Maiden but when Smallwood told them that they were a “rock band,” McGoohan said, “Do it!” and then promptly hung up on him.

Did I pick this song for music video of the day because I’m currently going stir crazy as a result of being locked down for three weeks?  No comment.


Celebrate National Trivia Day With The Actors Who Could Have Been James Bond!


Today is National Trivia Day so I thought why not share some trivia?  I love film trivia.  I especially love trivia about who was considered for certain films.  Hell, one of my most popular posts on the Shattered Lens dealt with all of the actors who were considered for the Godfather!

(I even came up with an alternative cast for The Godfather, even though I consider the actual film to be the best cast film in history.)

I also happen to love the James Bond films.  (Well, not so much the recent Bond films.  I’ve made my feelings on SPECTRE clear.)  As a franchise, I absolutely love them.  So, with all that in mind, here is a look at the actors who could have been Bond.  I’ve compiled this article from many sources.  And yes, you could probably just find a lot of the information on Wikipedia but then you’d miss out on my editorial commentary.

Hoagy Carmichael

Ian Fleming himself always said that his pick for Bond would have been the musician, Hoagy Carmichael.  He even made a point, in Casino Royale, of having Vesper Lynd exclaim that Bond looked like Hoagy Carmichael.  Of course, the first actor to actually play Bond was Barry Nelson in a 1954 television adaptation of Casino Royale.  Nelson is probably best remembered for playing Mr. Ullman in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

Barry Nelson, the first James Bond

When Dr. No went into production in 1961, many actors were considered for the role before Sean Connery was eventually cast.  Many of them were very well-known actors and, had they been cast, Dr. No would not have been remembered as a Bond movie.  Instead, it would be remembered as a star vehicle for … well, let’s take a look at some of the better-known possibilities:

Among the famous actors who were mentioned for Bond in 1961: Cary Grant, Richard Burton, James Mason, Trevor Howard, Stanley Baker, George Baker, Jimmy Stewart, Rex Harrison, and David Niven.  (Of that list, I think Burton would have made for an interesting Bond.  If the Bond films had been made in the 1940s, Grant would have been my first choice.  Trying to imagine Jimmy Stewart as a British secret agent is … interesting.)

Once it became obvious that a star was not going to play Bond, the role was offered to Patrick McGoohan and Rod Taylor.  McGoohan had moral objections to the character.  Rod Taylor reportedly felt that the film would flop.  Steve Reeves, the American body builder who became famous for playing Hercules in Italy, was reportedly strongly considered.  At one point, director Terrence Young wanted to offer the role to Richard Johnson, who later played Dr. Menard in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2.

Of course, the role went to Sean Connery and made Connery a huge star.  In 1967, after Connery announced that he would no longer play the world’s most famous secret agent, there was a huge and widely publicized search for his replacement.  Some of the names that were considered are intriguing.  Others are just bizarre.

Oliver Reed

To me, perhaps the most intriguing name mentioned was that of Oliver Reed.  Reed definitely would have brought a rougher edge of the role than some of the other actors considered.  However, that’s one reason why Reed wasn’t picked.  Apparently, it was felt that he did not have the right public image to play the suave Mr. Bond.

Somewhat inevitably, Michael Caine was sought out for the role.  Caine, however, refused to consider it because he had already starred in three back-to-back spy thrillers and didn’t want to get typecast.  Caine’s former roommate, Terrence Stamp, was another possibility but wanted too much control over the future direction of the Bond films.  Future Bond Timothy Dalton was considered to be too young.  Another future Bond, Roger Moore, didn’t want to give up his television career.  Eric Braeden has the right look for Bond but was German.  Rumor has it that producer Cubby Broccoli even considered Dick Van Dyke for the role, though I find that hard to believe.  An even more surprising possibility was the nobleman Lord Lucan, who was offered a screen test in 1967 and who, ten years later, would vanish after being accused of murdering his children’s nanny.

Lord Lucan

Among the actors who auditioned before George Lazenby was cast in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Michael Billington, Jeremy Brett, Peter Purves, Robert Campbell, Patrick Mower, Daniel Pilon, John Richardson, Anthony Rogers, Hans De Vries, and Peter Snow.

After the mixed reception of both Lazenby’s performance and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Lazenby was soon out as James Bond.  Even today, there’s a lot of controversy about what led to Lazenby being dismissed from the role.  Some say Lazenby demanded too much money.  Some say that Lazenby was merely used a pawn to try to get Sean Connery to return to the role.  Regardless, Lazenby only made one film as Bond.  (Of course, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has retroactively been recognized as being one of the best of the series.)

With Connery still claiming that he would never return to the role, the film’s producers went through the motions of looking for a new Bond.  Once again, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton were considered.  Connery suggested that a talk show host named Simon Dee should play the role.  An actor named Roger Green auditioned.  So did Michael Gambon, though he later said he was turned down because, in his own words, he “had tits like a woman.”  Interestingly, several Americans were mentioned.  Clint Eastwood as James Bond?  Burt Reynolds?  Adam “Batman” West? The mind boggles but their names were mentioned.

John Gavin

And interestingly enough, an American was cast.  John Gavin is best known for playing Sam Loomis in Psycho but he was also, briefly, James Bond.  After Gavin accepted he role and signed a contract, Sean Connery announced that he would be willing to return to the role.  Gavin was paid off and Connery went on to star in Diamonds are Forever.

After Diamonds, Connery left the role for a second time and, once again, Bond was recast.  This time, Roger Moore would finally accept the role.  However, before Moore was cast, several other actors were considered.  Some of the regular possibilities were mentioned again: John Gavin, Simon Oates, Timothy Dalton, and Michael Billington.  Others considered included Jon Finch, Ranulph Fiennes, Peter Laughton, and Guy Peters.  Some of those names are probably as unknown to you as they are to me but it’s intriguing to think that Guy Peters may not be a well-known name but, at one time, there was a possibility that he could suddenly become one of the biggest stars in the world.

Looking over the history of the Bond franchise, it’s interesting to see the number of times that Moore tried to leave the role, just to be talked into returning.  Every time that Moore considered quitting, a new group of actors would be considered for the role of Bond.  In 1979, when Moore said he might not return after Moonraker, Timothy Dalton, Michael Jayston, Patrick Mower (who was also considered for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and Michael Billington were all considered as replacements.  So was Julian Glover.  Ironically, when Moore did agree to return to the role, Glover was cast as the villain in For Your Eyes Only.

David Warbeck

To me, the most intriguing actor mentioned as a replacement for Roger Moore was David Warbeck.  Warbeck was a television actor and model who subsequently had a nearly legendary film career in Italy.  Not only did he play a key role in Sergio Leone’s Duck You Sucker!, but he also starred in Lucio Fulci’s The Black Cat and The Beyond.  He also appeared in the best of Italian Apocalypse Now rip-offs, The Last Hunter.  In interviews, Warbeck claimed that he was under contract to Cubby Broccoli to step into the role in case Roger Moore ever walked off the set.  The likable and rugged Warbeck would have been an interesting Bond.

In 1983, when Moore again said he might not return to the role, Michael Billington (who actually did appear in a Bond film when he played a KGB agent killed at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me) would be once more considered as a replacement.  British TV actors Lewis Collins and Ian Ogilvy were also considered for the role.  In a repeat of what happened with John Gavin in Diamonds are Forever, American actor James Brolin was actually put under contract until Moore agreed to play the role in Octopussy.

James Brolin, in a screen test for Octopussy

After A View To A Kill, Moore left the role for the final time.  Famously, future Bond Pierce Brosnan was actually cast as his replacement until the surge of interest created by his casting led to the renewal of Remington Steele, the American television show in which Brosnan was starring.  Once the show was renewed, Brosnan could no longer work the Bond films into his schedule.

Among the other names mentioned: Sean Bean, Simon MacCorkindale, Andrew Clarke, Finlay Light, Mark Greenstreet, Neil Dickson, Christopher Lambert, Mel Gibson, and Antony Hamilton.  Sam Neill was another possibility and reportedly came very close to getting the role.  Watch any of the films that Neill made when he was younger and you can definitely see hints of Bond.

Sam Neill

In the end, Timothy Dalton finally accepted the role.  Ironically, for an actor who spent 20 years being courted for the role, Dalton turned out to be a bit of a flop as Bond.  He made two movies (both of which were considered to be disappointing when compared to the previous Bond films) and then left the role.

Looking over the contemporary reviews of Dalton as Bond, one thing that comes through clearly is that a lot of people resented him for taking a role that they felt should have gone to Pierce Brosnan.  When the Bond films resumed production with Goldeneye in 1994, Brosnan finally stepped into the role.  Reportedly, if Brosnan had turned down the role, the second choice was Sean Bean.  Much like Julian Glover, Bean may have lost out on 007 but he did end up playing the villain.

Sean Bean

Among the other actors who were reportedly considered before Brosnan accepted the role: Mark Frankel, Paul McGann, Liam Neeson, Russell Crowe, and Lambert Wilson.  Ralph Fiennes, who has been M since Skyfall, was also considered.

As opposed to his predecessors, Brosnan seemed to be very comfortable with the idea of playing Bond and never threatened to leave the role.  Looking over the Bond-related articles that were published from 1995 to 2004, I found the occasional speculation about whether Rupert Everett would be the first gay James Bond or if Sharon Stone would be the first female James Bond but I found very little speculation about Brosnan actually leaving the role.  Indeed, when Brosnan officially retired as Bond in 2004, it was less his decision and more at the prodding of the franchise’s producers, who felt that the series needed to be rejuvenated with a new (and younger) actor.  After Brosnan left, the series was rebooted and Daniel Craig played the role in Casino Royale.

In the past, I’ve made it clear that Daniel Craig is hardly my favorite Bond.  I loved Skyfall (and I consider it to the 2nd best Bond film, after From Russia With Love) but, even in that case, I felt that the film succeeded despite Craig instead of because of him.  With Casino Royale, we were supposed to be seeing a young and inexperienced Bond.  That’s never come through to me, probably because Craig looked like he was nearly 50 years old when he made Casino Royale.

Among the actors who were mentioned for the role before Craig received the role: Ralph Fiennes (again), Colin Salmon, Ewan McGregor, Henry Cavill, Rupert Friend, Julian McMahon, Alex O’Laughlin, Clive Owen, Dougray Scott, and Goran Visjnic.  Dominic West, who I think would have been great in the role, reportedly ruled himself out because he heard a rumor that Brosnan would be returning to the role.

Dominic West

Daniel Craig, of course, has been talking about leaving the role ever since he was first cast.  I think Skyfall would have been a perfect movie for him to leave on.  (It would have saved the world from SPECTRE.)  However, Craig has apparently agreed to do at least one more Bond film.  Maybe two.

When Craig does leave, who will replace him?  Idris Elba, of course, is probably the most widely discussed possibility.  James Norton has also been named as a possibility.  Others that I’ve seen mentioned: Tom Hardy, Jack Huston, Aidan Turner, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, and Henry Cavill (again).

My personal choice?  Dominic Cooper.  He’d be an off-center Bond but I think it would still be an intriguing pick.

Dominic Cooper

Who knows what the future may hold for 007?  All I know is that I look forward to the speculation.

Happy National Trivia Day, everyone!

A Movie A Day #127: Brass Target (1978, directed by John Hough)

Everything’s a conspiracy!

At least, that is the claim made by Brass Target, a twisty and unnecessarily complicated thriller that argues that General George S. Patton (played here by George Kennedy, who is even more blustery than usual in the role) did not, as widely believed, die as the result of a car accident but was actually killed by an assassin using rubber bullets.  Why was Patton targeted for assassination?  Was he targeted by Nazis angered by Germany’s defeat or maybe Russians who knew that Patton had argued in favor of invading the Soviet Union towards the end of the war?  Would you believe it was all because Patton was investigating the theft of Nazi gold and his subordinates, the flamboyantly gay Colonel Donald Rogers (Robert Vaughn) and Rogers’s always worried lover, Colonel Walter Gilchrist (Edward Herrmann), were fearful that he was getting too close to discovering the truth?

John Cassevetes, who hopefully used part of his paycheck to fund either The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, Opening Night, or Gloria, plays Joe De Lucca, the burned out OSS colonel who is assigned to track down the Nazi gold but who really just wants to go back home to New York.  Patrick McGoohan, sporting an accent that is supposed to be American, plays De Lucca’s former friend and colleague, Colonel Mike McCauley, who now lives in a German castle.  Max von Sydow is the assassin, who also has a day job as the chairman of a refugee relocation committee.  Sophia Loren plays Mara, a Polish war refugee who, by pure coincidence, has slept with not just De Lucca but almost everyone involved with the conspiracy.  Bruce Davison is the young colonel who acts as Du Lucca’s supervisor.  Even Charles “Lucky” Luciano (played by the very British Lee Montague) is featured as a minor part of the conspiracy.

That is an impressive cast for a less than impressive movie.  Brass Target never provides a convincing reason as to why the conspirators would decide that killing Patton was their only option and, once the conspiracy gets underway and the movie starts to follow around Von Sydow for some Day of the Jackal/Black Sunday-style preparation scenes, the search for the Nazi gold is forgotten.  For some reason, though, I have a soft spot for this frequently ridiculous movie.  There are enough weird moments and details, like Vaughn’s twitchy performance, McGoohan’s accent, the way Kennedy blusters about the Russians being rude to him, and glamorous Sophia Loren’s miscasting, that Brass Target is always watchable even if it is never exactly good.