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I saw Escape from Alcatraz on tv back in the day, more than once. It was one of those 'watch it because it is playing' types of thing. In my mind, anything I saw on the tele while growing up qualifies as a TV movie. That's not to denigrate in any way, it is simply to explain that I find it difficult to imagine the event of seeing this as a film in a theatre - you know, seeing it on purpose.
My biggest concern seeing this again after so many years was with the score. 70s and 80s movies have a distinct look and feel that could seem a bit cheesy today, and I worried this one might be all Chuck Mangione like. It wasn't. I was surprised that while there was 'music' throughout, it was more akin to industrial sounds, which I liked. So with by biggest fear out of the way I am happy to report that Escape from Alcatraz is just as good as I remember it.
I had never realized how many silent scenes there were. Having since seen and adored Rififi, I kept thinking how this film could compare in that sense. It might have been better had they not included score through those silent scenes, but I'm quite sure the 1979 North American audience would not have taken to that. Nevertheless, those escape preparation and execution scenes were right up there with some of the best.
Back when I used to watch this I wasn't thinking critically about movies, but now that I do, I can say that I wish the mean Warden had not been so cruel. I prefer more subtlety in films now, no doubt because of too much exposure to the idea that the good protagonist needs a wicked antagonist for motivation. It wasn't necessary here because our boys don't want to escape the Warden; they want to escape prison. They already have their motivation.
The best thing about Escape from Alcatraz, as in most prison escape films, is how they plan the escape, and I've always found this one believable (perhaps because it is based on a real event). I like how it is mostly clinical and procedural, rather than all dramatic with Big Music.
I want to say that there are a few clichés in terms of prison movie characters, like the bully who wants to harm, the new kid who needs protection, the gang and its leader, but the more I think about it the more I realize that their interactions are not so commonplace because all of them were in prison before so it isn't like the new guy has to be shown the ropes and that sort of thing. In that sense the film is quite successful.
I'm glad this one stood the test of time.
I'm particularly glad that I can put to rest the idea that I love it because I grew up with it.