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Escape From Alcatraz (4KUHD)
The fifth and final collaboration between director Don Siegel and leading man Clint Eastwood was 1979's Escape From Alcatraz, based on the book of the same name from J. Campbell Bruce that takes on a real life escape from the titular island prison that took place in 1962.
Set in 1960, the film follows a man named Frank Morris (played by Eastwood) who, after busting out of a few other facilities, is locked away at Alcatraz, the prison island off the coast of San Francisco. Upon his arrival, The Warden (Patrick McGoohan) lets him know in no uncertain terms that no one has ever successfully escape from Alcatraz and that he doesn't except anyone ever well as the security is just that type. While The Warden talks to Morris in his office, the prison's latest addition sneaks a pair of nail clippers from his desk.
As time passes, Morris meets a few of his fellow prisoners like Litmus (Frano Ronzio), English (Paul Benjamin), an older man named Chester "Doc" Dalton (Roberts Blossom) and Charley Butts (Larry Hankin) but soon finds himself on the wrong side of an inmate nicknamed Wolf (Bruce M. Fisher). When they get into a fight after Wolf assaults Morris in the shower room, they're tossed into solitary confinement for a spell. Morris is let out only to learn that Doc, depressed after The Warden takes away his painting privileges, chops off a few of his own fingers.
When two siblings, John Anglin (Fred Ward) and his brother Clarence (Jack Thibeau), are sentenced to time on Alcatraz, Morris is happy to be reunited with the two men he knew from a previous prison stint. When Morris finds that the concrete around a vent in his cell is starting to crack, he learns that he can slowly but surely be chipped away. From here, he teams with the Anglins and Charley to start digging their way out, just as The Warden's tactics start to intensify in frequency and brutality after the incident with Doc.
Efficient in its pacing and very slickly directed, Escape From Alcatraz is a very tense and very well-made thriller that benefits from some great direction from Don Siegel. With cinematography from Bruce Surtees, who worked with the film's director and leading man on quite a few other projects the least of which is Dirty Harry, the movie makes excellent use of just about the best location you could hope to shoot a prison movie in (the bulk of it was shot on location, with some scenes shot in a studio) with Alcatraz itself just as important a character in the film as any of the human players involved in the production. The end result is somehow both extremely gritty yet very polished, a grim film that isn't without moments of humor and even warmth.
Eastwood is perfect in the lead. He's strong and tough but his character is also believably cunning, and if not exactly a hero, at least someone we find ourselves interested in. This isn't a movie that's full of lengthy scenes of dialogue and the film plays to his strengths as the strong, silent type. He looks right for the part and he absolutely pulls it off. The fact that he's surrounded by a really strong supporting cast certainly doesn't hurt (look for a young Danny Glover in a very small role as a prisoner in his first feature film appearance). Fred Ward steals a few of the scenes that he's involved in and delivers excellent work, while Patrick McGoohan is excellent as The Warden, ruling over a group of unruly inmates with an iron fist. Roberts Blossom does a great job of bringing the film's most sympathetic character to life while Frano Ronzio, Pau Benjamin and Jack Thibeau also deliver excellent work in their respective parts.
Kino brings Escape From Alcatraz to UHD in an HVEC encoded 2160p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen with HDR and Dolby Vision enhancement. Generally, this looks good, but it isn't ever reference quality. There's some fairly noticeable digital noise reduction going on here, more noticeable in some scenes (like those that take place outside with a blue sky over top) than others. There's some grain here, but some digital smoothing has definitely been applied and it takes away from what should be a naturally film-like presentation. That issue aside, there's still quite a bit of detail to appreciate and the colors look really good. Some of the interior scenes that take place in low lit do show some minor crush in a few spots. Overall though, this is definitely better than the past Blu-ray edition. Detail is certainly stronger, though it's more obvious in close ups than anywhere else, and there's solid depth to the picture. This isn't a complete disaster, but it definitely does leave room for improvement.
The disc includes the original English 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo mix as well as a 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 option as well. Both tracks are clean and properly balanced without any hiss, distortion or sibilance. The 5.1 mix uses the rear channels well to place the score and sound effects. The 2.0 track still has decent and noticeable moments of separation but not quite as much depth. Whichever option you go for, the audio quality here is quite good.
The only extra on the UHD is a commentary track from Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson. Lots of talk here about the importance of Eastwood's involvement in the film, notes on the history of the production, thoughts on Siegel's career and specific work on this picture, the locations, the cinematography and lots more. It's thorough and interesting.
The second disc, a Blu-ray, includes that same commentary as well as two featurettes, the first of which is the twelve minute The Ghosts Of Alcatraz, which interviews Screenwriter Richard Tuggle. He speaks about initial troubles getting the early version of the screenplay greenlit, getting Siegel and Eastwood on board the importance of the location to the success of the story and his thoughts on the film. The second featurette is Tales From The Cellblock, a fourteen minute interview with Actor Larry Hankin. He talks about landing his part in the film, collaborating with Eastwood, what Siegel was like as a director and specific memories of key scenes that he was involved with.
Finishing up the extras on the disc is the film's original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection options.
Escape From Alcatraz remains a genuinely great film, a movie that is tense, entertaining and extremely well-made. Kino's UHD/Blu-ray edition offers an improvement over past editions but frustratingly leaves room for improvement in the transfer department despite offering good audio and some decent extras. Regardless, the movie is so good that it's difficult not to recommend this.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.