AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Summary View of Movie
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Birdman of Alcatraz
Director: John Frankenheimer (Dir)
Release Date:   1962
Duration (in mins):  147
Print this page
Display Movie Detail

Cast: Burt Lancaster  (Robert Stroud)
  Karl Malden  (Harvey Shoemaker)
  Thelma Ritter  (Elizabeth Stroud)

Summary: In 1909, Robert Stroud kills a man in Alaska and is sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He forfeits his chance for parole when he knifes another prisoner. While serving time at Leavenworth, he murders a prison guard who refuses to let his mother visit him, and he is condemned to death. Before his execution can be carried out, however, his mother visits Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, who persuades the president to commute Stroud's sentence to life imprisonment. The prison warden, Harvey Shoemaker, informs Stroud that he will spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement. One day during exercise period in the isolation yard, he finds a wounded sparrow and takes it to his cell. Secretly he nurses the bird back to health and then teaches it to perform tricks. When Warden Shoemaker is replaced by a kindlier man, Stroud is given permission to keep his pet and also to have other birds in his cell. Through endless study, he becomes an authority on caged birds and eventually writes a textbook on their diseases. After winning a prize in a magazine competition, he is visited by Stella Johnson, a lonely widow who suggests that they manufacture his remedies. A change in the prison set-up threatens to deprive Stroud of his birds, but he finds a legal loophole that will permit him to marry Stella while he is still in solitary confinement. The newspaper publicity which is created permits him to carry on his work. Then he is abruptly transferred to Alcatraz where his old nemesis, Shoemaker, is warden. When Stroud is informed that he can no longer keep his birds, he shifts his interest to caged men and writes a book on penology. Shoemaker, however, has the work confiscated. Stroud acts as a peacemaker in a prison riot and is transferred to a minimum security farm at Springfield, Missouri. As he leaves Alcatraz, he is met by Tom Gaddis, a social worker and writer who became Stroud's defender by writing Bird Man of Alcatraz in 1955. 

Distribution Company: United Artists
Production Company: Norma Productions, Inc.
Director: John Frankenheimer (Dir)
  Dave Silver (Asst dir)
Producer: Harold Hecht (Pres)
  Stuart Millar (Prod)
  Guy Trosper (Prod)
  Harold Hecht (Exec prod)
Writer: Guy Trosper (Scr)

Subject Major: Alaska
  Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
  Capital punishment
  Family relationships
  Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary
  Prison violence
  Prison wardens
  Social workers
  Robert Stroud
  Edith Bolling Galt Wilson

Display Movie Detail
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.