AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Birdman of Alcatraz
Director: John Frankenheimer (Dir)
Release Date:   1962
Premiere Information:   Los Angeles opening: 3 Jul 1962
Duration (in mins):   147
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Cast:   Burt Lancaster (Robert Stroud)  
    Karl Malden (Harvey Shoemaker)  
    Thelma Ritter (Elizabeth Stroud)  
    Betty Field (Stella Johnson)  
    Neville Brand (Bull Ransom)  
    Edmond O'Brien (Tom Gaddis)  
    Hugh Marlowe (Roy Comstock)  
    Telly Savalas (Feto Gomez)  
    Whit Bissell (Dr. Ellis)  
    Crahan Denton (Kramer)  
    Leo Penn (Eddie Kassellis)  
    James Westerfield (Jess Younger)  
    Lewis Charles (Chaplain Wentzel)  
    Arthur Stewart (Guard captain)  
    Raymond Greenleaf (Judge)  
    Nick Dennis (Crazed prisoner)  
    William Hansen (Fred Daw)  
    Harry Holcombe (City editor)  
    Robert Burton (Sen. Ham Lewis)  
    Len Lesser (Burns)  
    Chris Robinson (Logue)  
    George Mitchell (Father Matthieu)  
    Edward Mallory (John Clary)  
    Adrienne Marden (Mrs. Woodrow Wilson)  
    Harry Jackson (Reporter)  

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. 

Production Company: Norma Productions, Inc.  
Distribution Company: United Artists  
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)
Photography: Burnett Guffey (Dir of photog)
  Robert Krasker (Co-photog)
Art Direction: Fernando Carrère (Art dir)
Film Editor: Edward Mann (Film ed)
Music: Elmer Bernstein (Mus)
Sound: George Cooper (Sd)
  Robert Reich (Sd eff)
  James Nelson (Sd eff)
Make Up: Robert Schiffer (Makeup)
Production Misc: Gilbert Kurland (Prod mgr)
  A. W. Kennard (Bird handler)
Country: United States

Source Text: Based on the book Birdman of Alcatraz; The Story of Robert Stroud by Thomas E. Gaddis (New York, 1955).
Authors: Thomas E. Gaddis

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Norma Productions, Inc. 3/7/1962 dd/mm/yyyy LP23015

Genre: Biography
Subjects (Major): Alaska
  Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary
  Capital punishment
  Family relationships
  Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary
  Prison violence
  Prison wardens
  Social workers
  Robert Stroud
  Edith Bolling Galt Wilson

Note: Some location scenes filmed in San Francisco. 

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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.
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