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Birdman of Alcatraz

In a story based on fact, Lancaster plays surly, withdrawn inmate Robert Stroud, sentenced to life in prison, who cures a sick bird which flies into his cell one day, and later becomes an internationally recognized ornithologist. Fighting against an overly protective mother (Ritter) and a truculent warden (Malden), Stroud is nonetheless able to continue his research even when sent to Alcatraz, the notorious "Rock" in San Francisco Bay, home to only the most incorrigible prisoners. Finally, though, after an abortive romance (Field) and a prison riot which he helps quell, Stroud is able to tell his remarkable story to writer Tom Gaddis (O'Brien, playing the author of the film's source biography), who brings it to the world. THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ has great production values, moving if sometimes plodding, overly deliberate scripting, and efficient direction from black-and-white specialist Frankenheimer which strives mightily to overcome the essentially static nature of the storyline. Lancaster's star turn in the title role, typically bravura yet more restrained than usual, plays a vital role in holding this lengthy movie together while staving off sentimentality in the process. Nominated for Best Actor, Lancaster lost to Gregory Peck for his role in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Malden is typically Malden, but Savalas, as one of Stroud's fellow inmates, and the reliable Ritter make the most of their roles and received supporting Oscar nominations, as did Guffey's skillful cinematography.