Imprisoned for murder, Robert Franklin Stroud (Burt Lancaster – Elmer Gantry, From Here to Eternity) is incarcerated with his death sentence commuted to life in solitary in both Leavenworth (Kansas) and, later, Alcatraz prisons. Over time, Stroud becomes something of a renowned bird expert and the centre of many appeals for parole.
A quiet yet towering central performance from Lancaster creates a reflective, thoughtful bio of a time when imprisonment was pure punishment with no thoughts of rehabilitation. Director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin) tackles a difficult subject as Stroud fights the system to win grudging, redemptive respect from the likes of prison governor Karl Malden (On the Waterfront, Patton) who oversees both Leavenworth and Alcatraz prisons.
Nominated for 4 Oscars in 1963 – best actor, supporting actor (Telly Savalas), supporting actress (Thelma Ritter as Stroud’s mother) and cinematography.