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Escape from Alcatraz

Movie poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Don Siegel
Produced by Don Siegel
Written by J. Campbell Bruce (book)
Richard Tuggle
Starring Clint Eastwood
Patrick McGoohan
Music by Jerry Fielding
Editing by Joel Cox
Studio The Malpaso Company
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) June 22, 1979
Running time 112 min.
Country United States
Language English

Escape from Alcatraz is a 1979 American thriller film, directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood that dramatizes the one possibly successful escape from the maximum security prison on Alcatraz Island. The film co-stars Fred Ward, and also features Patrick McGoohan as the suspicious, vindictive warden, and features the film debut of Danny Glover.



The film is based on the non-fiction book Escape from Alcatraz by J. Campbell Bruce.[citation needed]

It chronicles the story of Frank Morris (Eastwood) and brothers John (Ward) and Clarence Anglin (Jack Thibeau), who have the distinction of being possibly the only people to ever escape from the Alcatraz prison.

A cold, atmospheric thriller, the film captures many of the difficulties of prison life and the conditions of Alcatraz prison before it was closed down permanently, shortly after the escape.

There is some hint at the end of the film that the escape was successful, but in fact it remains a mystery as to whether the escapees succeeded or not.

A cell in Alcatraz


Chiseled cell air vent in Alcatraz

Screenwriter Richard Tuggle spent six months researching and writing a screenplay about the true story. He went to the Writers Guild and received a list of literary agents who would accept unsolicited manuscripts. He submitted a copy to each, and also to anybody else in the business that he could cajole into reading it. Everyone rejected it, saying it had poor dialogue and characters, lacked a love interest, and that the public wasn't interested in prison stories. Tuggle then decided to bypass producers and executives and deal directly with filmmakers. He called the agent for director Don Siegel and lied, saying he had met Siegel at a party and the director had expressed interest in reading his script. The agent forwarded the script to Siegel, who read it, liked it and passed it on to Clint Eastwood, who agreed to star in it.[1]

Background and filming

Alcatraz was closed shortly after the true events on which the film was based. It is not known whether the three escapees survived as their bodies have never been found.

Although Alcatraz had its own power plant, it was no longer functional, and fifteen miles of cable were required to connect the island to San Francisco's electricity. A great deal of work was required to restore the prison to its 1962 state. Many of the improvements were kept intact after the film.

The dangerous escape down the prison wall and into the water was performed without doubles by Eastwood, Fred Ward and Jack Thibeau (who had both been cast partly for their athleticism). Director Siegel twice thought they had been lost to the treacherous currents.


Clint Eastwood Frank Morris
Larry Hankin Charley Butts
Jack Thibeau Clarence Anglin
Fred Ward John Anglin
Patrick McGoohan Warden
Paul Benjamin English
Frank Ronzio Litmus
Roberts Blossom Chester "Doc" Dalton
Bruce M. Fischer Wolf Grace
Fred Stuthman Johnson
David Cryer Wagner
Madison Arnold Zimmerman

Siegel makes a cameo appearance as the prison doctor.

Danny Glover makes his film debut in a brief appearance as an inmate.


The film took $5,306,354 in the U.S. on its opening weekend from June 24, 1979, shown on 815 screens. In total the film earned $43,000,000 in U.S. theaters and $21,500,000 from rentals.


  • The Sutro Tower (breaking ground in 1971 and completed in 1973) is pictured in the movie's opening sequence while at the same time on-screen text indicates the plot year to be 1960.
  • When Frank Morris smuggles the metal wedge through the detector, there is an oscilloscope connected to the detector loop that was not made until the 1970s.
  • The Coast Guard cutter searching for escapees has a red diagonal stripe painted on the hull near the bow. This stripe was not adopted by the Coast Guard until 1967.
  • On the boat ride over to the prison from San Francisco a radar unit can be seen spinning on top of the boat. That type of radar transponder wasn't developed until the mid 1970s.
  • In his first meeting with Morris, the unnamed warden, played by Patrick McGoohan, refers to his "predecessors, wardens Johnston and Blackwell". In fact Olin Blackwell was warden of Alcatraz at the time of Morris' escape.[2]


  1. ^ Litwak, Mark (1986). Reel Power: The Struggle For Influence and Success in the New Hollywood. New York: William Morrow & Company. pp. 131–132. ISBN 0-688-04889-7. 
  2. ^ A History of Alcatraz Island: 1853-2008 by Gregory L. Wellman, published by Arcadia Publishing in June 2008, ISBN 978-0738558158

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