Birdman of Alcatraz

1962 | Docudrama | 143 minutes | English


Robert Stroud is imprisoned as a young man for committing a murder in Alaska. His rebellious attitude puts him in conflict with Harvey Shoemaker, the prison warden. While in jail his mother, Elizabeth, is denied visitation. This enrages Stroud. In a struggle with a guard, Stroud stabs the guard to death and is sentenced to die. Elizabeth runs a successful campaign for clemency and Stroud’s sentence is reduced to life in prison.  One day, while Stroud is exercising in the prison courtyard, he notices an injured sparrow. He’s able to restore the sparrow back to health. Before long, Stroud acquires in his tiny cell a collection of cages and birds. He learns how to treat injured and sick birds to the point that he becomes a celebrity outside prison. His biggest fan in the prison is fellow inmate Feto Gomez.  Stroud later meets bird-lover Stella Johnson and together they go into  business  providing remedies and treatments for sick and injured birds. Stroud achieves final satisfaction when writer, Thomas E. Gaddis, agrees to start working on his biography.   

Burt Lancaster (Robert Stroud) / Thelma Ritter (Elizabeth Stroud) / Karl Malden (Harvey Shoemaker) / Telly Savalas (Feto Gomez) / Betty Field (Stella Johnson)
Why Stream This Film?
Can anyone believe that a man incarcerated for committing two murders, serving a life sentence, forty-three years in solitary confinement, would become a renowned expert on birds? It all started when Robert Stroud picked up an injured sparrow in the prison courtyard while he was exercising. What a story!   
  • Rotten Tomatoes Score (Critics Consensus): 86%
  • Metacritic Score: 76
  • Academy Awards: Nominated: Best Actor (Burt Lancaster); Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Telly Savalas); Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Thelma Ritter); Best Cinematography, Black and White (Burnett Guffey)
  • BAFTA Awards: Winner, Best Actor (Burt Lancaster)
  • National Board of Review: Listed, Top Ten Films of the Year
  • Venice International Film Festival: Winner, Best Actor (Burt Lancaster; Best Director (John Frankenheimer)
BIRDMAN of ALCATRAZ is not really a prison picture in the traditional sense. BIRDMAN reverses the formula and brings a new breadth and depth to the form. In telling, with reasonable objectivity but understandably deep compassion the true story of Robert Stroud, it achieves a human dimension way beyond its predecessors.


BIRDMAN of ALCATRAZ is a tribute to the iconoclastic courage needed to break the mold of the normal prison film drama. It’s a thoughtful yet powerful portrait that cleaves to the heart and mind. Burt Lancaster delivers an outstanding performance marked by a restraint, vitality and honesty that makes it one of his best.
A.H. Weiler

The New York Times

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