A groan goes up among the prisoners in "Escape From Alcatraz" when they hear that the day's movie is to be another Western. At least, one suggests, they could show us a gangster movie.
What about us? Couldn't they show us a gangster movie about these same characters, instead of the locked-in regimentation of another prison movie?
Whatever varied actions got these people to Alcatraz, the possibilities of action there are limited to minor power plays among prisoners and plotting escape. A prison movie is therefore going to be interesting only if the prisoners' lives are presented in such a way that we care about their relationships to one another, or if the escape plot is ingenious and spun out so that the audience can try to second-guess it, as one does in a mystery.
This film has neither attraction. The prisoners are such docile and sweet souls, one devoted to painting, another to books, a third to his pet mouse, all of them taking as their symbol a raggedy flower, that one wonders why society ever thought of locking them up. The only crime described is that of a nervous chap who obviously couldn't hurt a fly - he got to Alcatraz through the poor judgment of stealing a prison warden's car.
The escape plan, the result of a prisoner's careful reading of Popular Mechanics, seems clever enough, but we are not shown enough of it to take an amateur's interest in how it is managed.
Nor are Clint Eastwood and Patrick McGoohan, two actors with devoted followings, although of different magnitudes, shown in any aspect except exhibiting the toughness needed in their respective roles of prisoner and warden. One wonders why they don't even try to break out of that.