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Saturday July 21st 2018

Escape From Alcatraz | 1979

Escape From Alcatraz filming location: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay, California
Escape From Alcatraz location: the supposedly escape-proof prison: Alcatraz Island, San Francisco Bay, California | Photograph: iStockphoto / Nickolay Stanev

Dark, downbeat account of the only documented escape from the notorious Rock (from the director and star of Dirty Harry), though the escapers' implied survival remains a moot point.

Although some interiors had to be recreated at Paramount in Hollywood, much of the movie was actually shot at the disused prison of Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. The crumbling structure needed extensive renovations, which have fortuitously helped to preserve it as a tourist attraction.

The paint used to restore the site to its earlier appearance, though, needed to be easily removable so as not to obscure graffiti left from the 1969-71 occupation of the island by Native Americans, now regarded as an important part of the island's history.

The island functioned as a Federal prison, in effect little more than a dumping ground for problematic convicts, from 1934. Despite the prison's fame, few inmates were household names, though celebrity guests included "Machine Gun" Kelly, Robert Stroud (the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’), and of course, Al Capone.

Capone, who was moved to the Rock after continuing to run his empire from behind bars in Atlanta, still sought to buy influence by offering to pay for an extension to the exercise yard. His kind offer wasn't taken up and the King of Crime was relegated to working in the prison laundry.

By 1963, when the concept of confinement without hope of reformation had become outdated and the cost of maintaining the island prohibitive, the prison was closed.

Alcatraz is now a national park and can be visited by boat from Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Included in the fascinating tour, you can see the dummy head used in the real escape. Trips are understandably popular so, if you want to avoid disappointment, best book ahead.