A surly convicted murderer held in permanent isolation redeems himself when he becomes a renowned bird expert.


John Frankenheimer, Charles Crichton (uncredited)


Guy Trosper (screenplay), Thomas E. Gaddis (book)
Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 4 wins & 8 nominations. See more awards »





Complete credited cast:
Burt Lancaster ... Robert Franklin Stroud
Karl Malden ... Harvey Shoemaker
Thelma Ritter ... Elizabeth Stroud
Neville Brand ... Bull Ransom
Betty Field ... Stella Johnson
Telly Savalas ... Feto Gomez
Edmond O'Brien ... Tom Gaddis
Hugh Marlowe ... Albert Comstock
Whit Bissell ... Dr. Ellis
Crahan Denton ... Kramer
James Westerfield ... Jess Younger


In 1912, the notorious and violent prisoner Robert Franklin Stroud is transferred to the Leavenworth Prison convicted for murdering a man. When a guard cancels the visit of his mother, Elizabeth Stroud, due to a violation of the internal rules, he stabs and kills the guard and goes to trial three times. He is sentenced to be executed by the gallows, but his mother appeals to President Woodrow Wilson who commutes his sentence to life imprisonment. However, the warden, Harvey Shoemaker, decides to keep Stroud in solitary for the rest of his life. One day, Stroud finds a sparrow that has fallen from the nest in the yard and he raises the bird until it is strong enough to fly. Stroud finds a motivation for his life raising and caring for birds and becomes an expert in birds. He marries Stella Johnson and together they run a business, providing medicine developed by Stroud. But a few years after, Stroud is transferred to Alcatraz and has to leave his birds behind. Written by Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


now the world will know the story of the most defiant man alive! See more »


Biography | Crime | Drama


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


Robert Stroud really should be known as the "Birdman of Leavenworth," since it was there that he kept his birds and did his research. He was not actually allowed any birds during his time at Alcatraz. See more »


During the 1946 escape attempt from Alcatraz, inmates are shown obtaining a revolver and a lever-action rifle from a gun gallery. The firearms kept (and subsequently stolen from the gallery) were a Colt .45 automatic pistol and a 30.06 Springfield Bolt-Action Rifle. See more »


[first lines]
Tour guide: ...during which you will see all of the man-made and natural beauties, the most spectacular bay in the world. You'll pass beneath the famous Golden Gate Bridge, considered by most authorities to be one of the most striking structures ever erected by man. From the bay, you will thrill to the magnificent San Francisco skyline. Your cruise ship, the Harbor King, will circle Alcatraz, a maximum security prison containing the most dangerous criminals in America. It has been the home of ...
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Alternate Versions

European release is five minutes longer than original US theatrical version. See more »


Referenced in Charade (1984) See more »

User Reviews

Not true, but compelling
23 July 2007 | by markcarlson2222See all my reviews

I've always loved this film. It's moving, emotional, stirring, and poetic. It's even capable of generating great empathy with a man who we'd all prefer not to marry our daughters. Stroud, portrayed by Lancaster, is slowly pulled from a life of solitude, misery, hatred and violence by his love of birds. He becomes someone we can identify with, to care about, to wish he was free.

But...and I'm sorry to be the one to tell you this, but Hollywood doesn't always get it right. Yeah, really. The movie is fiction from start to finish. Tom Gaddis' book was wonderful I actually bought a copy at the Alcatraz gift shop years ago and read it eagerly. I believed I had the true story of Stroud. And believed it for years. Until I read 'Birdman: The Many Faces of Robert Stroud' by Jolene Babyak. What a change. When I confirmed the book's accounts from other sources. I was stunned that we'd been so duped by the book and movie.

So there's a lot more to Stroud than Lancaster's gentle giant. He was a vicious psychopath who had killed twice, and wanted to kill more. He wasn't in solitary because of some misprint in his execution order. He was kept in solitary because he was too dangerous to keep with the regular prison population. He was also a savage homosexual rapist who wrote child pornography and had absolutely no regrets about it. When he was up for parole, he openly stated he wanted to get out before he was too old, because 'there were some people who needed killing.' His birdwork, too, was a fabrication. it's been proved now that most of Stroud's writings were plagiarized from other bird books, and even his remedies were nearly as dangerous as they were healing. He got lucky on some, that's all. No reputable bird breeder uses his remedies today. Stroud was alive when the movie was made. He'd smuggled bits and pieces of his 'autobiography,' heavily slanted in his favor, to Tom Gaddis, his own little gullible ghostwriter. And then it hit the big screen. The story generated piles of mail pleading for Stroud's release. He must have smiled at that, if he knew. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons knew what it was doing keeping Stroud in captivity. He was dangerous and would have probably killed even as an old man. He died the day before JFK was shot. I have an old San Jose Mercury News, from November 23, 1963 which on the fhird page has a small article entitled: "Autopsy Performed on Birdman Stroud.' His death in Springfield would have been front-page news but for the JFK Assassination. Actually, a tiny blurb is all he deserved. Have I seen the movie since I read the truth? Sure, but now I watch it for the acting, the cinematography, the drama, not the fiction. It is a great movie, and even Academy Award material. Frankenheimer's direction is superb, with a wonderful score and high accuracy in what life in prison was like in the early half of the last century. Lancaster, Malden, Brand, even a young Telly Savalas did a masterful job. The only thing I'd add is I wonder what the producers who decided to tell this story in such a favorable light, including the writers would have thought if Stroud had been paroled, and then started killing again. I wonder.

For the film, I give it an 8/10. For a work of fiction, a 10/10.

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Release Date:

4 July 1962 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Birdman of Alcatraz See more »


Box Office


$2,650,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

Production Co:

Norma Productions See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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