Commentary: The Victimman of Alcatraz

BirdmanThumb2by Brad Nelson
Most conservatives understand that watching movies is like taking a walk in a country meadow. You have to be sure to not step in the bull-excrement. And while watching the classic movie, The Birdman of Alcatraz, I had to change boots a couple of times.

I find that movies and politics go together, whether one likes it or not. Recently I watched “Birdman.” I hadn’t seen this movie since I was a kid, so arguably I hadn’t really seen it at all. And this review/commentary is in the context of the fact that, according to a fairly recent post by Mark Steyn, the U.S. Army put out a training poster that listed Christians as the #1 extremist group.

Rather than having to read Orwell’s 1984, we’re living inside it right now. A Muslim man kills thirteen at Fort Hood while shouting “Allahu Akbar” and it is officially called an incident of workplace violence. Examples of this type abound today as the Left attempts to foist their literal insanity upon us.

Sometimes that insanity/propaganda comes in big ways. But often it is more subtle, of the kind that can easily leak through your ears and into your brain if you are not wary.

I like reviewing movies as entertainment, but there is that aspect of propaganda that gets inserted into many of them. For whatever worth the late Mr. Ebert’s reviews were — and they were often quite good — in today’s PC culture, not to comment on the powerful forces of propaganda inserted into so many of them was a dereliction of duty. To actually take part in it, as Ebert did with his noxious left wing views, is even worse. I’ll try not to make that mistake.

For the record, I’m a First Amendment advocate. I’m not for shutting things down merely because someone is offended. There may be standards for shutting things down, but not because of hurt feelings. People should be free to express themselves (as long as they are willing to finance it), whether talking movies such as The Last Temptation of Christ or Mohammed was a Lunatic Pedophile (although I haven’t yet seen that latter movie…we’re still waiting for “courageous” and “compassionate” Hollywood types to report on the truth of Islam’s prophet).

And there’s always the chicken and the egg thing. Do movies reflect the culture or shape it? As conservatives, we need not play dumb with this question. We know that the Left uses the leverage of relatively small choke points in the culture (the media, state schools and universities) to shape opinion. And that includes movies. And we would not be so naive to suppose that there are no Leftists in Hollywood whose main purpose wasn’t indoctrination.

In fact, this seems obvious. As Michael Medved regularly points out, the G-rated movies (or perhaps even PG ones) tend to be the money-making blockbusters. But Hollywood types keep cranking out the vulgar R-rated movies that gain little or no audience. The “artsy” America-bashing films that are amongst the propaganda mill of the Left tend to not do so well. But films with traditional values tend to make movie studios millions. So someone out there is putting their politics before profit. That may be a good thing or bad thing depending on your politics. But it certainly is occurring.

Now we come to The Birdman of Alcatraz which I found to be a terrific movie from an artistic and entertainment point of view. Go watch it if you haven’t. But from the political point of view, it’s another case of unreality and social distortion.

In “Birdman,” Lancaster plays Robert Stroud, a man with a violent temper (and perhaps much worse — details are sketchy) who murdered outside the bars and later murdered a prison guard inside the bars. Sentenced to death, Lancaster narrowly escapes it and is sentenced to solitary confinement for life. He finds a little bird one day out on the exercise yard and the rest is history.

Or is it? Well, I had to do some research on the web to try to put Robert Stroud into context. And I have to be honest and tell you that I’m not sure which sources to believe. (A conservative, if he learns nothing else, learns to be skeptical of first impressions, and perhaps even second ones.)

Stroud was diagnosed as a psychopath. Guards and inmates who knew the real Stroud seem to attest to this. As gentle as he might have been with birds, and as high as his IQ was, this was quite probably a very twisted man. The guy who commuted his death sentence was President Wilson, which might tell you something. The decent and non-“Progressive”-pinhead Coolidge declined to help him as ex-president.

But in The Birdman of Alcatraz, Stroud comes off as a very sympathetic character. If you simply went by the impression made by this movie, you would think that the prisoners are all victims of an over-zealous and brutal prison system. And, indeed, there were rather brutal elements of that system, for sure, which gives sociopaths (and Hollywood types) lots of room in which to manipulate public opinion.

For instance, in real life, Stroud killed the prison guard because the guard put him on report for some infraction which then prevented Stroud from seeing his brother. In the movie, they substituted the mother. And who can’t sympathize with a man who kills someone because they prevent him from seeing his mother? Oh, the disgrace.

And in what I think is the penultimate scene, Stroud and Karl Malden (who plays a warden, and later the Federal director of prisons) have a chat. Stroud has written a history of the prison system in the U.S. and Malden doesn’t like it and confiscates the manuscript. That’s neither here nor there. But what caught my eye was the speech Lancaster (Stroud) gives where he tells Malden (and I paraphrase…I can’t find the script online),

“You rob us of our individuality. You simply want to make us in your own image. You want to have your morals be our morals.”

And as a conservative (and as a movie-goer who hasn’t lost all of his marbles), I’m thinking, Well, Mr. Stroud, the morals you had (killing people on a whim) doesn’t seem to be working too well for you. Maybe you ought to try Mr. Malden’s morals for a change.

The movie is not always this biased. The dark side of Stroud is often evinced very well by Lancaster and the script. But at the end of the day, Stroud is presented as the victim. Malden is the bad guy who hounds him throughout his life. If he and “society” would just understand the hard life some of these people have had, all would be well.

And so you see what is really some very clever propaganda entering the bloodstream of the culture. And the idea that “society,” not people themselves, are responsible for criminal behavior is very ingrained these days, and you can see how this might have started.

The real story of Robert Stroud would most likely cast some bad light both on the prison system and on Stroud. But in the end, all the heartstrings are tugged toward Stroud. After all, he helped people cure their pets’ illnesses, so doesn’t that count for something?

Yes, it does. That’s what makes this movie interesting, and somewhat a tragedy that the producers wimped out on telling the real story which contains many details that don’t paint Stroud as such an angel. But there is a redemptive aspect to Stroud’s story. Reports are that when canaries (and other pets) were introduced into Stroud’s wing of the prison, the most dangerous cell block in the prison (Leavenworth, I believe) became transformed to a much safer and productive one.

Yet another movie that is entertaining, well-acted, and yet is most likely a puff piece in terms of the actual history. But artistically it’s a very good movie. I you haven’t seen it, please do so. But put on a good set of boots first. • (713 views)

Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.
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