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John Frankenheimer scored his first success with this, his third theatrical feature and his second collaboration with producer-star Burt Lancaster (they would make five films together all told). Lancaster delivers an angry, brooding performance as real-life criminal Robert Stroud, a violent killer who, while in solitary confinement, became an internationally recognized authority on birds and their diseases. Based on the book by Thomas E. Gaddis, Frankenheimer creates a portrait of a withdrawn, antisocial prisoner who discovers his own potential after reluctantly rescuing a wounded sparrow from a storm and nursing it back to health. Lancaster's quiet portrayal comes from his eyes and restrained body language, earning him his second Oscar nomination. Costars Telly Savalas (as the talkative "neighbor" from the cell next door) and Thelma Ritter (as his controlling mother) were also nominated, but Frankenheimer's sensitive direction draws equally fine performances from Neville Brand, playing against type as the prison guard who slowly befriends Stroud, and Karl Malden as the tough warden whose ideas of confinement and punishment prompted Stroud to follow-up his studies of birds with a treatise on prison reform. This somber, subdued tale offers no truly happy ending, but it does present a powerful portrait of one man's efforts to earn back his dignity and respect in the worst of conditions.

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