‘The Alcatraz Escape’ Is A “Great Escape” For True Crime Fans

Courtesy: PBS

Courtesy: PBS

June 11th, 1962 is one of the most important dates in America’s deep crime history.  It was on that date some fifty-four years ago this year that Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin broke out of the maximum security prison and thus created one of the nation’s greatest unsolved crime mysteries.  That is because upon their escape none of the trio was ever seen or heard from again.  In the five decades plus since their escape any number of books has been written about the event.  Just as many documentaries have been produced about the trio’s escape, too.  The problem is that from one to the next there is little variance in the story or result.  Earlier this month Public Media Distribution released what is just one of the most recent documentaries about the now infamous escape in the form of Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape.  This latest program is actually an interesting new look at what is in fact not the prison’s only unsolved escape.  The prison’s only other unsolved escape occurred in 1937 when Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe jumped into the San Francisco Bay and disappeared.  That is a story for another time.  Getting back on the subject at hand, this new documentary on the 1962 escape is so interesting because it isn’t just another cookie cutter presentation.  In other words its story is what sets it apart from other documentaries about the escape.  The information that is presented within the story is just as important to the program’s presentation as the story itself.  The program’s sequencing and pacing round out its presentation completing the whole thing.  Each element proves important in its own right to the program’s presentation.  Altogether they make this new episode of PBS’ history/mystery hybrid a piece that while not perfect is still an interesting new look at what is one of America’s greatest unsolved crime mysteries.

Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape is an interesting new look at what is one of America’s greatest unsolved crime mysteries.  While not the only program to ever be presented on the subject of the 1962 prison break, it is still a program that any real crime fan will want to view.  That is due at least in part to the story presented in this program.  Audiences will be happy to see, in watching it, that it isn’t just another cookie cutter program about the now infamous, decades-old prison break.  It doesn’t just try to postulate about whether or not Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin survived their escape from Alcatraz.  It does do this.  Don’t be mistaken here.  But it does more than just that.  It also provides a rich historical background behind the trio’s escape.  That rich historical background will be tackled shortly.  Just as interesting to note of the program’s story is how this new investigation came to happen.  As is noted early in the program, the whole thing started with a planned presentation by one of the investigators about global warming and the effect of rising ocean levels around the world.  Who would have thought that such a topic would end up leading to an investigation on one of America’s greatest unsolved crime mysteries?  The story that unfolds from here is one that will keep any real crime fan engaged from the beginning to the end of the roughly hour-long presentation.  It is just one of the program’s elements that will keep viewers engaged.  The information presented throughout the course of the story will keep viewers just as engaged as the story itself.

The story presented in Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape is an interesting new take on the now infamous Alcatraz prison break of 1962.  It is such an interesting presentation because it isn’t just another cookie cutter presentation about the still unsolved crime mystery.  It examines both the escape and how it came to be without allowing itself to linger on the many theories of the fate of the three inmates.  Even the attempt to recreate the “boat” created by the men is not as over the top as that presented in certain other networks’ programs.  No names need be used as most audiences understand that reference.  Keeping all of this in mind, the very story presented in this episode of PBS’ Secrets of the Dead is in its own right a very important part of the program’s presentation.  It is not the program’s only important element, though.  The information provided throughout the course of the story is just as important to the episode’s presentation as the story at the center of the episode.  As a matter of fact, without that information there would be no story.  One of the most interesting pieces of information shared in this program is the seemingly lax nature of the guards employed by the prison during its nearly three decades in operation and their apparent gullibility.  As is revealed in the story, the whole escape plan was able to come to fruition because a fourth (yes, fourth) inmate involved in the escape plan was able to trick the guards, thus allowing a big part of the plan (perhaps the most important part of the plan) to be executed.  At the same time, another former guard interviewed for the program even openly states that there was not close attention paid to large amounts of glue being taken by the trio.  One would think that since Alcatraz was supposed to be a maximum security prison, the guards would be more vigilant in their duties.  The revelations made in this program seem to point to the opposite, though.  It’s a powerful statement and perhaps even explains why the prison saw a total of 14 prison breaks in its roughly twenty-nine years in operation, one of which still remains unsolved to this day.  That escape took place in 1937.  Of course none of that information is provided here, which is a little bit disheartening.  In hindsight it would have been nice to have had that added background information.  That is because it would have given even more significance to the 1962 escape.  But that is a moot point.

The revelation of the issues with the Alcatraz guards is just one of the interesting pieces of information covered in this program.  As was just noted, the program also reveals that while Moore and the Anglin brothers were the main focus of the decades-old investigation, they were not the only conspirators in the escape plan.  A fourth man was apparently involved in the plan, too.  It is even hinted that he, not Moore, was the mastermind behind the whole thing.  His identity will be left for audiences to discover for themselves when they watch this program.  Just as interesting to learn is that the man was even originally supposed to join Moore and the Anglin brothers on their makeshift boat when they broke out of the prison.  But apparently he didn’t completely go through with the plan, opting instead to stay behind.  The story behind this figure is just as interesting to learn as the rest of the story of the 1962 escape.  It is just one more of the many important pieces of information revealed over the course of the story, too.  The revelation of the prison’s reputation versus the reality of its function is just as interesting to learn as the story of the escape.

The information about the 1962 escape and its relation to the issue of the prison’s guards are both key pieces of information shard in this new episode of Secrets of the Dead.  They are not the program’s only interesting pieces of information. Another rather interesting piece of information provided in this program centers on the prison’s overall reputation.  The prison has a reputation as being a place that held the worst of the worst.  And it did.  But Al Capone, White Bulger, and others were not the only inmates housed at Alcatraz.  In fact, many of the inmates housed there were just multiple time offenders.  They were inmates that had committed ordinary crimes but couldn’t seem to be handled in other prisons.  In simpler terms, while it might have been a maximum security prison, it was in reality not quite the imposing structure that it has come to be known.  It is just one more interesting piece of information shared over the course of the program’s run time.  Between the information revealed here and the rest of the episode’s revelations, the information in whole that is revealed here shows clearly why the program’s overall content is just as important as its general story.  Of course as important as the program’s story and content are to its presentation they are not the program’s only important elements.  Its sequencing and pacing (I.E. its overall structure) is just as important to note as its story and content.

The story at the center of Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape and its content are both key elements in its presentation.  Each element ensures viewers’ engagement in its own right.  They are not the program’s only important elements, though.  The program’s overall structure is just as important to note as its story and content.  Audiences will note in watching the program the smooth transitions from one segment to the next and from one side of the story to the other.  On one side is the mechanical story.  That is the recreation of the boat and life vests used in the 1962 escape.  On the other side is the story of how the escape was planned and where the inmates might have actually landed.  The program smoothly transitions between the two elements throughout the course of its run time, thus ensuring viewers’ engagement even more.  It doesn’t just randomly jump back and forth from one part of the story to the other and back.  It is in fact fully structured.  The build team doesn’t just try to re-create the inmates’ boat and life vests.  They actually research each element so as to make the closest possible copy of each piece.  And in regards to the “planning team” audiences get to see the team use actual computer simulations to determine the likeliest path taken once the inmates hit the water.  Viewers will be surprised to discover that the “planning team” finds in the long run that the original Angel Island theory looks to be just that and that the inmates in fact might have ended up at a completely different point because of the currents in the San Francisco Bay.  As each team finishes its research and work the program keeps viewers fully engaged, and at times surprised.  The end result of their work is the ultimate finale for the program.  That is because for all intents and purposes it leaves more questions than answers.  But the way in which it does this will put a smile on viewers’ faces.  The team doesn’t try to sex up the program and make it like so many commercial programs.  It points to some facts that are interesting in their own right.  That being the case, the program’s overall structure proves in the end to be just as important to the program as its story and content.  All things considered, Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz Escape proves in the end to be it’s own *ahem* great escape for true crime fans.

Secrets of the Dead: The Alcatraz is an interesting new look at what is one of America’s greatest unsolved crime mysteries.  That is due in part to the story at the heart of the program.  The story is not just another cookie cutter presentation that tries to postulate  about whether or not Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin survived their now infamous escape from Alcatraz in 1962.  It presents an in-depth and surprising history behind the chain of events that led to the escape along with that oft-discussed topic.  What’s more the discussion on whether or not the trio escaped doesn’t just focus on the standard Angel Island theory.  It theorizes that IF in fact the men did survive then they didn’t go to Angel Island but another location within the San Francisco Bay.  To top it all off, the whole story begins by noting that the investigation came from a planned discussion by one member of the program’s featured team on rising sea levels.  The in-depth information provided by the program adds even more interest to the story.  The program’s overall structure completes the program.  It brings everything full circle and ensures once and for all viewers’ engagement.  Each element is important in its own right to the whole of this program’s presentation.  Altogether they make it a presentation that, again, is quite the interesting new look at one of America’s greatest unsolved crime mysteries.  It is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store.  More information on this and other episodes of Secrets of the Dead is available online now at:

 

 

Website: http://www.pbs.org/secrets

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SecretsofTheDead

Twitter: http://twitter.com/SecretsPBS

 

 

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