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Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz Island(1937)

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Working titles for this film were Alcatraz and Grim Rock. A contemporary Hollywood Reporter news item indicates that Ben Weldon, who plays "Red" in the film, was first considered for the role played by Dick Purcell. The Warner Bros. production file for the film contains a cast sheet dated May 11, 1937, in which actor William Hopper is listed for the part played by Gordon Oliver, and Charles Foy is listed for the part played by George E. Stone, who is listed for the part played by Matty Fain. The studio's daily production schedules indicate that Hopper worked on the film, but that he was replaced by Oliver at some point during production. The Warner Bros. publicity pack for the picture indicates that filming took place at a "faithful reproduction" of Alcatraz Prison, which was built on a hill in San Fernando Valley, CA.
       The file for the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library indicates that in April 1937 the PCA urged Warner Bros. to eliminate a number of scenes, including those involving the "display of liquor" at a party, the showing of a knife stuck in a man's back, the showing of the detailed murder of a gangster and his dying agonies, and the showing of a wounded man being thrown out of an automobile. The PCA also forbade any allusion in the film to a fixed jury and suggested that the film not be shot in such a way as to "inject anything resembling the old-time gangster flavor." In response to a San Francisco Examiner newspaper article announcing Warner Bros.' plans to film a picture about Alcatraz, the PCA received a letter of protest from Attorney General Homer S. Cummings, who asked that the film not be produced because it would "give a false impression of the penal program." Discussion of the matter in a PCA inter-office memo dated August 31, 1937 brought out the fact that the article was written not by an Examiner reporter, but by a staff member of the Warner Bros. publicity department. The PCA memo also noted that because Cosmopolitan pictures was a unit headed by William Randolph Hearst, it was to be believed that the Examiner and other Hearst newspapers "put it on a little thick" in ballyhooing the film. Correspondence between the PCA and the Attorney General's office in September 1937 indicates that Warner Bros. agreed to hold up the release of the film until it was shown to the Attorney General. After viewing the film, the Attorney General's office opposed its release, claiming that it created a "romantic image of Alcatraz as the Gangster Hall of Fame," and that it portrayed prisons as using "stool pigeons" within the institutions. The film was banned by censors in Sweden, Finland and Trinidad.
       According to the Warner Bros. production file, stage and screen writer Milton Herbert Gropper filed a lawsuit against the studio, claiming that Alcatraz Island was developed from a play he wrote entitled Ex-Racketeer, and that it was used as the basis of the film without his permission. Warner Bros. maintained that the film was developed from an original story by Crane Wilbur, and in January 1941, after a three-day trial, a judge ruled in favor of the studio.
       A 1946 Daily Variety news item notes that Warner Bros. announced that it would film a new opening and add three new sequences to the picture in response to renewed interest in Alcatraz prison following an incident there that left five men dead and fifteen injured. The studio planned to use actual newsreel footage taken at the site of the event in the updated re-issue. No information has been located to determine if Warner Bros. went ahead with this plan.