When Clint Eastwood directed his 1992 masterpiece Unforgiven, he attached a simple credit: “Dedicated to Sergio and Don.” The Sergio is Sergio Leone, who directed Eastwood in the three spaghetti Westerns that made him a movie star. The Don is Don Siegel, who worked with Eastwood on five films, including Dirty Harry. Both had died not long before Unforgiven—Leone in 1989 and Siegel in 1991, after years of ill health—and Eastwood considered both men his mentors. It’s easy to see what he took from Leone, particularly a sense of the West not beholden to romanticizing and moral certitude. From Siegel, he borrowed a sense of simplicity and directness, an unshowy approach to filmmaking that reserves forcefulness and flair for the moments that really need them.
That’s evident in Escape From Alcatraz, which tells the story of the only (possibly) successful escape from the infamous island prison. Eastwood plays Frank Morris, who, after escaping from other prisons, views Alcatraz as his latest challenge. Siegel, like Frank, takes a methodical approach to the material, working through the plan detail by detail as Frank and his collaborators (who include a character played by Fred Ward) conceive and execute their escape. It’s simultaneously simple and thrilling, bringing out the best the director and star have to offer. Released in 1979, the film was their final collaboration. Escape From Alcatraz airs today at 4:30 Eastern on Epix Drive-In.