Those caught up in the romance surrounding Alcatraz might be tempted to watch “Alcatraz: Search For the Truth,” a History documentary devoted to the 1962 escape by Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin. The curious, however, would be well advised to tape this tedious production and fast-forward to the last six minutes, which contain everything they could hope to glean about whether the trio, never found, might have survived the treacherous waters surrounding the prison island. Even allowing for the genre’s carnival-barker qualities, the producers have spread about 25 minutes of content over two hours.
Told entirely from the perspective of the Anglins (that is, the guys who Clint Eastwood didn’t play in the 1979 movie “Escape From Alcatraz”), the special is built around information provided by their nephews, Ken and David Widner, two emotional fellows who are convinced the government has been after the family and that their uncles have been abused by the media. So they enlist a retired U.S. Marshal, Art Roderick, to help lay out their case, which includes various shreds of evidence that they believe prove the Anglins not only navigated the frigid waters but also made it to South America.
Graciously setting aside what the “Search” reveals – with the Widners having begun expressing their belief the Anglins survived a few years ago – there’s no nice way to say that the brothers are an irritating pair, carrying rather sizable chips on their shoulders. Claiming the FBI harassed them, and that their only motivation is to set the record straight, they’re prone to getting teary-eyed when speaking about these half-century-old events, including their conviction that the feds killed another uncle while seeking information about the escapees.
Nor does it help that almost everything here feels overproduced, from the pounding music to the dramatic recreations. So when one of the Widners reminisces about his mom receiving a phone call when he was a child, voila, there’s a gauzy image of a woman holding a tyke as she answers.
Morris, whose genius IQ was thought to have been instrumental in planning the dramatic escape, is shortchanged by this version of history, which focuses squarely on the Anglins. Yet while some of the new details certainly appear intriguing, wading through the padding feels like treading water, or maybe crawling down that sewage tunnel at the end of “The Shawshank Redemption.” All that, and there’s still relatively little presented about the rich lore of Alcatraz – which has inspired plenty of fiction – other than a rather mundane visit to the island.
Granted, History’s pursuit of younger demos with programs like “Pawn Stars” deviates so often from actual history that it’s kind of nice when the two occasionally bump into each other. Yet watching “Alcatraz,” those prone to lament the channel’s drift will likely just remember why their search for quality historical fare increasingly leads elsewhere.