For 29 years Alcatraz Island, also known as "The Rock," was one of the most intimidating prisons in the U.S. A 22-acre island a mile and a half from San Francisco, it housed some of the most notorious criminals -- from Al Capone to George "Machine Gun" Kelly -- and was inescapable.

Because of this notoriety, Alcatraz has not only been one of the most popular sites to visit while in San Francisco -- it became a historic landmark in 1986 -- but has also attracted Hollywood studios for decades. However, no film has so creatively included this landmark in its story as Michael Bay did in his1996 blockbuster 'The Rock.'
For 29 years Alcatraz Island, also known as "The Rock," was one of the most intimidating prisons in the U.S. A 22-acre island a mile and a half from San Francisco, it housed some of the most notorious criminals -- from Al Capone to George "Machine Gun" Kelly -- and was inescapable.

Because of this notoriety, Alcatraz has not only been one of the most popular sites to visit while in San Francisco -- it became a historic landmark in 1986 -- but has also attracted Hollywood studios for decades. However, no film has so creatively included this landmark in its story as Michael Bay did in his1996 blockbuster 'The Rock.'

In the film, highly decorated General Hummel (Ed Harris) goes rogue and confiscates 13 rockets armed with VX-gas in a plan to blackmail the government to pay reparations to the families of his fallen solders in Operation Desert Storm. He seizes Alcatraz with his men, holding tourists hostage and threatening to launch rockets into San Francisco. Nicolas Cage plays pencil-pushing FBI biochemist Stanley Goodspeed who's called in to help deactivate the rockets. But how do you sneak into a prison that's supposedly impossible to escape from?

The government reveals that one man did successfully escape from Alcatraz: John Mason (Sean Connery), a former British Special Service officer who has been locked away in a maximum security prison. Promised a full pardon if he cooperates, Mason leads Goodspeed and a team of Navy SEALs through the inner sanctums of The Rock to save the hostages and defuse the bombs. But things get complicated when the SEALs are killed by Hummel's men and only Mason and Goodspeed are left to save the day.

Location as Character: Splitting filming between the actual Alcatraz and soundstages on the studio lot, Bay portrays The Rock in a size and scope that may be a little less than realistic, as critic Roger Ebert playfully notes in his essay on the film for its Criterion DVD release: "'The Rock' provides Alcatraz with a subterranean labyrinth as large and well-lighted as the sewers in 'The Third Man,' and as crammed with props and unidentified metallic machinery as the 'Alien' movies." But that's what makes it so much fun to watch. Mason and Goodspeed don't only have to play cat and mouse with Hummel's men to achieve their goal, but maneuver through the prison's complex infrastructure that looks like something out of a video game.

Historical Significance: Alcatraz Island has been many things since its first owner, Julian Workman, was commissioned to build a lighthouse on it back in the late 1800s. In 1858 it was known as Fort Alcatraz, holding 200 solders and 11 cannons and during the Civil War housed prisoners. Then in the summer of 1934 it became a federal prison. Though as a prison it had the mystique of being known as an inescapable island, there may be one instance where that may not be the case. In June of 1962 prisoners Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin pulled off one of the most elaborate escapes by chiseling away at a moisture-damaged concrete wall around an air vent and leaving behind paper-mache dummies in their cells. Though the prisoners' belongings were later found on a nearby island, the prison's report states they drowned, though their bodies were never found. A year later the prison would be closed.

This instance only heightened the mythology of the prison and led to many films using the location. The first film to shoot in the prison after its close was 'Point Blank' (1967) starring Lee Marvin. The third film in the 'Dirty Harry' franchise, 'The Enforcer' (1976), shot its climax there. Clint Eastwood returned three years later to star in 'Escape From Alcatraz,' the film based on the escape by Morris and the Anglin brothers. There was also the courtroom drama 'Murder In the First' (1995), starring Kevin Bacon. And even the Mike Myers comedy 'So I Married an Ax Murderer' (1993) shot a scene there.

Directions: The only way to get to Alcatraz is by ferry, which you can get on at Pier 33, located on The Embarcadero near the intersection of Bay Street -- just southeast of Fisherman's Wharf. There is no parking at Pier 33, but there are 15 commercial lots within a five-block radius. Get tickets and learn more about the tours at Alcatrazcruises.com.

Visitor Info: Alcatraz is open every day except Christmas, Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. The hours of operation vary with the season -- departures are available about every half hour throughout the day beginning at 9AM. Trips to Alcatraz frequently sell out in advance, as much as a week or more in summer and near holidays. It's highly recommended to buy advance tickets online.
CATEGORIES On the Scene