The Great Train Robbery Reviews
Based on an 1896 story by Scott Marble ,this 1903 caper follows a group of bandits as they rob a train, make their escape, then have a confrontation with a group of local townspeople bent on vengeance. That's it.
There's more to it than that though. Yeah, it's pretty simple and straightforward, but this film pioneered a lot of now commonplace techniques like cross-cut editing, location shooting, and double exposures. And, unlike A Trip to the Moon, this one is more like real life as opposed to fantasy, and feels a tad documentary like.
This is a pretty influential and important film, and basically set the standard for the western genre especially, but also the action/heist genre as a whole. Unfortunately the version I saw had no soundtrack other than the cranking of the camera, and that's my only real complaint. Yeah, the cranking kinda fits with the movements of the train, but it gets real tedious real quick, especially since it plays for just under 12 minutes straight.
Some of the acting is over the top and hammy, and it makes things feel dated and cheesy, but it also kinda adds to the charm. It's ridiculously tame by today's standards, but I also have to give this a lot of credit for being ballsy with the violence, something that was probably rather jarring for audiences 110 years ago.
All in all, this is a fun movie. Yeah, it has since been eclipsed 1,000 times over, and, while it really deserves classic status for it's historical, social, and aesthetic merits, it also still works fine on its own terms as just a simple, entertaining movie.
NOTE: I saw this film as part of a compilation of early films from the Edison Company...yeah, THAT Edison. Other memorable ones include:
*Life of a Fireman, which was just what it sounds like -- a group of firefighters are called to a housefire. It was thrilling and even moving, as when a child is rescued from the house and is reunited with his mother outside.
*The Kleptomaniac, which may be the first film with a social message. A well-to-do woman and a woman living in poverty with small children are both arrested for stealing, from a department store and from a grocer respectively. The wealthy woman is set free, while the poor woman is found guilty and incarcerated. The ending shot is the Scales of Justice out of balance due to a bag of money in one of the trays.
* Two films -- The Kiss and What Happened on 23rd Street -- show that even early in the days of cinema (we're talking circa 1900), naughtiness put asses in the seats. The Kiss was notorious in its day. It's a simple peck between two rather plain people, but it caused a furor because it was considered vulgar. What Happened on 23rd Street starts off as a simple street scene that climaxes with *SPOILER ALERT* a young woman's skirt being blown up by the wind from a subway (?) grate. The more things change the more they stay the same.
As a film, I must admit that I found this one lacking a bit of visionary brilliance as many others movies had which were made in the same period of cinema history (Meliers' or Griffith's movies) and you could even go as far and compare this movie with contemporary Hollywood action cinema. Lots of action, a simple yet effective plot, no twists and surprises but just the thrill of the train robbery and the shootouts. I am not putting this film down, but out of all the early cinema movies, this one is my least favourite.