Boxcar Bertha (1972)




Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.

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Produced by Roger Corman and directed by Martin Scorsese, Boxcar Bertha is a Bonnie and Clyde-like yarn set during the Depression. The title character, played by Barbara Hershey, links up with union organizer David Carradine (Hershey's real-life lover at the time) after the death of her father. Running afoul of anti-union forces, Bertha and Carradine are forced into a life of crime. Whereas Bonnie and Clyde robbed banks, Boxcar Bertha's specialty is trains. A story of this nature can only end in tragedy, and wait until you see Carradine's symbolic demise! For the record, there really was a Boxcar Bertha Thompson, and it is her autobiography, Sister of the Road, that serves as the basis for Joyce and John Corrington's screenplay.
R (violence)
Action & Adventure , Classics , Drama , Mystery & Suspense
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
MGM Home Entertainment

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Barbara Hershey
as Boxcar Bertha
David Carradine
as Big Bill Shelly
Barry Primus
as Rake Brown
Bernie Casey
as Von Morton
John Carradine
as H. Buckram Sartoris
Grahame Pratt
as Emeric Pressburger
Harry Northrup
as Harvey Hall
Ann Morell
as Tillie
Marianne Dole
as Mrs. Mailer
Joe Reynolds
as Joe Dreft
"Chicken" Holleman
as Michael Powell
David R. Osterhout
as The McIver
Victor Argo
as The McIver
Gayne Rescher
as Brothel Client [uncredited]
Martin Scorsese
as Brothel Client
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News & Interviews for Boxcar Bertha

Critic Reviews for Boxcar Bertha

All Critics (20) | Top Critics (4)

The Roger Corman production, shot on an austere budget in Arkansas area, is routinely directed by Martin Scorsese.

Full Review… | March 31, 2008
Top Critic

While there is a striking similarity [to Bonnie and Clyde] in general content, background, fine color photography and even the use of hillbilly music, the new, more modest film stands curiously on its own.

Full Review… | May 8, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Scorsese remains one of the bright young hopes of American movies.

Full Review… | October 23, 2004
Chicago Sun-Times
Top Critic

'Promising juvenilia' is about the most one can say for it.

Full Review… | December 31, 1999
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Lots of violence, typical of the Corman exploitation mill, but the film still shows the budding talent of Scorsese in his use of moving-camera and period detail.

Full Review… | March 31, 2008
TV Guide

Scorsese's second film is one of his weakest, a violent impersonal work that feels like an extension of such rural crime-gangsters features as the exploitation flick Bloody Mama or the arty and better one Bonnie and Clyde.

Full Review… | February 21, 2008

Audience Reviews for Boxcar Bertha


Before Boxcar Bertha, Martin Scorsese had directed one feature film and a few shorts. Roger Corman offered him the chance to direct this film, one of the first crime dramas from Scorsese. This feature can viewed as an exercise in style for Scorsese as he was finding his groove that would later make him famous. This is a well executed gangster film that is very entertaining from beginning to end. Scorsese shows a knack for creating an engaging picture, and it is a very well directed movie that is elevated by its cast. Scorsese would go on to make several cinematic classics, but with Boxcar Bertha he really delivered something that showcased Scorsese's talents as an upcoming director. The film may be unfocused compared to his other works, but it does boast some early trademarks that would make Martin Scorse such a legendary figure in the cinematic medium. The story, I thought was quite good here, and it should a director that was just bursting with confidence and skill in order to create a memorable movie. Boxcar Bertha is not Scorsese's best of course, but it is a necessary film in his career, one that he needed to make to give himself an understanding of the gangster genre, which would be prominent in his works such as Mean Streets, Goodfellas and Casino. As a second full length feature, this is a terrific picture that needs to be seen by any Scorsese fan. The cast do some fine work here and even if it's not a standout gangster film, it's still fairly important in the career of Martin Scorsese, as he would follow up this picture with the phenomenal Mean Streets and three years later bring us the iconic Taxi Driver. Boxcar Bertha shows the viewer a director who was just getting started, and even with its imperfections, you can see where Scorsese was headed with his later work.

Alex roy
Alex roy

Super Reviewer


Scorsese's feature debut is more than just a Bonnie and Clyde rip-off exploitation pic made for Roger Corman. Yeah, there's definitely some similarities, mostly with the lovers/criminals robbing the rich and giving to the poor during the Depression, but here there's a bit more subtext with Marxism, racism, and labor history, with some nudity, violence, and religious symbolism thrown in for good measure. Barbara Hershey is pretty good (and really young) as the naive Bertha who is head over heels in love with railworker labor leader Big Bill Shelley (played terrifically by an equally young David Carradine). Together, they ride the rails, going around and sticking it to the man and fighting for the common folk. Yeah, that's all typical stuff, but there's also plenty of evidence of now trademark Scorsese stuff going on, such as religious imagery/symbolism, terrific camera work and cinematography, nice use of music, and stylish gangsterism cool. Besides the two leads, there's a nice supporting role from Bernie Casey (who really steals the show during the climax), and a decent turn from Barry Primus as a cohort of our (anti)heroes. For a low budget exploitation piece, this is better than it has any right to be, and is a wonderfully important piece in the tapestry that is the career of one of my favorite directors of all time.

Chris Weber
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

"Life made her an outcast. Love made her an outlaw." I'm glad I wasn't alive when Scorsese made his first two movies. Both his first, Who's That Knocking At My Door?, and second, Boxcar Bertha, are both pretty bad in my opinion. Maybe if I had seen them prior to all of his great movies, I would have liked them more. Watching them now, after seeing movies like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, it is hard to like them, especially Boxcar Bertha. It is nothing like you would expect from Scorsese.  The movie is pretty aimless and the only thing that at all makes it seem like a Scorsese movie is all the violence. The movie follows Bertha through the depression. She falls in love with a union man and ends up braking him out of a chain gang, along with another acquaintance of Bertha and a large black man. The four then go on a robbing spree.  This is an a really weird movie. It seems almost episodic and there's no real development of either characters or plot. Stuff just happens. There is no real pacing. Bertha hops a train, fucks a guy, meets another guy, kills a guy, robs a guy; who cares.  From this point on Scorsese was the best though. It isn't how you start, but how you finish. With his first two movies, he was finding his way as a director and he definitely found it, because right after this he made Mean Streets and then arguably his best movie, Taxi Driver. The guys is definitely a legend, but I would still recommend skipping this one; I don't care how big a fan you are of him.

Melvin White
Melvin White

Super Reviewer

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