The Great Train Robbery

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100%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 6

75%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 2,692
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Movie Info

Director Edwin S. Porter created film history when he completed the 13 sequences for the Great Train Robbery, released in 1903 but based on an 1896 story by Scott Marble. The film's title was also the same as a popular, contemporary stage melodrama. Outstanding for the first parallel development of separate, simultaneous scenes (intercutting), and the first close-up (of an outlaw firing off a shot right at the audience), the Great Train Robbery is among the earliest narrative films with a "Western" setting - although when it was released it was considered a part of the violent crime genre that dominated the movie screens. "Westerns" would come later. The opening scenes show the outlaws holding up the passengers and robbing the mail car in the train, and then they escape on horseback. While the early action is going on, Porter cuts to the telegraph operator who is knocked unconscious, with the train visible through the station window. Then there is a fight on the tender and the train is also visible, and it is shown again on the tracks when the locomotive is unhooked from the rest of the cars, and from the interior when the passengers are robbed - the train constantly provides a point of reference from different perspectives. The telegraph operator regains consciousness after the outlaws have galloped off, and he makes it to the dance hall to get a posse together. In the final sequences, the posse takes off to hunt down the outlaws and the chase is on, ending in the defeat of the robbers. In a total of 12 minutes of screen time, Porter changed the way films were made for all future time, he established several classic Western themes (the chase on horseback, use of the six-shooter), and he took advantage of every known dramatic technique for his day. For example, he modeled segments of his action on current crimes that had been in the news and he exploited the railway subgenre and the public's interest in train travel. The film was successful for years after it was released, a testament to Porter's cinematographic talents.

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Critic Reviews for The Great Train Robbery

All Critics (6)

Audience Reviews for The Great Train Robbery

  • Oct 08, 2016
    The first Western film ever, The Great Train Robbery lacks aesthetic values but it is an important millstone in the history of cinema.
    Sylvester K Super Reviewer
  • Oct 23, 2013
    A year after George Melies made history with his cute little sci-fi picture, American film maverick Edwin S. Porter cemented his own legacy with this breezy western action film. 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.
    Chris W Super Reviewer
  • Nov 29, 2011
    I imagine that it must have been a million times more exciting back when it was released, but I respect it, nonetheless, for its importance in cinematic history. Plus, it helped create the crime and western genres.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer
  • Oct 01, 2011
    I imagine that it must have been a million times more exciting back when it was released, but I respect it, nonetheless, for its importance in cinematic history. Plus, it helped create the crime and western genres.
    Stephen E Super Reviewer

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