The Great Train Robbery (1903) Review

7/21/14

The Great Train Robbery (1903) Director: Edwin Stanton Porter

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★★★★☆

The Great Train Robbery is the foundational triumph of American pioneering film director Edwin S. Porter. In particular the closing scene of a point-blank gunshot is famous the world over, having been a shock to audiences in its heyday. It has been alluded to in many other films including Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas and Ridley Scott’s American Gangster.

The Great Train Robbery is the first great American Western film. It was filmed in New Jersey, where many early films were shot before the rise of Hollywood in California. The film tells the story of two bandits who rob a train while it is docked in a station. The bandits attack and bind the train station operator. Then they board the train, kill the officials, and file all the passengers onto the platform in order to ransack their belongings. One person tries to escape but is gunned down. The bandits escape with their loot on horseback, lawlessness rules over justice in this film. Later, the operator gathers men from a dance hall to chase the bandits down and kill them. The famous closing scene of the film portrays Justus D. Barnes shooting his gun point blank at the camera.

According to legend, the realistic scenes of shooting and moving trains frightened early 20th century film goers so much that many fled in fear. The Great Train Robbery was the most popular film of the silent era prior to the release of the mega blockbuster, Birth of a Nation in 1915.

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