Movie Review: The Great Train Robbery

Posted: April 14, 2011 in Movie Review, Pain Box, Reviews
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


The Great Train Robbery (1903/Edison Studios/Dir. Edwin S. Porter)

Made in 1903, this is possibly the earliest western movie, although even the director of this movie would disagree with that statement. Not important, but he thought another movie was the first western, however I don’t think it was a proper narrative film like this is. See, before this time, most movies were just an event. Not even a series of events but a single scene with the camera simple pointed at whatever was happening. The earliest movies are quite frankly, dull. Unless you’re a movie nerd, or a history nerd, most of the “first” movies in history hold little to no interest because they were primarily just pointing a camera at a city street and capturing what was there. This was back in the day when simply seeing a picture move was enough to get riled up over. Now it’s true that there were movies with plot and editing and before this, but The Great Train Robbery was the first one to really bring everything together in a way that made it a big hit. One might say that this one proved there was something to this whole movie making thing. If you’re able, go out and buy Edison – The Invention of the Movies, which is where my copy of the movie comes from. If you get other versions, you may not get some of the brilliant use of colors that this one has.

Dude, the smoke is turning colors man…

At clocking in at about twelve minutes (the version I’m reviewing) you can’t really call this an epic film. Even by the most generous standards, this is a little short for a great and influential film. However, you can recognize things that would be done in movies for literally decades to come. The movie has three main parts, the robbery, the escape and the capture of the criminals. Movie makers today still use the basic structure of this film, only most times there is a bit more character development. It’s not so much that this movie influenced everyone who has ever made a heist picture, but that the basic outline was done right the first time and why fix what ain’t broke?

Dance Funkerella!

The movie opens with a station manager getting jumped and tied up in the station, then the robbers go on to rob the train. The robbery goes alright, although the robbers kill a couple of people in the process. The deaths are hugely over acted things, making me wonder if these were amateurs or if this was just the style of the time. Acting as a far less naturalistic thing before sound movies and the fact that people stand straight up and wave their arms when they get shot might be considered a subtle and praiseworthy performance. After robbing the mail car and picking the pockets of the passengers, the robbers get away. A little girl comes along and unties the station manager, who then alerts the posse, who set out after and gun down the robbers. That’s the plot of the whole movie, remember that it’s only 12 minutes long.

It’s like Thomas Edison’s Sin City.

Now, one of the reasons I mentioned the DVD set I did is that the movie is color tinted. Still having hand tinted film is quite a rarity, but an important one. The color used in the scenes that have them represent a way of drawing our eye to certain subjects as well as being a marvel by standards of the day. Of course, most the color is in the form of splotches because it was put on the tiny frame of film itself with a brush by hand. This makes the color uneven at best. However, simply having an explosion come in a wave of color instead of just being a grayish-white puff of smoke must have been stunning at the time.

Death Yoga!

This isn’t a riveting film, but it is a good film and you can give it a watch. I’ve found a copy on YouTube, so you can see it right now if you like. It’s even got the color bits so, that’s nice. If you’re wondering if you should get something like Edison – The Invention of the Movies, I have to ask how interested you are in history. If you’re not big on history, give it a pass. However, if you want to see some of the earliest works in cinema, this is a good place to start.

Official Score:
28 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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