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Great Train Robbery, The (1903)


Poster marketing, over 100 years old, and this is pretty sweet indeed.
Poster marketing, over 100 years old, and this is pretty sweet indeed.

Genre: Silent Action Crime Western Short

Starring: A.C. Abadie, Gilbert M. "Bronco Billy" Anderson (Bronco Billy's Oath; The Dead Man's Claim)

Directed By: Edwin S. Porter (Faust; The 'Teddy' Bears)

Overview: The 12-minute classic short story of four bandits who rob a train and try to make a getaway.

Performance:

The "Bronco Billy" actor went on to make something like 100 Western movies. The shots were all too wide to make any fear of the victims or intimidation of the bandits as effective as they could have been. I mean, they can only flail their arms so much and remain effective in their roles. The fight scene choreography wasn't the best either, but we did have a good sense of urgency.
Rating: 6

Cinematography:

The angles varied enough, but I'd say the director really needed a few more up close shots of the actor's faces. The hand painted explosions and dresses were a nice little touch. This was a pretty exciting film, but not because of the way it was captured.
Rating: 5

Script:

No signs in the windows, no pause for a blurb as someone speaks, just a title. There was no script at all. Instead I'll rate the storytelling / narrative ability in the silent medium. Did I understand what they were getting at? In the first scene I wasn't aware that the telegraph guy was actually calling for the train to make a unscheduled stop. How could I possibly without having read about it? If they had shot it better, maybe. All the other scenes, though, had a pretty effective pantomime, simple as the story was.
Rating: 6

Plot:

This is, debatably, the first Western ever made. Neat eh? Apparently this became such a popular short film that scores of imitations followed shortly thereafter. As stories go, it's basic, but elaborate. You can really tell that there isn't much filler, that the necessary elements are all there, and to think that they shoot at a man's feet to force him to dance! How cliche is that? Oh right, it's never been done before. Sorry Goodfellas, they did it first.
Rating: 7

Mood:

The mood was intense admittedly. That last shot, the up close in your face gunshot added to the look and feel, but there were some moments that I just couldn't quite get into. Yes, it was set in the West. After that, it's fine, I guess. Silent film piano tunes really fit the silent movie, turns out.
Rating: 7

Much as it was when people got out of the way of the train when seeing it in one of the first moving pictures, so too were producers able to hold mass hold ups in theaters...|
Much as it was when people got out of the way of the train when seeing it head straight for them in one of the first moving pictures, so too were producers able to hold mass hold ups in theaters...

Overall Rating: 62% (Robbery, Check. Great? Not So Much.)
Aftertaste:

The third film seen after getting 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, this was one of those shorts that you just have to get around to seeing if you're serious about this art form. Yes, it's important, it's a trend setter, but like GoBots, this was just setting the stage for better things like Transformers. Glad I saw it? Definitely. Glad it was short? Maybe just a little.

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I like this film too. I just watched the Sci-Fi weirdfest Zardoz (1974) yesterday and there's a shot where Sean Connery's character turns directly at the camera with a pistol and...bang! I wonder how many other films borrow the famous ending shot from The Great Train Robbery?

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