Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Well, one a week. If I carry on at this rate I should be able to see all 1001 Movies To See Before You Die in the next 20 years. Which ensures that I won't die before the age of 56. That'll do me.

There's the usual link below to a potential purchase but, as is the case with many of the very, VERY old landmarks of ancient cinema this is also in the public domain and available to watch in a number of incarnations on YouTube. I went for this version.

The tale is quite a simple one, it's summarised by the title. Some bandits go about being bandits and they rob a train. However, while they're enjoying themselves and feeling smug and rich, some folks soon get on their trail and make a concerted effort to retrive the stolen goods. And then everything ends with footage of a bandit shooting at the screen, an image that shook audiences up back when the film was first released - they thought they were really going to be shot at, apparently - and is so iconic that Martin Scorsese recreated it with a gangster replacing the cowboy figure at the very end of the superb Goodfellas.

If you're a fan of cinema, the history of cinema and the landmark works that have helped progress the medium through over a century of entertainment then The Great Train Robbery is something worth seeing. It has a definite narrative, contains some decent effects and exterior shots (which were a lot more difficult to film at the turn of the last century) and stands up today as a truncated blend of popular tropes of the Western genre.

In terms of imagination and sheer entertainment value, it doesn't compare with the likes of A Trip To The Moon but it's certainly pretty well-crafted and an equally important stepping stone for the movies. Indeed, we may have director Edwin S. Porter to thank for everything that has come along in the genre since then - from Stagecoach and High Noon to Unforgiven and Open Range. And that's quite an achievement indeed.


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