The Great Train Robbery (1903) 3.5 Stars
U.S. (Edison) 12m Silent BW (hand-coloured)
Director: Edwin S. Porter
Screenplay: Scott Marble, Edwin S. Porter
Photography: Edwin S. Porter, Blair Smith
Cast: A.C Abadie, Gilbert M. “Bronco Billy” Anderson, George Barnes, Walter Cameron, Frank Hanaway, Morgan Jones, Tom London, Marie Murray, Mary Snow
The most commercially successful film in America from the pre Griffith era, The Great Train Robbery is generally regarded as the first of the ‘western’ genre. This title is definitely well earned: the simple yet exciting plot of crime, getaway, chase and the eventual prevailing of good over evil, is an idea continued through westerns right into the 21st century. On the topic of evil, the ‘bad guys’ of this film epitomise it fantastically, through actions such as the murder of hostages, stealing bags of money, and an iconic close up at the end of one of the robbers firing directly at the camera.
In terms of cinematography a lot can be said, for the time the sets are quite advanced; with a number of different scenes and locations including a moving train and a river. Similarly the special effects are rather advanced: with believable use of dummies, explosions and gunshots which would have stunned the audiences of the time. Despite being a traditional silent film the somewhat complex plot is made clear through very descriptive acting and good use of props and costume. This serves to successfully portray actions such as sending false messages, opening safes, and heckling newcomers.
To conclude The Great Train Robbery is undoubtedly one of the most influential, successful, and advanced films of its time, with a plotline which can be seen in the biggest films today; it is rightfully remembered.