Sunday, October 20, 2013

#1,161. The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Directed By: Edwin S. Porter

Starring: Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson, A.C. Abadie, George Barnes

Trivia: The film was originally distributed with a note saying that the famous shot of the bandit firing his gun at the camera could be placed either at the beginning or at the end of the film

The Great Train Robbery is a landmark film, an 11-minute motion picture that’s widely regarded as the first narrative movie ever made. Directed by Edwin Porter, who had previously worked as a cameraman for the Edison Company, The Great Train Robbery showed the world what movies were capable of.

The plot of The Great Train Robbery is pretty much given away in its title; a group of bandits (Broncho Billy Anderson, Justus D. Barnes, Frank Hanaway and Adam Charles Hayman) stage a daring robbery, holding up first a telegraph office and then a train, all in broad daylight. Everything goes according to plan until the posse shows up, resulting in a violent showdown with the local Sheriff (Alfred C. Abadie) and his men.

To review The Great Train Robbery with a critical eye is a bit silly. I mean, how do you attack a film for its lack of close-ups when close-ups hadn’t really been invented yet?  Instead, I like to imagine how those audience members who saw the movie way back in 1903 might have felt, gazing in wonder at images dancing across a screen, something many had never seen before (a few viewers supposedly ducked during the final scene, when Justus Barnes fires a gun directly at the camera).

The Great Train Robbery is today more of a museum piece than a work of entertainment, yet the significant place it holds in the history of the medium makes it a movie that all film buffs should see at least once.

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