The Great Train Robbery (1903)





















"The Great Train Robbery" helps mark the beginning of cinema as we know it. Decades later and many masterpieces after and we could hardly tell that we trace film's origins back to movies like this one.
Age hasn't treated "The Great Train Robbery" kindly. In fact, it would be a complete falsehood to say that this movie is spine-tingling or chills-worthy. Yet, it predated the works that were and helped fashion them.
When the famous scene from "The Great Train Robbery" appeared, people were frightened. It depicted a man pointing a gun at the audience and firing. The reaction was astronomical—people jumped out of the way and screamed. It was one of the scariest movie moments for a long time.
It's hard to think that this film and others like it began the obsession with action that would lead to movies like "Ben-Hur" and even "The Lord of the Rings" movies.
The plot is fairly straightforward: four men rob a train—yes indeed, hence the title. They tie up a man and wait until the train is stopped and then hop aboard. Pulling all the passengers out at gunpoint, the rob everyone and speed off.
The law is not far off though, and soon they have men on their tails.
For being only 12 minutes long, it's hard to expect anything else but simplicity. There are signs of age in this movie: the low quality film on which it was shot, the was the camera shakes when the train approaches, a random film splice that replaces a man with a doll, etc.
It's hard to imagine "The Great Train Robbery" making any sort of money in today's cinematic climate.
But there was a time when this was new, this was fresh and exciting.
It's been 110 years since this film was made and yet we still have some of the same structured narrations as this does: the bad guys, the good guys, the chase. This movie could be the harbinger of "The General" or "Ocean's Eleven". Who knows if we're supposed to cheer for the villains? That secret is locked up in silence.
You would be somewhat remiss if you didn't see this picture, if only to know how far we've come.





Score: 3 and a half stars out of 4

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