Martin Scorsese interviews his mother and father about their life in New York City and the family history back in Sicily. These are two people who have lived together for a long time and ... See full summary »
Based on "Sister of the Road," the fictionalized autobiography of radical and transient Bertha Thompson as written by physician Dr. Ben L. Reitman, 'Boxcar' Bertha Thompson, a woman labor organizer in Arkansas during the violence-filled Depression of the early '30's meets up with rabble-rousing union man 'Big' Bill Shelly and they team up to fight the corrupt railroad establishment and she is eventually sucked into a life of crime with him. Written by
Martin Scorsese: as a john who is just finishing dressing himself when he asks Bertha if he can spend the night. See more »
Bertha frees Bill Shelley from the prison gang by faking a punctured tire. The wheel with the flat is left at the side of the road. In the following car chase, the wheel is initially missing from the car. Later the tire is clearly seen fixed to the rear of the car. When the car is being destroyed, the spare tire is gone again. See more »
Rumor has it Martin Scorsese showed this film, his second, to John Cassavetes, who labeled the movie "sh*t" and suggested Marty work on more personal projects in the future. This advice prompted Scorsese to direct Mean Streets, the first of his many masterpieces. Boxcar Bertha is not one of them, but it isn't as bad as Cassavetes stated, either. It's an average B-movie of the kind Roger Corman would offer to his students (Marty among them).
Plotwise this picture has a more defined structure than Who's That Knocking at My Door: the setting is small-town America, the Great Depression is far from over, and a young girl named Bertha (Barbara Hershey) joins union leader "Big Bill" (David Carradine) in a violent protest against the people who are managing a railroad. When things turn ugly, the two lovers are forced to run for their lives, while still hoping they will prevail.
Hardly an original story (it's essentially the poor man's Bonnie & Clyde), but Scorsese does his best in making it appealing to audiences, shooting in beautiful countryside locations and obtaining strong performances from Hershey (who would later play Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ) and Carradine, most notably in a sex scene that, according to everyone involved, was not faked.
Beyond that, though, it is obvious Cassavetes had a point: there is nothing that gives Boxcar Bertha that unique Scorsese feel. He just did his job without finding anything in the script he could connect to; even the religious iconography used in the bloody climax seems to have been tucked in for no particular reason.
Still, the film is enjoyable and worth seeing, even just as the product of a young filmmaker still shaping into the master he was to become.
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