John Henry and the Railroad (2013)

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This is the true, tall tale of John Henry. The one from the railroad story.


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Cast overview:
Narrator / Jack Henry
Michael Iluma ...
Young Jack Henry
Billy Wilkerson ...
Blind Man
Matthew Dunaway ...
Conductor / Railroad Crew
Robert McElroy ...
Railroad Crew
Greg Geisel ...
Railroad Crew
James Geisel ...
Railroad Crew
Jeff Reno ...
Railroad Crew
Michael E. Brown ...
Railroad Crew (as Michael Brown)
Lisa Reno ...
Railroad Crew
Andrew Wilson ...
Railroad Crew


This is the true, tall tale of John Henry. The one from the railroad story.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Grit, Sweat, and Love





Release Date:

15 February 2013 (USA)  »

Filming Locations:


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Did You Know?


Grit, Sweat & Love
Written by Nicholas Kirk (as The Brothers Bright) and Billy Wilkerson (as The Brothers Bright)
Performed by Nicholas Kirk (as The Brothers Bright), Billy Wilkerson (as The Brothers Bright) featuring Eugene H. Russell IV
Mastered by Hank Williams
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User Reviews

It lacks finesse but in its bold, broad strokes it is enjoyable
1 March 2014 | by (United Kingdom) – See all my reviews

There is an American legend that hearkens back to the days of the railroad, where John Henry worked as the man driving the steel spikes into the wood to hold the rails in place. The specific legend sees Henry driving spikes with one blow compared to the 3 or 4 of others and that, when the railroad introduced a steam-driven hammer to replace him, he challenged it to a race to finish driving the spikes in the remaining 3- mile stretch.

This short film works for what it is and most of the comments you see about it do focus on what it does well, but for me it is hard not to see its own limits. The story is a big American legend of grit and determination in the old frontier days and as such it tends to get told with that big ol' American spirit of "can do" etc. As such there is not a lot of room for finesse or subtlety in the telling and this film matches that because in all aspects it is about the big broad strokes of the story and the big moments in the delivery – the smaller details and touches tend not to be as good. This means that the film looks great with good costumes, sets, music and tone and it is a nicely told version of the tale. However the smaller aspects do suffer so for example the dialogue is mostly pretty functional or corny and the performances match this, with broad characters delivered by so-so performances and a variety of odd accents.

The narrator device works well (again a caricature with his "well now ol' John Henry" style, which will make fans of Harry Hill's old Channel 4 show chuckle). The song that is sung over the race itself is actually pretty good and fits with the big brash and bold approach of the film. It is worth seeing for what it does well and credit McCormick for the film he delivers in this way, but I would have liked a little more finesse in the dialogue and performances to help build upon the foundation of the mostly enjoyable broad strokes.

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