Among the earliest existing films in American cinema - notable as an early film to present a narrative story to tell - it depicts a group of cowboy outlaws who hold up a train and rob the passengers. They are then pursued by a Sheriff's posse. Several scenes have color included - all hand tinted.Written by
I just saw "The Great Train Robbery" in its entirety for the first time and I was truly amazed. Its hard to believe that the film is over 100 years old. It was shot from a stationary camera but it employs many of the cinematic techniques that have since become commonplace such as cross-cutting, the chase, the shootout etc. VCI Entertainment has released a marvelous 100 Year Anniversary Edition of the film in two versions...a completely silent version from the print owned by the U.S. Library of Congress and a second version with added music, color tints and sound effects.
Briefly, the story (filmed in the "wilds" of New Jersey), centers on four bandits who subdue a station agent (to keep him from sending out an alarm) and then climb aboard a train when it stops to take on water. Two of the bandits proceed to the mail car, kill the agent and make off with the loot. The others take care of the engineer and his fireman. One can imagine what the early audiences must have thought when one of the bandits suddenly throws the fireman off of the train. The cutting from the live action with the bandit and the fireman to the obvious dummy was quite innovative for the time.
The bandits then line up the passengers and rob them killing one of them as he tries to escape. They then ride the engine down the tracks to their waiting horses. Meanwhile the town folk are alerted at a local hoedown and form a posse to go after the robbers. What follows is a great little chase scene and the final showdown between the good guys and the bad guys, where you know who get what's coming to them.
The closing shot of actor George Barnes emptying his six shooter at the audience is perhaps one of the most famous shots in cinematic history. One can only imagine the effect that it must have had on the early audiences. I had always thought that this shot was at the beginning of the film. Early western pioneer "Broncho" Billy Anderson plays four roles in the film including one of the bandits.
Most of the scenes are filmed in medium to long shots. You don't really see the actors faces (except for Barnes as noted). But it is still a very good film for this or any time. It tells a complete and believable story in about 12 minutes and sets the stage for the many classic silent films that were to follow.
A truly historic cinematic experience.
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