Friday, November 16, 2007

Essential Cinema - 11

Box-Car Bertha

Barbara Hershey
David Carradine
Barry Primus
Bernie Casey
John Carradine

Martin Scorsese

Joyce Hooper Corrington

John M. Stephens

A story of young friends during the great depression who ride the rails and push for organizing unions while robbing trains on the side.

An early work. Hemingway, Tolstoy and Tolkien didn't start out writing epics. They started out small and worked their way up. This is one of the small steps in the careers of several well known filmmakers and actors. The characters in this film are idealistic, innocent, reckless and fighting injustice.

I wanted to see this film just from reading the credits. Produced by Roger Corman and directed by Martin Scorsese (supposedly his second film), it stars a very young Babara Hershey and David Carradine. I was hoping for a glimpse of early genius and raw film making, which is pretty much what this is. Scorsese is not a great director here, but there are glimpses of technique that he will use later in his career. The script and the acting are somewhat lacking, but then again, this is not a film with a big budget.

The underlying theme is the ineptitude of the greedy vs. the cunning and craftiness of the down trodden. The basic good vs. evil story set in 1930s rural America. The film is shot on location with minimal set design and continuity. There are numerous errors regarding props that are out of the time period and historical inaccuracy. The film is typical of the counter-culture film making of the late 1970s, when young directors were trying to distance themselves form the big studios and find new forms of expression and story telling. The acting is passable, the lighting a bit harsh in places, downright dim in others. The editing is a bit choppy and often times makes the flow of the film seem erratic. The folly artistry is basic and the naked love scenes and crucifixion at the end of the film are somewhat gratuitous and aren't really necessary. As in many Scorsese films, there is a blood bath at the end. By today's standards, not a very good film but probably ground breaking for its time.