Monday, April 26, 2010

Boxcar Bertha (1972)

So this was an interesting one. Martin Scorsese directed this just a year or so before directing Mean Streets. It was produced by Roger Corman, a dude who was famous for his Exploitation B-Movies, so what you get here is a few sex scenes every so often, mixed with bright coloured bloody violence to keep the audiences at the drive-ins interested enough while they waited for the main feature to start. Added to the mix is Scorsese's very personal touches, like the exploration of themes of loneliness and religion. Include his wacky editing techniques. You get the feeling that he's still learning his trade, while trying to impress with his choppy editing, especially in the opening scenes.

Bertha Thompson, played by Barbara Hershey, was supposedly an actual person, an outlaw folk hero around the time of the great depression. However, as far as I can tell, this movie bears very little resemblance to her real life besides her name being Bertha and her freight train exploits in the Southern Territory. When her father dies tragically in an airplane accident, she decides to head off into the world on her own riding in boxcars, where she meets David Carradine's character "Big" Bill Shelley. Bill is a union man, and he's fed up with the railway establishment, and all that goes along with that. There's riots, angry speeches to workers, violence, all that sort of thing. So Bertha falls in love with Bill, and what we see from here on is a sort of Bonnie and Clyde relationship develope. They rob trains, rich people, run away from the law, get jiggy with it, get caught, break out of prison and so on so forth. Exciting stuff, but it's still a small bit of a rip-off of the original. But Scorsese makes things interesting with his personal touches, like the violence, it's quick and to the point, kinda grim. There's nothing glorious about dying. Well done in my opinion.

It's really not like any of his other works in certain ways. Like the tone of it all. There's an upbeat kinda feeling to it all. And then suddenly you're hit with terrifying scenes of extreme violence and racism. But for the most part it feels like you're watching Starsky and Hutch. It's an exciting adventure, then smack! you're presented with something terrible. Alot of great directors seem to use juxtapositions like this quite well. In his other films you're kinda always expecting the violence, whereas here it's totally out of the blue, and done in sort of a comical way almost, but grim at the same time, quite hard to explain really.

Anyway, this is one of his films that seems to get overlooked, but it's really interesting seeing his progression from this to Mean Streets and so on. There's some mediocre acting (Hershey and Carradine are quite good, but alot of amateur acting), poor sets, overly choppy editing in some parts done to impress, scenes thrown in to keep Roger happy( required sex and violence scenes). But then there's also some really great aspects to it. So give it a watch if you're a real fan of the director.

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