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The Great Train Robbery (1903)

The Great Train Robbery

Release date: December 1, 1903
Directed by: Edwin S. Porter
Stars: Justus D. Barnes, G. M. Anderson, Walter Cameron
Running time: 12 minutes (at 18 frame/s)
Country: United States
Language: Silent


«The great train robbery» is reputed to be the first narrative motion picture to be shot in the United States and, in fact, it is the first western ever. In the first scene two masked robbers capture the telegraph and force the operator to send a false message, so a train will need to stop. In the several next scenes, bandits board the train and then they enter a mail wagon, after a fight, they open a safe. In the next scene, bandits throw a driver and a fireman off the train, then, they stop this train and hold up all the passengers there. One tries to run away and get shot. The robbers escape aboard the engine, and in the subsequent scene we see them mount horses and ride away. Meanwhile, the telegraph worker sends a message about robbery. At this time, people, who were dancing in a saloon, receive that message, so they grab their guns and exit. A posse persuade the robbers and then shoot-out begins. At the end the bandits are killed.

The story-telling of this film is very good and progressive for those time. It tells an action-packed story with plenty of details and it uses a good variety of effective techniques to increase our excitement, suspense and realism. For instance, motion effects in the scenes inside the train or occasional use of color in several moments and of course the famous final shot where a gun is fired directly at the audience, back in those days it was quite an innovation.

It was not customary to tell multiple story lines simultaneously, but in «The Great Train Robbery» we see various activities going on in different locations are intercut to create more suspense. It will be used later in a lot of films such as «The Birth of a Nation» and for us it kind of standard for film production.

If we talk about parts of plot there are 13 scenes with an additional one. I would say that the first and the second scene are both an introduction where we can see the beginning of the crime. We can see how the bandits captured some station and they are intended to rob the train and all its passengers.

Then the raising of the plot begins and we can see how the robbery is going, There are shots, fights and a lot of action. It is really interesting to watch because of motion effects that are used inside the train so it gives us an impression of movement and makes us feel interested in everything on the screen.

As I see it the climax happens when the robbery is finished, so the bandits board the locomotive with large bags of valuables and force the engineer to start the train and move off into the distance to the left. Then we see another story line that happens simultaneously and falling of action begins. So the robbers are being chased and then got shot. The last scene shows us the death of the bandits and the film ends. After that there is one more scene, where gentleman points a gun at viewers and pulls the trigger.

Summing up all of the above we can say that «The Great Train Robbery» is not just an old film, but for those times it is an innovative film. Some techniques that were used in that movie will be utilized in every western and in every modern film later. So it already became a history for cinema industry and for art in general.