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  • Rumor has it Martin Scorsese showed this film, his second, to John Cassavetes, who labeled the movie "sh*t" and suggested Marty work on more personal projects in the future. This advice prompted Scorsese to direct Mean Streets, the first of his many masterpieces. Boxcar Bertha is not one of them, but it isn't as bad as Cassavetes stated, either. It's an average B-movie of the kind Roger Corman would offer to his students (Marty among them).

    Plotwise this picture has a more defined structure than Who's That Knocking at My Door: the setting is small-town America, the Great Depression is far from over, and a young girl named Bertha (Barbara Hershey) joins union leader "Big Bill" (David Carradine) in a violent protest against the people who are managing a railroad. When things turn ugly, the two lovers are forced to run for their lives, while still hoping they will prevail.

    Hardly an original story (it's essentially the poor man's Bonnie & Clyde), but Scorsese does his best in making it appealing to audiences, shooting in beautiful countryside locations and obtaining strong performances from Hershey (who would later play Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ) and Carradine, most notably in a sex scene that, according to everyone involved, was not faked.

    Beyond that, though, it is obvious Cassavetes had a point: there is nothing that gives Boxcar Bertha that unique Scorsese feel. He just did his job without finding anything in the script he could connect to; even the religious iconography used in the bloody climax seems to have been tucked in for no particular reason.

    Still, the film is enjoyable and worth seeing, even just as the product of a young filmmaker still shaping into the master he was to become.
  • Watching early films by classic directors in the midst of discovering their trademark style always proves to be an interesting endeavor, and Martin Scorsese's Boxcar Bertha is no exception. Made the year before Scorsese's breakthrough hit, and first tale of Italian American life on the streets, Mean Streets, Boxcar Bertha shows the legendary Scorsese adapting his own personal narrative style into a different niche, and attempting what he referred to as a "genre picture". Boxcar Bertha was first pitched as a simple exploitation film, but under the capable guiding hand of Scorsese, the final outcome is a highly enjoyable and surprisingly in depth portrait of the lifestyle and viewpoints of depression era railroad workers.

    Even in this early work, Scorsese shows his almost unparalleled ability to create a shockingly vivid and humane portrait of the working class; while the film may not be set in little Italy, the same themes ring true and the characters' voices are once again perfectly captured, speaking out against repression from the upper classes and the harsh conditions of their everyday lives. Scorsese also demonstrates a knack for creating a particularly believable period look and feel; indeed, the film's set design is particularly impressive, and the audience seems to live and breathe the harsh fumes of the boxcar at the height of 1920s depression.

    It's also interesting to watch the gestation of several of Scorsese's definitive film-making techniques, even in an earlier effort - his use of high speed camera zooms, bold, dramatic editing and an aggressive, wonderfully bluesy musical score may seem slightly out of place for a film such as this, but these are all vintage Scorsese moments, which, when identified as such, just make the film all the more enjoyable. There are also some moments of not so subtle religious allusions, most memorably a gruesome and hard to watch scene involving Big Bill Shelley near the film's conclusion, another Scorsese trademark. However, forced to adapt his vision to the conventions of the style of film he was instructed to make, Scorsese was forced to include several highly unnecessary nude scenes and gunfights with absurdly fake blood, which can prove entertaining on a campy level, though they detract from the more interesting aspects of the film, on the whole. It's just a shame that the subject matter the budding director was given to work with was so intentionally sparse and simplistic, but the surprising depth and complexity he extracted from what at first appeared to be a simple Bonnie and Clyde knockoff billed as a "true story" only served as a precursor for the brilliant career which was to follow.

    Considering the film's original intent, it is surprising to see such a varied array of talented performances on display. Whether it is a testament to Scorsese's nearly unparalleled skill as an actor's director or the enthusiasm and dedication of the cast remains to be seen, but either way, the principle players contribute surprisingly strong performances to the film. As the film's title character, Barbara Hershey establishes a solid foundation to the film's acting front, turning a character who could easily be dismissed as repulsive into one who comes across as endearing and hard not to like due to Hershey's laid back charm. Character actor David Carradine of recent Kill Bill fame also gives a resonant and charismatic performance as 'Big Bill' Shelly, the robin hood figure of the railroads. Bernie Casey overcomes his disappointingly underwritten role with a charming and very likable performance as a fellow robber, and Barry Primus is also enjoyable to watch as yet another accomplice, and the only New Yorker in the film. (there had to be at least one) It's also great to see father and son spar off as John Carradine plays the head of a railroad who is thrown into a battle of wits with the thief and saboteur played by his real life son, and the two quiver with surprising tension and energy during their on screen encounter.

    While it is highly unlikely Boxcar Bertha will come across as appealing to a widespread modern audience, there is still much to appreciate here, and the film should be considered essential viewing for Scorsese enthusiasts. Despite the film's premise as a simple exploitation film, Scorsese found the voice and soul of the time and characters, which resonate almost as fully as in any of his better known pictures. Despite the film's occasionally choppy plot structure and admittably simple subject matter, Boxcar Bertha is still a highly enjoyable and interesting early Scorsese effort which merits seeing for any fans of the director, stars, or anyone interested in the historical context. Don't pass this off just due to the Corman exploitation influence - there's much more to it than that!

  • Roger Corman's indirect influence on the 70s movie renaissance is often overlooked. Many of that decade's key players served their apprenticeships on Corman's quickies. Directors like Coppola, Bogdanovich, Bartel and Demme, and actors like Nicholson, Hopper, Fonda, Dern, Stanton, and even De Niro.

    Add Martin Scorsese to that list. 'Boxcar Bertha', his movie directly before the breakthrough 'Mean Streets', may not display his talent in full, but it is a surprisingly well shot and acted, and is an above average b-grade movie with a lot of entertainment value.

    Like similar Corman productions from this period ('Bloody Mama', 'Dillinger', 'Big Bad Mama') it is a Depression era look at flamboyant criminals. An exploitation movie for sure, but exploitation with style and class. Barbara Hershey (who would reunite with Scorsese in seriously underrated 'The Last Temptation Of Christ') plays the title role, but the real star of the movie is her then real life partner David Carradine ('Kung Fu', 'Death Race 2000'), who gives a strong, charismatic performance. The supporting cast includes blaxploitation legend Bernie Casey ('Cleopatra Jones',etc.), Carradine's veteran character actor father John, and Scorsese/Ferrara regular Victor Argo ('Taxi Driver', 'King Of New York').

    'Boxcar Bertha' is by no means one of Scorsese's greatest achievements, but it is nothing to be embarrassed about either. Check it out sometime. It's much better than you would think.
  • Scorsese refers to this 1972 Roger Corman quickie--he shot it in the deep South in twenty-one days--as his "exploitation picture." Funny, that--if it came out today, it'd be the height of the Arty Independent Film. Barbara Hershey and David Carradine are this movie's knockoff of Bonnie and Clyde; the script ain't much, but Scorsese storyboarded every shot and hoo doggie! This guy was the greatest shotmaker ever, even when he was on Skid Row. Rent it for Hershey's lyrical style and the chance to discern the fetus of a genius.
  • MovieMan-1122 January 2000
    This was Martin Scorsese's second full-length feature film and it is a decent one. It's about a young girl in the 1930's who meets and falls in love with a union organizer, who also happens to be a thief. Together, they form a small gang and begin robbing trains as well as anything else they can get their hands on. The fun soon turns to fright when they become fugitives and are hunted down by law enforcement officers. There's action and entertainment but not a movie that you would expect from Martin Scorsese. It has none of his trade marks whatsoever. But do realize that this was one of his first films and try to respect that. I do.
  • Martin Scorsese got hired by Roger Corman, I presume, to make this "based on true story" movie of a boxcar thief and robber named Bertha whom with some other robbers stole their way into a small piece in history but got into strife towards the end. It isn't one of his best pictures since he really was just the director and the script and the actors did more work than he needed to do on the picture. Like The Color of Money, it's a film that if he didn't direct it it wouldn't of made much of a difference in the outcome.

    Still, give credit where credit is due, and those (very few I might think) that heard what Cassavettes said to Scoresese after the movie got released (he told Marty that it was a piece of s*** and to work on something better- which he did with Mean Streets) should disregard it. Overall, Boxcar Bertha is a watchable and good piece of cinema with some decent performances and an overall feel that works in it's "tradition of Bonnie & Clyde" genre. Hershey and Carradine are also good. Just don't expect anything ground-breaking, unlike the next 5 out of 6 movies Scorsese would make in the next eight years after this. B+
  • Early, solid film from Scorcese with Hershey as the heroine, who along with Carradine leads a pack of hoods who begin as communists and progress to bigger and bigger crimes -- something of a variation on Corman's "Machine Gun Kelly." Carradine and Hershey give good, but not outstanding, performances. The direction is somewhat showy and involves a lot of movement, typical of Scorcese's more evolved style as well. Roughly follows the mold set by previous AIP gangster mama flicks, with the step up on the violence meter each succeeding film seemed to demand.

    Interesting also that this is the only Corman/AIP collaboration I can remember seeing from this period of time (72) when Corman's independent operations were becoming more successful all the time (w/ the nurse movies and stewardess epics cleaning up at the box office). I can only think that they saw it as a continuation of such a successful collaboration that it was impossible to resist getting together again one more time (though Corman claims to have been so absolutely disgusted by their treatment of his epic "Gasssssss" that he would no longer work with them after 1970). Anyone with information on how this collaboration took place will make me very grateful by forwarding this information to me.
  • Before Martin Scorsese did classic work such as Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Gangs of New York, Casino, Cape Fear, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, Boxcar Bertha was his first masterpiece of crime. I consider Boxcar Bertha to be the Road to Perdition of the 70's. I comment that because these films take place in the depression era, where jobs are lost and people are finding ways to make money. in the film, Barbera Hershey and David Carradine joined together to heist money and stay together. It's a masterpiece of crime, intelligence and an unforgetable ending that will leave you breathless. Even though for a small film that isn't recognizable as it is today thanks to filmmaker Martin Scorsese, people should get a chance to see a good movie instead of these phony blockbusters that are in movie theatres now.
  • Boxcar Bertha was based on the life of times of Bertha Thompson, during the depression era in the 1930s. After her pilot father is killed right before her eyes in a plane-crash, Bertha leaves the family farm, unable to support herself alone. Bertha takes to the road, and soon meets-up with Big Bill Shelly. Bill is a union organizer, who's determined to exact justice from corrupt railroad barons. Bertha and Bill fall in love, and travel together via hopping trains across the south. The two turn to criminal activities, to survive.

    Barbara Hershey gives a light-hearted, yet also poignant performance as Bertha. David Carradine conveys the conviction and passion, evident in Big Bill Shelly. His on-screen chemistry with Barbara Hershey, is palpable. Bernie Casey gives a strong, if understated performance as Bill's partner-in-crime, Von Morton. The morality angle of this film, like many made in the 70s, is ambiguous. The viewer knows that the characters clearly commit criminal acts. Yet there's also a sense of righteousness in their lawlessness, due to their quest to overthrow the cruel railroad men.

    This is one of the more interesting 70s nostalgia films, and one of the very few to revolve around a strong female character. It is a bit too slow in spots, and could've used more exciting get-a-way scenes. But it makes-up for these minor flaws, by having characters with more emotional depth, than the usual crime drama. Boxcar Bertha is a fine film, that works very well overall.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Thank Heaven Martin Scorsese went on to make some great movies. Had he relied on his reputation with films like these we wouldn't be talking about him today. The movie is so bad that you have to check the credits on screen and the box itself to make sure you read it right. Yes, it is the same Martin Scorsese.

    The story here is of wandering hobo Bertha "Boxcar" Thompson (Barbara Hershey) who travels with her crop duster father until he dies in a plane crash. She takes to the open rails, hitching rides on boxcars and meeting up with consistent lover and union agitator Big Bill Shelly (David Carradine). While deeply in love they never marry. Bertha hustles to make a buck and Bill moves from town to town trying to organize labor unions.

    Bertha eventually partners up with gambler Rake Brown (Barry Primus) and the two con gamblers where ever they go. In a bad turn of events Bertha accidentally shoots and kills one gambler and the two hit the rails once more. On the road she meets up with Von Morton (Bernie Casey), the mechanic who used to work for her father. The three catch up with Bill and then form a team of thieves.

    I'd love to tell you what happens here but for those willing to brave this movie I don't want to spoil it. What I can tell you is that this film moves all over the place. It leaps from one scene to the next with little or no narrative structure to it. Characters just suddenly decide to do something and other pop up.

    Carradine shows why he was never an Oscar contender. His acting style remained constant from one movie to the next, as if the same character was in each role. Hershey, who went on to perform some tremendous roles in her time, is young and just beginning here and it shows. She and Carradine were involved for some time and had a son together, I'm assuming during the time this movie was made.

    With only one feature film prior to this you can tell this is early Scorsese. Made just before MEAN STREETS this movie has a slapdash feel to it that makes you wonder was it his decision to make it this way or was he forced to do so by producer Roger Corman. In any event I'm so glad he changed the way he did things and gave us so many more movies worth watching than this one.

    I had seen this movie once before years ago and thought perhaps my memories of it were unkind. Truth be told my memories were kinder to it than my feelings for it this time around. Those who are Hershey fans solely for the reason of glimpsing her nude will flock to this film. Carradine fans who think his performance on KUNG FU was underrated might enjoy it as well. All others would do well to pass it by.

    Still, for the collectors of all things Scorsese you'll want to make a point of picking his one up before it's gone. It's being released on blu-ray by Twilight Time and as always limited to 3,000 copies. Yes, the quality of presentation by them is as outstanding as always. But no matter how much you polish this it remains a lump of clay rather than a diamond.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Arkansas in the 1930's: Sweet, free-spirited rural farm girl turned prostitute Boxcar Bertha Thompson (a marvelously lively and personable performance by the beautiful Barbara Hershey) joins forces with fiery, passionate union organizer Big Bill Shelly (splendidly played by David Carradine), slick con man gambler Rake Brown (nicely essayed by Barry Primus) and amiable Von Morton (a fine Bernie Casey) to steal from the rich and give back to the poor. They soon become wanted fugitives. Ably directed with tremendously fluid finesse and assurance by Martin Scorsese, with a smart, concise script by Joyce H. Corrington and John William Corrington (they previously wrote the fantastic Charlton Heston end-of-the-world sci-fi doozy "The Omega Man"), frequent outbursts of thrilling action, sharp, polished cinematography by John Stephens, a tasty and vivid evocation of the Great Depression period, a couple of smoking hot sex scenes with Hershey and Carradine (who were a real life couple at the time), a constant snappy pace, a flavorsome bluesy score by Thad Maxwell and Gib Guilbeau, a gritty and unsentimental depiction of the thankless outlaw lifestyle, and an uncompromisingly downbeat ending, this sturdy and stirring little winner totally hits the solid and satisfying spot. John Carradine contributes a nifty cameo as evil, crotchety railroad baron H. Buckram Sartoris while Victor Argo and David Osterhout are both memorably nasty as a couple of brutish flunkies. A real bang-up film.
  • This never was interesting. It was boring in the sixties, and boring today.

    It's another of the multitude of stories of self righteous crooks, the chief ones being an attractive couple and a token Negro. The token Negro was the mainstay of the sixties and seventies, serving only purpose, to be someone who said "yassah" to the self righteous white thugs.

    There's nothing exciting about this movie. There's also nothing that makes sense in this movie. Whatever the motivations are, whatever people are doing, no one knows and no one cares. It's all just a jumbled mess. A bunch of action scenes, lots of shotgun blasts, trains, skin, just for the sake of showing shotguns, trains, cars, and skin. None of it is plot related, but that's because there is no plot.

    There's nothing horrible about the movie, just nothing good. Just a waste of time.
  • Boxcar Bertha is an early Scorcese, made just on the eve of his highly personal breakthrough film Mean Streets. In other words, these were the days before he could call the shots and was merely a jobbing director. It's a cheap exploitation flick, and like most B-pictures it's a cash-in knock-off of a recent hit movie – in this case Bonnie and Clyde. It crams in all the essential ingredients for the genre – hold-ups, union men, pinkertons, chain gangs and, of course, boxcars – along with a dash of nudity and gory violence to help it sell.

    The story follows the same arc as its peers – likable proles take to a life of crime to escape the depression, have a number of run-ins and adventures, until they eventually meet their downfall. The screenplay is fairly lazy and predictable, although the writers have tried to inject some depth and conflict to the characters. Bill, for example, struggles to reconcile his socialist values with his individualist criminal antics. Rake is ashamed of his cushy city roots and wants desperately to prove himself. Bertha herself is portrayed as a kind of happy-go-lucky individual with no real agenda apart from living the life she enjoys and being with the man she loves. Sadly these ideas are never fully explored, and tend to get lost behind the simplistic b-action setting.

    Boxcar Bertha also happens to be surprisingly loaded with religious references, painting Bill as a Jesus-like figure. Most obvious of these is the highly symbolic ending, but there are a number of more subtle hints. A scene somewhere in the middle opens with David Carradine standing before a biblical fresco, and later in the city Barbara Hershey stops to look at a film poster for The Man who Could Work Miracles. The religious angle is something which actually runs through all of Scorcese's work, rarely stated out loud but always under the surface.

    Scorcese's technical style is fairly functional and not too flamboyant, but there are some hints towards the methods he would later make his own. He relies very heavily upon the editing process for impact – a dynamic cut emphasises every moment of action. There aren't too many of the lengthy tracking shots that he is known for, and what camera moves there are are shaky and poorly planned, even if he really is trying to make something of them. This is all understandable though – planning elaborate camera moves is very time consuming, and apparently the shoot for this picture was a mere twenty-four days. Besides, snappy editing is a good way to get something out of next to nothing in a fast-paced action flick.

    It's an interesting touch to see father and son actors John and David Carradine playing each others nemeses. Both are fine actors, although unfortunately the former was largely relegated to minor supporting parts in A pictures, while the latter was usually lumbered with lead roles in B pictures. Only occasionally did either of them get to shine, and Carradine Senior is particularly good here even if it is another small role. But the real standout here is Barbara Hershey in the title role. She gives Bertha a kind of playful innocence, but allows the character to mature and show more depth of emotion towards the end of the picture.

    When all's said and done, Boxcar Bertha is a cut above the average cheapie, but only a small cut. Scorcese has done a fair job with the material, and there is an occasional surprising moment of quality. It's good fun too in many places, particularly the cheeky dialogue given to Bernie Casey (Von), as well as the Laurel and Hardy-like pinkerton agents. But it also has a dull plot, annoying musical score, cheep-and-cheerful production values and is just too short to really take off.
  • The movie is bloody, full of action, revenge, heists, double-barrel shotguns, mean and nasty bad guys, and not much different good guys. Expect more than a couple-on-the-run film, but not much more than a 1972 violence exploitation film produced by Roger Corman. The blood is firetruck red, the music is scarcely severed violin-and-banjo polka and barn dance airs, almost deafening to my Midwestern suburban/city ears. It's enjoyable enough for what it is, but the last person I would expect to have directed Boxcar Bertha is Martin Scorsese.

    Corman allowed Scorsese artistic free will providing blood and breasts were involved, so Scorsese grabbed this exploitation product for what he would call "director-as-smuggler" promise. His Depression-era South is a compile's outlook, essentially a 1930s William Wellman or Raoul Walsh barnstormer, with a liberal twist nonetheless, where the vagabond camps, raids, and chain gangs are specially selected for genre iconography and meticulously shot and edited bedlam.

    It is, moreover, a long way from John Cassavetes' tough-love decree. Indeed, it's a Scorsese piece from tip to toe, shot with a camera that hunts for the throbbing beat in every second: A card deck flipped into the air is fractured into various brisk shots, a track-dolly joins itself with a shotgun blast to an exploding chest, the furnishings in a dust-bowl bordello is out of Visconti. Modernist breakdown is hosted at the crossroads between New Hollywood agitation and How Green Was My Valley formality.

    The sole reason I saw this film is because of its director. I am a tremendous admirer of his, as are many, and I knew I wasn't going to think as highly of it as I think of Raging Bull, The King of Comedy, The Last Temptation of Christ, Casino, Bringing Out the Dead, The Aviator, and certainly GoodFellas or The Departed. And I didn't, even though I did like it a lot as a B- list heist-filled bloodfest, a kind of film that has many times been a head and shoulders above other choices of movies to see. Much to his credit, the fact that I was so shocked by the difference between this movie and any other movie in his filmography points even more sharply toward his talent. His films are already greatly eclectic. He made The Last Temptation of Christ, a somber and immensely personal theoretical portrait of Jesus, right before he made GoodFellas, his classic blood-and-guts, retro-pop-music, profanity-riddled Italian Mafia opus, which was promptly succeeded by a remake of Cape Fear, a dark little horror/ thriller. If someone like me, who has before seen every single one of Martin Scorsese's feature films except for this one, can see Boxcar Bertha, only his second feature, and be taken so aback at how different it is from the rest of Scorsese's work, then the final Scorsese film I've had to see is the cherry on top: It's the climactic statement reminding how great Scorsese's talent is as a film director.

    I'm being very careful not to give anything away, but one hint in Boxcar Bertha at what would progressively become a subtle trademark of Scorsese's comes in the breathtakingly violent climax, then followed by a clear answer to many people's questions about Scorsese's point of view of black people.
  • Boxcar Bertha is an exciting, daring film set amidst a world falling apart at the very seams, a world in which four people come to lose all respect for law, order and others around them before beginning a spree of thieving and disturbing illegality. The film unfolds in the 1930s amidst Depression era America, with each of the four central characters that come to form the law-breaking quartet, of varying races; genders and classes so as to highlight an as broad-a sense as possible of whom exactly it is the nation's Depression is affecting. One of the members, and the only female one, is the titular harmonica playing Bertha (Hershey); somebody who must suffer the witnessing of her father's death by way of crop duster crash before going on to disturbingly fall in with the wrong crowd. It's established that her father may have been of a disciplinarian sort, a rail road worker commenting that her father wouldn't at all like it if he heard her using the profanities she does when he's up there – his death signals a systematic death of rules and regulations, an additional 'freedom' away from the straight and narrow after which all Hell in her life will break loose. The other predominant member of the troupe is the charismatic Bill Shelly (Carradine), a character we first observe giving a rousing speech to fellow rail road workers about a forming of a union, instilling certain degrees that the man is a leader and has skills in being able to talk to people, or rouse them.

    Following a run in with a gambler that ends in murder and the hitching up with African-American man Von Morton (Casey) as well as Northern state based businessman Rake Brown (Primus), who's come down with a false accent and an empty wallet to find work when they meet them in the same jail cell, the group go off on an ill-gotten venture of train robberies; law dodging and in the case of Bill and Bertha: sexual relations. The film is an early piece from American film-maker Martin Scorsese, a man who later made some of his best work in the form of exploring the worlds and minds of those either on the fringes of social order and in a state of marginalisation or the criminally infused who were morally vacant and at once so scummy and so putrid that to gaze on at their plights and actions was to do so with a grotesquely pleasing sense towards the craft but the polar opposite towards the people. In relation to this, Boxcar Bertha has more fun with showing characters of a policing sort, in the form of police troopers and so forth, to be of an evil; narrow minded or even racist ilk than it is concerned with trying to have us sympathise as much as possible with the leads and their narcissistic, criminal driven existence.

    Shelly's early talk from when we first see him has him speak of rising up against authoritarian figures, the company and the system and as the police net on that particular occasion closed in on the band of Unionists we see that the escapades he comes to engage in now is merely an extension of that mentality and that state of living. Shelly's linking up with Bertha in a romantic sense is dealt with amply and pleasingly done; as established, her own ideas or sense of operating under an authoritarian figure in her father whom we're led to assume did his best to keep her on the straight and narrow effectively has her 'rebel' against figures of that nature when he dies - in that there's nobody left with any rules to feed off of. Their connection is preordained by the nature of their attitudes towards these sorts of figures, with Bertha's in relation to her father coincidental as Shelly takes it upon him self to manifest a problem with whatever State figures see otherwise in reaction to his Union idea rallying call.

    Scorsese nicely documents the four of them banding together as a team, the odd leaf taken from Aurther Penn's book in that his film Bonnie and Clyde from a few years prior to this 1972 effort managed to explore what made the group of law-breaking, bank robbing bandits tick as human beings in between all the chaos, as the media demonised them, without ever really teetering over into glamorisation. A similar sense is applied here, four Robin Hoods robbing from the rich and keeping the loot for themselves set amidst barren, desert locales as a country and its economy come apart at the core with its rotten-minded and unlikeable police force following suit. Where cheap exploitation sprinkled with sex; violence and a simple enough premise complete with little in the way of plot appeared to be the aim starting out, Scorsese and the team appear to have elevated the material into something that stands up decades on as an exciting, angry piece teetering on the brink.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    David Carradine shows off his lack of depth as an actor.

    Hollywood would have been better off if Barbara Hershey had never been discovered.

    Martin Scorsese shows off his penchant for violence without any reason whatsoever.

    If you want to see an inane film, in which bad guys wreak havoc and men who chase them are completely inept, this is the film for you. No one could believe this garbage. The beginning is silly and the ending is just stupid.

    The crooks escaped from a chain gang, which didn't have any chains(???), and then the crooks are captured and put on a chain gang again(???). Of course, the crook(David Carradine) escapes again so of course, there can be a big shoot-'em-up at the end. This summary does not do justice. The plot is predictable and is unrealistic.

    The other problem I had with this film was that the characters don't care what damage they do to other people's lives. In fact, they enjoy hurting whoever they can. Furthermore, Boxcar Bertha is never brought to justice. The film says that it is okay to kill and steal as long as you get away with it.

    All of the actors are inept. Scorsese didn't add anything with his directing even if the plot is vapid. Avoid this waste of time and watch Raging Bull for a period piece. This is a complete disappointment.
  • Director Martin Scorsese stages some beautifully choreographed violence in "Boxcar Bertha", his first studio film, but he had yet to break through to his actors, and much of the picture is stilted or awkward. Barbara Hershey plays Bertha Thompson, a teenage orphan in Depression-scarred Arkansas who falls in league (and in love) with a union organizer; they're joined by a black harmonica player and a Yankee card-shark to take revenge on the railroad company by robbing the trains. Adapted from Ben L. Reitman's book "Sister of the Road", Scorsese as a filmmaker is a bit misplaced within this milieu--the 1930s doesn't seem to be his thing--and while the film has atmosphere, it lacks visual assurance and nuance. Similarly, Hershey doesn't seem to connect with the Depression, either; with her dreamy eyes, flowing chestnut hair and penchant for throwing her lines away blithely, she's more like a Boxcar Hippie. Still, Scorsese uses her well at certain moments, particularly early on when she's shooting craps around a campfire, correcting a friend about her surname, or staring out a rain-soaked window. She also looks great chasing after locomotives, and the train sequences are all well-filmed. The finale, a slaughter out in the middle of nowhere, packs a visual wallop. It seems certain the youthful director saved his creative juices for this sequence, and his cinematic prowess suddenly flairs up. Visceral and expressive, this showdown turns the story around from mere exploits of low-class gangsters into something far more profound: a sorrowful human tragedy soaked in consequence and fate. **1/2 from ****
  • The title role in "Boxcar Bertha" is played by Barbara Hershey who, at the time, was in a relationship with her costar, David Carradine (Big Bill Shelly). This work of fiction concerns the Depression-era South and a group of individuals who were victimized by poverty and racism.

    Still, one cannot lose sight of the fact that it is a B-grade exploitation film, filled with graphic violence, gratuitous nudity, and glamorized gore. Young director Martin Scorsese gives the film plenty of visual style, but it only serves to glorify the baser elements of the story. Students of his career and his filmic methods can appreciate the variety of shots that populate the film, but it mostly serves as a baseline against which to compare his later efforts.

    The film has been compared to "Bonnie and Clyde" for good reasons, but Scorsese is hamstrung with budgetary restraints and orders to include more nudity and blood--titillation to appease audiences at the local drive in theater, where it makes a perfect second billing. Any point of view that "Boxcar Bertha" might have conveyed is undermined by contradictory scenes and pointless pandering to lower appetites.
  • Last year I read the words of the great Martin Scorsese about the "crucifixion" by a certain press of the movie "Mother!", one of the most different and interesting movies of 2017. Those words are a reflection of what happens in recent years in the increasingly decadent and uninteresting cinema (mostly) North American. I just saw this "boxcar bertha," Scorsese's second feature, one of three films I had not yet seen of this great filmmaker. It is a "pure" film, of great beauty, with evident (good) influences of the French "nouvelle vague". The film was made with little money and quickly, like almost all the films produced by Roger Corman. Despite this, Scorsese manages to build a beautiful and meaningful film. His personal brand is already evident in this film, anticipating its following "mean streets" and "taxi driver". It's a pity that in America movies like this, unfortunately, nowadays, they have no market anymore.
  • I would love to say that there's a lot in "Boxcar Bertha" that foreshadows the birth of a new talent for American Cinema, that it carries many aspects that would define Scorsese's style, I would love to but I won't do that.

    I won't not because it's not true, Martin Scorsese's directing is the obvious highlight of the film and what elevates to a level slightly higher than all the other 70's exploitation movies, still, even admitting this would be unfair because it wouldn't take into consideration the chronological context of the film's making. 1972, we're at the pinnacle of the New Hollywood period, the same year "The Godfather" would open the door for the coming blockbusters' era, so when Scorsese made the film, he was only one among many other growing talents of his generation: Sam Peckinpah, Hal Ashby, Dennis Hopper or Arthur Penn.

    Speaking of Penn, the story is adapted from the autobiography of Boxcar Bertha, a folk local outlaw who was associated with a gang of train robbers in the tumultuous 'Great Depression' days. On that aspect, the film immediately reminds of the much more acclaimed "Bonnie and Clyde", a landmark in the portrayal of modern violence in Cinema. At least Scorsese's second feature film is just the proof that his talent could match more experimented directors, but as far as directing, editing, and bold depiction of sex and violence were concerned, it was nothing new, not even for that time. However, it does have a little something that is waiting to explode, and that will, one year later, with Marty's first masterpiece "Mean Streets".

    So whatever superlatives can't be said about "Boxcar Bertha", they definitely apply to "Mean Streets". But let's get back to "Boxcar Bertha" since this is what the review is about. The little something I was mentioning was a soul inside the characters, they're not here to appeal to us, but we're supposed to understand the soul behind the actions. They're all outlaws but for once, no one seems to lead the gang, and they're all following what seem to be impulses, pride, love and loyalty, with a romance in the core. Bertha is a young, sweet and innocent girl who discovered love at the same time as violence when her father accidentally dies in a plane accident caused by his boss' stubbornness. And she falls in love with Big Bill Shelley, David Carradine, an idealistic union leader, labeled as a Bolshevik by the railroad baron, Buckram Sartoris, played by no one else than Carradine Sr., John.

    What follows is the expression of a necessary refusal for subordination in a society dictated by dangerous and heartless rules. Bill and his friend, a black worker named Von Morton, played by Bernie Casey engage in a fight that sets the overall mood of the film, and Bertha's rebellious conscience. Barbara Hershey gives an incredible sweetness to a character that follows her heart, through Bill. She meets in her route; a Yankee rookie named Rake Brown, played by the blue-eyed Barry Primus. Bertha helps him to improve his accent to make it in the hostile South. The man seems to have a certain talent for making enemies and a strange reluctance for fighting, so the inevitable happens. After an accidental shooting where he's saved by the sweet Bertha, they join Bill and Von. The gang is finally constituted.

    They rob trains, they are criminals but they don't see themselves so, because they're against a dictatorial management that happens to be the real criminal, incarnated by the faces of the two McYvers, killers hired to arrest the gang. Victor Argo and Davis Osterhout with his scary Hitler-like mustache are the kinds of faces that are impossible to root for. But the film doesn't manipulate us into this or these feelings, Scorsese's directing has a way to portray the Great Depression as a moment in American History where the country lost all its boundaries, and when life was also a matter of survival and dignity, so, the line between crime and law, was sometimes imperceptible. And in the South, when the arm of the law could be very loose with the use of shotgun, we know, we're less invited to feel empathetic toward characters but just to follow their journey into a twisted world, where even being a whore was normal.

    No room for morality, yet, there is something in the heart of Boxcar Bertha that makes us feel for her, maybe it's her loyalty, her devotion to her love, and her ability to transcend the frontiers of the Law, just by love. But it's something more, it's a devouring passion that accepts all the sins of the word for principles, for a sort of cause that goes beyond rational. Bertha doesn't just give her heart, she also gives her flesh, her soul, her beautiful body, so shamelessly depicted by Scorsese's directing. And sometimes, we wonder through the film if this railroad that drives all the narrative will also be a railroad to redemption. "Boxcar Bertha" contains all the philosophical and personal material Marty would express in his filmography, but I guess all it needed was the setting: New York City and more expression of his own tormented soul, the reservoir of his creativity.

    I like to see "Boxcar Bertha" as the film with which Marty made his bones, tracing a clever parallel between the Great Depression and the gritty Nixon-era years, when disillusions, frustrations was the daily bread of some souls in quest of a meaning in their lives. Bertha incarnates somewhat the purity of a soul that didn't choose her fate, but made the best she could, according to what she believed in. That's the real passion and this is the film that allowed Marty to grow some confidence about his talent, and enrich American Cinema with his own passion.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Boxcar Bertha" (1972) tells the story of Bertha and her colleagues, who form a gang to exact revenge on the local railroad for disrupting their lives. The plot is not as complicated as with "Who's That Knocking At My Door", but it does not need to be as Martin Scorsese succeeds with a simpler, less convoluted plot. As usual Martin Scorsese excels with his ability to gather a group of individuals that clearly have a passion for creating a film with fantastic musical choices and cinematography. Martin Scorsese will go on to develop more complicated and successful films that capture our imaginations, but those works begin with understanding how to combine good musical choices and cinematography, such as those shown in "Who's That Knocking At My Door", with structured plot, such as with "Boxcar Bertha". Martin Scorsese is starting to show his genius as a filmmaker and I could not be happier!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Before Martin Scorsese trolled the dark alleys, bars, cabs, and pool halls of the seedy New York City Districts, he made a project that was a little less personal when he shot Boxcar Bertha in 1972. That's not to say that it's a bad film. In fact, it's darn good. It just feels like it wasn't exactly his dream picture. You can see little tidbits of his signature style laden throughout even though it sometimes feels like an all out action flick. There's a lingering notion that he just had to make this thing in general in order to get more opportunities to flex his directorial wings. It's also a small film developed by a B movie producer. However, it's alive, ambitious, violent, cynical, and edgy. Taking a sort of Bonnie and Clyde approach, "Bertha" is no doubt a good old fashioned American movie. From the opening title sequence, you can immediately sense a rush of urgency and an aching need for a budding, genius filmmaker to get out.

    Taking place in the 1930's and based on an autobiography entitled Sister of the Road, Boxcar Bertha is an account of Bertha Thompson (Barbara Hershey) and her lover Big Bill Shelly (David Carradine). They meet, become active train robbers (with the help of some other buddies), and reluctantly get involved in a murder of an important, wealthy gambler. The film chronicles their intersecting lives as fugitives for a quick, fast paced 90 minutes. On a side note, "Bertha" is also an exercise that finds ways to make radical statements about race and gender issues. What's the point you ask? Well, from what I read about this vehicle's background, the railroad south relayed this culture throughout the aforementioned decade.

    As far as casting goes, Boxcar Bertha is significant in my mind because it's one of those movies where you'd think that everyone in it would later go on to become A-list actors/actresses. One in particular, is Barbara Hershey. She gives a risky, fearless performance that should have catapulted her into superstardom. Yes she's been a working actress for the last 40 years but has never quite equaled her potential here. Watching "Bertha" you sense that she was wise beyond her years (she was only in her early 20's when filming began) not to mention adorable in every singular frame. Along with her, you have solid portrayals of vagabond robbers in David Carradine, Barry Primus (Rake Brown), and Bernie Casey (Von Morton). Again, these are respected actors that have hung around for a long time, just not entirely broken through.

    Something of note: No one is a bigger fan of Martin Scorsese than me. But I'll never figure out why there is never any controversy over his excessive use of racial slurs and overall lapses of racial bigotry in his films (Boxcar Bertha has a handful of it). When other directors make an attempt at it (Quentin Tarantino comes to mind), they get a lot of criticism from other film critics and even their peers. Scorsese somehow gets a pass. Now this is not a knock on the famed director. It's just one of the great mysteries of his work that I'll never quite understand. Another note: Two actors that share a solid amount of screen time in "Bertha" (Harry Northup and the previously mentioned Carradine) are featured later on in Scorsese's classic, Mean Streets. What's strange is that they make unbelievably small appearances in that film. It's as if they got demoted (ha ha). No really, I'm not kidding. They literally have no lines whatsoever.

    Overall, Scorsese's second feature film has style and it's far from boring. This flick enthralls you from the get-go. I'd call it the movie equivalent of a sleeve of firecrackers. So to be honest, I'm not sure if a lot of you have taken in "Bertha" (I could be wrong). If you've viewed it, disregard the last comment. If you haven't, then give it a look-see. Oh and if you're wondering whether or not the world's greatest living director shows off with the camera (aggressively I might add), don't worry, you'll get that here. Boxcar Bertha is experimental, exhausting, and full of jump start energy (be aware of the ending though, it's not for the faint- hearted). The tagline for its poster reads, "Life made her an outcast, love made her an outlaw." What can I say; I guess this movie "made" me a fan.
  • Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest directors of all time, but it wasn't always that way. Back in the early 1970's he was still finding his way and trying some techniques out. While Boxcar Bertha is nowhere near the quality of Scorsese's later efforts, you can tell there was talent there, just waiting to be exploited.

    Boxcar Bertha tells the fictional account of two lovers, a union leader and a loner, who find pleasure taking up crime to seek vengeance on what railroad management has done to them. David Carradine and Barbara Hershey star, as Scorsese directs his second feature length film. With plenty of similarities to Badlands or even Bonnie and Clyde, it's hard to figure out exactly what this film has to offer. In reality, it doesn't bring anything new to the genre, nor is the acting all that impressive.

    With that said, because of where Scorsese is today, it's worth watching. There are plenty of intriguing shots used by the famed director that he would use later on, or even just certain transitions from scene to scene. As a film geek, that was interesting to see. But as far as the film itself, I don't know that you would get anything out of this story. Just go watch Badlands again. That's a much more fascinating take on two young people taking up murder and crime in the west.

    +Scorsese trying things out

    -Nothing new added to this style of a story

    -Acting is sub-par

  • I respect both Corman and Scorsese, but this early effort by Scorsese is not up to even the average work by either. Poor performances by the leads (including Carradine, who simply can't act) and the phony-sounding dialogue don't do justice to this depression-era piece.

    Another problem with this film (and one that Scorsese would learn to avoid in his future work) is that everything looks too clean and orderly. Everyone is well-washed (unless they've just been in a fight or fallen in a puddle), the camps are neatly laid out, and the interiors of the boxcars are almost spotless, with just enough nice, clean hay spread around so you won't see the actual floor of the sound-stage.

    The IMDb "Trivia" section includes a comment to the effect that the sex scenes between Carradine and Hershey were not simulated. You would never guess it from the film itself, since they are some of the most tepid you could imagine. They would probably get a PG-13 today, for brief frontal and rear nudity.

    Finally, the credits are up to the best Corman standards...hokey.

    This film was a disappointment, but I can suggest it as a curiosity for Scorses fans. All others need not waste their time.
  • After working as an editor in the documentary "Woodstock", Scorsese was asked to make an exploitation film for Roger Corman, a known B-movie producer for the American International Picture.

    Set in the depression-era starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine as the pair who led a small gang into a life of crime. It sometimes reminds us of the similar lovers/criminals-on-the-run classic five years ago when this film was released, Arthur Penn's "Bonnie and Clyde." Although it borrows some elements in similar films that preceded it, and was restricted by the nature of the film, still Scorsese made a way to imbued some of his style and energy and show us what he can do with the limited materials given to him.

    Shot in 24 days with little budget, "Boxcar Bertha" became Scorsese's training ground for making his future superior films – Scorsese once said that the tight scheduling of the film gave him the sense of discipline he needed.
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