The Great Train Robbery


12m 1903
The Great Train Robbery

Brief Synopsis

In this silent short, bandits rob the passengers on a train in this pioneering western.

Film Details

Genre
Action
Crime
Short
Western
Silent
Release Date
Dec 1903
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Edison Mfg. Co.
Distribution Company
Edison Mfg. Co.; Kleine Optical Co.
Country
United States
Location
Patterson, New Jersey, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
12m
Film Length
740ft

Synopsis

Edison summary: Scene I. Interior of railroad telegraph office. Two masked robbers enter and compel the operator to set the "signal block" to stop the approaching train, and make him write a fictitious order to the engineer to take water at this station, instead of "Red Lodge," the regular watering stop. The train comes to a stand-still; conductor comes to the window, and the frightened operator delivers the order while the bandits crouch out of sight, at the same time keeping him covered with their revolvers. As soon as the conductor leaves they fall upon the operator, bind and gag him, and hastily depart to catch the moving train. Scene II. Railroad water tank. The bandits are hiding behind the tank as the train under the false order, stops to take water. Just before she pulls out they stealthily board the train between the express car and the tender. Scene III. Interior of express car. Messenger is busily engaged. An unusual sound alarms him. He goes to the door, peeps through the keyhole and discovers two men trying to break in. He starts back bewildered, but, quickly recovering, he hastily locks the strong box containing the valuables and throws the key through the open side door. Drawing his revolver, he crouches behind a desk. In the meantime the two robbers have succeeded in breaking in the door and enter cautiously. The messenger opens fire and a desperate pistol duel takes place in which the messenger is killed. One of the robbers stands watch while the other tries to open the treasure box. Finding it locked he vainly searches the messenger for the key, and blows the safe open with dynamite. Securing the valuables and mail bags they leave the car. Scene IV. This thrilling scene shows the tender and interior of the locomotive cab, while the train is running forty miles an hour. While two of the bandits have been robbing the mail car, two others climb over the tender. One of them holds up the engineer while the other covers the fireman, who seizes a coal shovel and climbs up on the tender where a desperate fight takes place. They struggle fiercely over the tank and narrowly escape being hurled over the side of the tender. Finally they fall, with the robber on top. He seizes a lump of coal, and strikes the fireman on the head until he becomes senseless. He then hurls the body from the swiftly moving train. The bandits then compel the engineer to bring the train to a stop. Scene V. Shows the train coming to a stop. The engineer leaves the locomotive, uncouples it from the train, and pulls ahead about one hundred feet, while the robbers hold their pistols to his face. Scene VI. Exterior scene showing train. The bandits compel the passengers to leave the coaches, "hands up," and line up along the tracks. One of the robbers covers them with a revolver in each hand, while the others relieve the passengers of their valuables. A passenger attempts to escape, and is instantly shot down. Securing everything of value, the band terrorize the passengers by firing their revolvers in the air, while they make their escape to the locomotive. Scene VII. The desperadoes board the locomotive with their booty, compel the engineer to start, and disappear in the distance. Scene VIII. The robbers bring the engine to a stop several miles from the scene of the "Hold Up," and take to the mountains. Scene IX. A beautiful scene in a valley. The bandits come down the side of a hill, cross a narrow stream, mounting their horses, and make for the wilderness. Scene X. Interior of telegraph office. The operator lies bound and gagged on the floor. After struggling to his feet he leans on the table, and telegraphs for assistance by manipulating the key with his chin, and then faints from exhaustion. His little daughter enters with his dinner pail. She cuts the ropes, throws a glass of water in his face and restores him to consciousness, and, recalling his thrilling experience, he rushes out to give the alarm. Scene XI. Interior of a typical Western dance hall. Shows a number of men and women in a lively quadrille. A "Tenderfoot" is quickly spotted and pushed to the center of the hall, and compelled to do a jig, while the bystanders amuse themselves by shooting dangerously close to his feet. Suddenly the door opens and the half dead telegraph operator staggers in. The dance breaks up in confusion. The men secure their rifles and hastily leave the room. Scene XII. Shows the mounted robbers dashing down a rugged hill at a terrific pace, followed closely by a large posse, both parties firing as they ride. One of the desperadoes is shot and plunges headlong from his horse. Staggering to his feet he fires at the nearest pursuer, only to be shot dead a moment later. Scene XIII. The three remaining bandits, thinking they have eluded the pursuers, have dismounted from their horses, and after carefully surveying the surroundings, they start to examine the contents of the mail pouches. They are so grossly engaged in their work that they do not realize the approaching danger until too late. The pursuers, having left their horses, steal noiselessly down upon them until they are completely surrounded. A desperate battle then takes place, and after a brave stand all the robbers and several of the posse bite the dust. Scene XIV. A life size picture of Barnes, leader of the outlaw band, taking aim and firing point blank at the audience. The resulting excitement is great. This scene can be used to begin or end the picture.

Film Details

Genre
Action
Crime
Short
Western
Silent
Release Date
Dec 1903
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Edison Mfg. Co.
Distribution Company
Edison Mfg. Co.; Kleine Optical Co.
Country
United States
Location
Patterson, New Jersey, USA

Technical Specs

Duration
12m
Film Length
740ft

Articles

The Great Train Robbery (1903) - The Great Train Robbery


"Replete With Thrilling and Exciting Incidents in Fourteen Scenes, The Great Train Robbery...has been posed and acted in faithful imitation of the genuine 'Hold Ups' made famous by various outlaw bands in the far West, and only recently the East has been shocked by several crimes of the frontier order." So said a 1903 advertisement admonishing the nascent movie-going population to fork over their hard-earned coins to see Edison Films' production of The Great Train Robbery, a one-reel milestone of cinema history, photographed and produced by Edwin S. Porter.

Porter began his motion picture career as an electrician and touring projectionist, working several years in the West Indies and South America, Canada, and the United States. He was nearly thirty when he began working for the Edison Company in 1899 in the mechanical department. He soon was placed in complete control of Edison Films' New York studios, which meant he was in charge of the entire filmmaking operation: story development, camera, directing, editing and processing the prints for exhibition. Porter began by making small trick films and comedies. He certainly did not intend to become an innovator in motion picture storytelling nor did he have designs on creating a milestone film. But with The Great Train Robbery, he did just that by telling the simple story of the step-by-step hold-up of a locomotive's money car by a gang of masked bandits, and the subsequent formation of a posse that gives chase and eventually captures the killer gang. All of this took place within the span of about twelve minutes. While the story seems simple what makes The Great Train Robbery so important is the context in which the film was made, both historically and structurally.

Before Porter's film, audiences were used to primitive cinematic depictions of actual life, such as people riding subway trains or walking down a sidewalk. Or maybe the nickelodeons showed the flip side of actualities-- surreal dreams of fantasy life, as depicted by magicians such as Georges Méliès, who used editing tricks to make people disappear, fly, morph into other creatures, or anything else that was ordinarily impossible to achieve in real life. Whether films captured waking life or fanciful dreams, they were always structurally rudimentary, often taking place within one shot, one setting, a handful of characters, and a bare-bones plot. What Porter's film did was tell a story with many roughly sketched characters, several settings, and an editing scheme that dared to suggest that perhaps multiple scenes or story turns were occurring simultaneously. It may be difficult to understand this last point, since audiences today are expertly conditioned to be able to follow very quickly a story that's told with multiple shots, edits, subplots, and frequently contradicting points of view. Viewers at the turn of the century were not equipped with these skills, so when the film would change from one scene to another, with an entirely different setting, it was considered to be a radical development in filmmaking.

It was Porter's The Great Train Robbery that became the first influential narrative film in which the editing was imaginative and contributed to the narrative. Another element of how the film was revolutionary is in the way Porter uses matte shots, a technique that Méliès often used by blocking out different parts of two shots in order to create a composite scene that could be directly photographed by a single camera. Instead of creating illusions as Méliès did, Porter used matte shots in service of the narrative, by showing the train through the window of the railroad station (to suggest a larger world outside the tiny studio), and the moving landscape through the open door of the express car.

The Great Train Robbery also ignited America's long love affair with the Western genre. Inspired by Scott Marble's play The Great Train Robbery (1896), Porter was the first to put together motion picture magic with myths and stories of America's pursuit of Manifest Destiny on the pioneering plains and horizons, all pointing West. The basic genre tenets of the Western story were a familiar staple in American storytelling. He put into visual form what was previously the realm of imagination. Ironically, all of Porter's depiction of the American West was shot in the "wilds" of New Jersey, just a stone's throw from the Edison studios. In fact, the Westerns didn't really go West until about 1910, but regardless of location, the Western became the very first American movie genre, developed into an art form by later filmmakers, among them Max Aronson (later known as Bronco Billy Anderson), who appears in The Great Train Robbery in several roles, including the passenger who is shot in the back as he tries to flee the bandits.

Incidentally, the last shot of the film is quite literally the last "shot" of the film; actor Justus D. Barnes, playing the head bandit Barnes, points his gun directly at the camera/audience and unloads. He continues pulling the trigger even after the chamber has been emptied. Labeled "realism" in the accompanying notes for The Great Train Robbery, this extra shot, having nothing whatsoever to do with the story, could be placed at either the beginning or the end of the film. As one historian noted, "the shot added realism to the film by intensifying the spectators' identification with the victimized travelers."

Director: Edwin S. Porter (uncredited)
Screenplay: Edwin S. Porter (uncredited); Scott Marble (story, uncredited)
Cinematography: Edwin S. Porter and Blair Smith (both uncredited)
Cast: John Manus Dougherty Sr. (4th Bandit), A.C. Abadie (Sheriff, uncredited), Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson (Bandit/Shot Passenger/Tenderfoot Dancer, uncredited), Justus D. Barnes (Bandit, uncredited), Walter Cameron (Sheriff, uncredited), Donald Gallaher (Little Boy, uncredited), Frank Hanaway (Bandit, uncredited)
BW&C-11m.

by Scott McGee
The Great Train Robbery (1903) - The Great Train Robbery

The Great Train Robbery (1903) - The Great Train Robbery

"Replete With Thrilling and Exciting Incidents in Fourteen Scenes, The Great Train Robbery...has been posed and acted in faithful imitation of the genuine 'Hold Ups' made famous by various outlaw bands in the far West, and only recently the East has been shocked by several crimes of the frontier order." So said a 1903 advertisement admonishing the nascent movie-going population to fork over their hard-earned coins to see Edison Films' production of The Great Train Robbery, a one-reel milestone of cinema history, photographed and produced by Edwin S. Porter. Porter began his motion picture career as an electrician and touring projectionist, working several years in the West Indies and South America, Canada, and the United States. He was nearly thirty when he began working for the Edison Company in 1899 in the mechanical department. He soon was placed in complete control of Edison Films' New York studios, which meant he was in charge of the entire filmmaking operation: story development, camera, directing, editing and processing the prints for exhibition. Porter began by making small trick films and comedies. He certainly did not intend to become an innovator in motion picture storytelling nor did he have designs on creating a milestone film. But with The Great Train Robbery, he did just that by telling the simple story of the step-by-step hold-up of a locomotive's money car by a gang of masked bandits, and the subsequent formation of a posse that gives chase and eventually captures the killer gang. All of this took place within the span of about twelve minutes. While the story seems simple what makes The Great Train Robbery so important is the context in which the film was made, both historically and structurally. Before Porter's film, audiences were used to primitive cinematic depictions of actual life, such as people riding subway trains or walking down a sidewalk. Or maybe the nickelodeons showed the flip side of actualities-- surreal dreams of fantasy life, as depicted by magicians such as Georges Méliès, who used editing tricks to make people disappear, fly, morph into other creatures, or anything else that was ordinarily impossible to achieve in real life. Whether films captured waking life or fanciful dreams, they were always structurally rudimentary, often taking place within one shot, one setting, a handful of characters, and a bare-bones plot. What Porter's film did was tell a story with many roughly sketched characters, several settings, and an editing scheme that dared to suggest that perhaps multiple scenes or story turns were occurring simultaneously. It may be difficult to understand this last point, since audiences today are expertly conditioned to be able to follow very quickly a story that's told with multiple shots, edits, subplots, and frequently contradicting points of view. Viewers at the turn of the century were not equipped with these skills, so when the film would change from one scene to another, with an entirely different setting, it was considered to be a radical development in filmmaking. It was Porter's The Great Train Robbery that became the first influential narrative film in which the editing was imaginative and contributed to the narrative. Another element of how the film was revolutionary is in the way Porter uses matte shots, a technique that Méliès often used by blocking out different parts of two shots in order to create a composite scene that could be directly photographed by a single camera. Instead of creating illusions as Méliès did, Porter used matte shots in service of the narrative, by showing the train through the window of the railroad station (to suggest a larger world outside the tiny studio), and the moving landscape through the open door of the express car. The Great Train Robbery also ignited America's long love affair with the Western genre. Inspired by Scott Marble's play The Great Train Robbery (1896), Porter was the first to put together motion picture magic with myths and stories of America's pursuit of Manifest Destiny on the pioneering plains and horizons, all pointing West. The basic genre tenets of the Western story were a familiar staple in American storytelling. He put into visual form what was previously the realm of imagination. Ironically, all of Porter's depiction of the American West was shot in the "wilds" of New Jersey, just a stone's throw from the Edison studios. In fact, the Westerns didn't really go West until about 1910, but regardless of location, the Western became the very first American movie genre, developed into an art form by later filmmakers, among them Max Aronson (later known as Bronco Billy Anderson), who appears in The Great Train Robbery in several roles, including the passenger who is shot in the back as he tries to flee the bandits. Incidentally, the last shot of the film is quite literally the last "shot" of the film; actor Justus D. Barnes, playing the head bandit Barnes, points his gun directly at the camera/audience and unloads. He continues pulling the trigger even after the chamber has been emptied. Labeled "realism" in the accompanying notes for The Great Train Robbery, this extra shot, having nothing whatsoever to do with the story, could be placed at either the beginning or the end of the film. As one historian noted, "the shot added realism to the film by intensifying the spectators' identification with the victimized travelers." Director: Edwin S. Porter (uncredited) Screenplay: Edwin S. Porter (uncredited); Scott Marble (story, uncredited) Cinematography: Edwin S. Porter and Blair Smith (both uncredited) Cast: John Manus Dougherty Sr. (4th Bandit), A.C. Abadie (Sheriff, uncredited), Gilbert M. 'Broncho Billy' Anderson (Bandit/Shot Passenger/Tenderfoot Dancer, uncredited), Justus D. Barnes (Bandit, uncredited), Walter Cameron (Sheriff, uncredited), Donald Gallaher (Little Boy, uncredited), Frank Hanaway (Bandit, uncredited) BW&C-11m. by Scott McGee

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1903

Released in United States March 1976

Selected in 1990 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The 48-Hour Cowboy Movie Marathon) March 18-31, 1976.)

Released in United States 1903