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December 1, 1903 Release, The Great Train Robbery

December 1, 2008

Edwin S. Porter’s (ironically he was not credited for the film) great silent western, The Great Train Robbery, gave birth to most cliches in western films today. It is a tale of a train robbery, a clerk is assaulted and left tied up by four men. They rob the train and threaten the operator. They take the money and shoot a passenger. A girl discovers the clerk and gets the Sheriff on the trail who goes hunting the bandits.

This was new to audiences of the day, and quite the well edited film. Porter uses mostly close up and medium shots to engage the audience, making them feel close to the action. The edits are choppy which speeds up the action. The acting is theatrical and in line with vaudeville performance, but what is most interesting is watching the beginnings of one of the major genres.

Porter made 177 films in his lifetime, beginning in 1898 with The Cavalier’s Dream and ending in 1915 with Lydia Gilmore. This one, his uncredited film, is one of the best he ever did, but several of his later films with Eugene O’Neill’s father as the lead actor are worth viewing for historical sake as well.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 1, 2008 1:12 am

    One of the first great classics !!! WOW !!! These movies are so
    important. And a thrilling peek into a life and time we can only
    dream about !!!

    • December 9, 2008 6:14 pm

      Yes, I am almost caught up to modern day films now…all the way to 1905 now. Only a few more years of movies to go and then I will have seen every film ever.

      • August 1, 2009 7:23 pm

        Heya, we seem to be on a similar quest, haha! (See my own ramblings at http://megaplex.wordpress.com).

        It really is fascinating to compare this film with later Western and in fact all modern action movies. Especially if you have watched other films that came before it, it is amazing what progress has been made. After only a few years of short non-fiction films and early experiments at effects, storytelling, and editing, you suddenly see Le voyage dans la lune (1902) or The Great Train Robbery (1903) and start trying to figure out things that have changed since. Apart from what you can blame on limited technical abilities and lack of experience, what you’ve got here is basically cinema as we know it today. This is where it’s no longer just historical interest, but actual suspense that keeps you watching.

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