Boxcar Bertha (1972):
Synopsis – In the days of railroads and union busting, Bertha and her rag tag group of heroes move from town to town, fighting for the little guy and tryin’ to make an “honest” buck. But really they just keep getting beaten up and arrested.
Starring – Barbara Hershey, David Carradine, Barry Primus, Bernie Casey, John Carradine, other cops, hobos, johns and union busters!
The adventure into Scorsese’s library continues! FINALLY! My excuse for waiting so long to dig into this movie can be chalked up to many factors: The title of the film is not exactly encouraging; the movie was produced by Roger Corman, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but can be; a sophomore film is usual a dip in quality for a director, and since I liked his first film so much I didn’t know what to expect; I had already heard that the movie wasn’t that good. So after a walk in the afternoon (in 95 degree weather), and after watching a little of Rob Zombie’s Halloween, we thought better of what we were doing (the we is me and my pal Jose) and started up Boxcar Bertha. And you know what? Not that bad! Even if it was supposed to be a bit of an exploitation film, you still got some very nice Scorsese touches throughout the movie.
What I Liked:
-You certainly see some Scorsese magic in the camera work. Whether it’s a shot of the actors walking toward the camera as it leads them on or a quick edit to show reactions, one after another, Scorsese can be seen all over this, working in as many of his nowadays signature flair throughout. There was even a shot that was so good I had to back up the video and watch it again. I can’t find a clip of it online, but I will try my best to describe it: It was a sort of typical 70’s zoom, but in reverse. Barbara Hershey, David Carradine and at least one other are walking down a long wooden walkway. The shot begins with them slightly in the distance walking towards the camera, and then suddenly the zoom pulls WAAAAAY back, so much so that you can no longer see the actors, only the enormity of the walkway. The camera resumes a more average shot of the actors walking after that, but the moment was so shocking I felt this wave of love for the cinematography wash over me, because I’m a nerd.
-The story was fun most of the time in a Bonnie and Clyde style, feature young-ish bandits fighting “the man”. There is a certain charm to the naivety of the protagonists, although they aren’t much to look at when compared to Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. But really who is?
What I Didn’t Like:
-For a film about young train robbers who are constantly being jailed and shot at, this film was sometimes very boring and seemed overly long despite being under 90 minutes. I was enjoying the camera work in-between story beats enough that the movie held my attention, but I did that thing where you check to see how much of the movie is left and it was only half way done! That’s a bad sign. They had to pack in a lot of scenes of David Carradine mourning his position of no longer being an honest Union worker, because he needed character, I guess? Or perhaps it was so we would continue to be on his side after he beats up so many coppers? They must have been going for shades of Grapes of Wrath or something. And of course being Roger Corman produced, we got a bunch of unnecessary nudity. Lots of gun violence too, but that was ok. SO MUCH RED PAINT.
-The dialog in this movie is pretty bad. Considering the screenwriter was Joyce Hopper Corrington, screenwriter for The Omega Man (a movie I love but even I know it’s pretty bad), I guess I’m not surprised.
What I Hated:
-I was going to criticize a few of the actors for how they were in this movie, but I don’t know if I can really fault them. They were probably getting two directions at a time; a person who wanted to cheese it up and Scorsese who probably wanted the opposite. The attempt to baby-doll up Barbara Hershey was just gross, I’ll say that much.
Negativities aside, I still feel like this movie might be worth a watch for anyone. There were enough nuggets of good in the pile of mediocrity to make me feel like I learned a little more about our pal Marty Scorsese. And if you want to watch something a little racy and cheesy, you could do much worse.
Next up on the list is Mean Streets, which if Roger Ebert is to be trusted, should be very enjoyable. We’ll have to see, I tried watching it before I was any sort of film buff and I didn’t get it.