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The Great Train Robbery

Black and white, silent, 1903, shot by Edwin Stanton Porter
Edison Manufacturing Company
Runtime: 11 minutes

Starring Gilbert M. Anderson (all of the cast is uncredited)

The Great Train Robbery is widely recognized as the first "story" western, establishing a now-familiar plot structure of westerns: crime, pursuit, and retribution. 

The film opens with bandits, guns drawn, entering a telegraph office/train station. They knock out and tie up the station attendant, and proceed to board the train while it is stopped for a water refill.

The scene cuts to a shootout between the bandits and a man working in the baggage/mail car. The man is shot, and the robbers blow up a locked box (the explosion of smoke is hand colored in the film) to make off with the valuables inside.

The next scene was to become a staple in future westerns: the bandits have a fistfight with the crew on the top of the moving train cars. Once in control of the engine, the outlaws unhitch the passenger cars, force the travelers out onto the tracks, and rob them one by one. As one passenger tries to run away, he is shot in the back.  The robbers take the loot and make their getaway in the unhooked engine.  Further down the tracks, they escape on foot into a scrubby woods where their horses await.

The story returns to the telegraph office, where a little girl enters to find the attendant tied up.  As she unties and revives him, the scene cuts to a local square dance (in this scene the women's dresses and some smoke are hand-colored).  The station attendant bursts into the dance to tell the news, the men run out to hunt down the bandits.  There is a pursuit on horseback, complete with shooting and colorized gun smoke.  The outlaws are all found and shot dead in the woods.

The movie closes with a close-up shot of a man wearing a colorized bandana around his neck. He faces the audience, points a revolver at the camera, and fires two shots. It is the only close-up of the film.

Plot keywords: railroad, train robbery

Scenery: forest

The Great Train Robbery can be viewed on YouTube or on the Library of Congress web site.

Classic Westerns on TCM

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