“Boxcar Bertha”

IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH MARTIN SCORSESE REVIEW: “Boxcar Bertha” stars Barbara Hershey (Black Swan, Insidious), David Carradine (Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Bound for Glory), Barry Primus (Righteous Kill, Grudge Match), Bernie Casey (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Never Say Never Again), and John Carradine (The Ten Commandments [1956], Stagecoach [1939]). It is directed by Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island, The Departed [2006]), with the screenplay being written by Joyce Hooper Corrington (The Omega Man, Battle for the Planet of the Apes) and John William Corrington (The Arena [1974], Texas [TV series]). Set during the Great Depression, a young woman named Bertha (Hershey) joins forces with a union worker named Big Bill Shelly (Carradine) to become criminals and take on the railroad system.

Our first stop in this (very) selective Scorsese marathon is “Boxcar Bertha,” the acclaimed director’s second feature. When I saw the name Roger Corman attached to this film, I knew I was in for a treat; if only that wasn’t sarcasm. Corman was one of Hollywood’s most notable producers back in the day, mainly recognized for taking a lot of rookie filmmakers under his wing to produce several flicks on the cheap. B-movies (without Seinfeld) were Corman’s game, though through these ventures a lot of notable names got their start. Scorsese was one of them, not necessarily getting his “start,” but getting enough of a push to eventually set out and make “Mean Streets.” I had no expectations for this film. Heck, I never really knew what it was about. It was included in this random Scorsese collection I was given (which is now the make-up of this marathon), and I planned on going into these movies relatively blind. I recognized none of the names featured in this piece (aside from Scorsese and Corman) and knew that once the titles came up, I was… in for a long night. “Boxcar Bertha” is a brutal affair, one that takes sheer patience and caffeine. Typically, I give old releases the benefit of the doubt. The fact that I’m watching a piece of cinema (particularly when it is aged) garners my instant respect, only to be tested as the feature wares on. “Boxcar Bertha” focused itself on the mistreatment of union workers back in the 30’s, and how one woman (and a ragtag group of men) robbed, destroyed, and wreaked havoc on the railroad system. It’s a poor man’s “Bonnie and Clyde” at best, even ending on a sad note that more so defines the looseness of this film in general. The story is all over the place, sprawling over the course of however many years and showcasing violence and nudity that would hopefully keep the audience’s attention. I for one checked the time at the nineteen minute mark, thinking I sat through half of the film already; you could say I was disappointed. There wasn’t much that kept my interest in “Boxcar Bertha.” The performances were decent and the cinematography was alright (production design and wardrobe being the strongest elements), but the story is what really pulled down the film. I didn’t care for it. The movie itself is set up to be a collection of events that detail this woman’s life as a thief (based on true accounts), but hardly any of it was interesting. I’ve seen this kind of story before and it’s not like “Boxcar Bertha” did much to reinvent the wheel. The pacing was slow and the stakes weren’t really there, given that the characters weren’t really likable (even as “villains”). Of course, there were moments that I enjoyed, one in particular being the prison breakout via a fake blown tire, but these were too few and far between. There were hints of Scorsese’s style within the frame, but clearly he wasn’t given much room to hone his craft (or he hadn’t found it yet). I actually had to be reaffirmed by the opening credits that he actually helmed the piece because it was so different (quick side note, they showed the opening titles twice; once in text, the other through pictures, which didn’t make a lick of sense). All in all, “Boxcar Bertha” is a disappointment of a feature, one that I don’t want anyone wasting their time on. You’ve seen this story countless times, and while I know Scorsese did his best with what he had, it just wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile. FINAL SCORE: 50%= Burnt Popcorn

Here is the trailer:

One response to ““Boxcar Bertha”

  1. Pingback: July Movie Rankings | Juicy Reviews·

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