The Great Train Robbery – 1903
Director – Edwin S. Porter
Despite it’s brevity and it’s relatively simple nature, the Great Train Robbery is essentially the prototype for the whole of the action movie genre. Directors as prestigious as Michael Mann, and Paul Greengrass owe quite a bit to the raw experience afforded to early film-goers by Edwin Porter, the films director. The “greatest living filmmaker”, Martin Scorsese even paid direct homage to this film, and the influence it has had on film, in his own film Goodfellas. With all this hype behind such a short work, does it stand on its own, or does it suffer from being more than a hundred years old?
With such high expectations going in, and with such a wealth of films that have come since, The Great Train holds up remarkably well considering. While it does seem a little slow when compared to the fast pace of action films of today, the story gets right to the point and doesn’t let up for any of its 12 whole minutes. I can picture in my head the reaction of the film’s first audience. By this point audiences had seen nothing like it. On screen violence, death, deception, and retribution all feature prominently in the film, and are more impactful than a lot of movies 8 times longer than it.
As far as cinematography goes, it falls into the same category that a lot of older silent movies do. A little boring. Due to limitations in camera technology, and mobility, there is no movement at all in the shots. The camera is put into place, and the action simply happens in front of it. Not super exciting, but again, considering when it was made, this isn’t all that surprising, or bad.
Without it, modern action, and crime movies wouldn’t be the same, but it still feels more than a little slow. Either way, it definitely deserves its place on this list, and now that I’ve seen it, I’ll probably never watch it again.
“The opening sequence from Tombstone” – Ashley