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The Great Train Robbery Silent Film Analysis

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Submitted By funnyguy74
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The Great Train Robbery was one of the earliest silent films, made in 1903. The film begins with two masked robbers bursting into a railroad station office, and binding and gagging the railway dispatcher. From the very beginning The Great Train Robbery is off to a dramatic start. It instantly engages the viewer. A person viewing this film for the first time in 1903 would have been hooked from the start. The film is about twelve minutes long and has a fully developed narrative and distinguishable character types: robbers, posse members, railway workers and supporting characters.
The robbers’ motives are obvious from the start. After forcing the dispatcher to give a false note to the conductor, the dispatcher is knocked out and, the robbers are then free to board the train and rob it. After the robbers board the train we see a worker who is alarmed by a sound. He peeks through the door's keyhole and sees the two robbers. The worker quickly locks the strong box, and throws the key out of the open side door. He draws his revolver and crouches behind the strong box just as the robbers break down the door and enter. After a brief gunfight, the messenger is killed.
Actors are filmed at a distance on large stages that give the feeling of being seated in a large theatre. The actor’s gestures are dramatic and outsized as can be seen with the dramatic deaths in the film. At first the film has the feel of a stage play but very quickly changes, for example, through the window of the railway office we see trains speeding by. Later in the film the loading door of the railway car is open, and through it we can see trees speeding by. These scenes add realism to sets that had the feel of stage plays. The outdoor scenes make the film more expansive and modern.
After killing the worker one of the bandits tries to open the strong box. After finding that it is locked he attaches an explosive to the box. The dynamite explosion blows open the box, sending billowing smoke, that is tinted red, and bits of money into the air. They grab three bags, and leave the car through the door leading to the locomotive cab. A 1903 audience would have been surprised and delighted at the colored tints seen throughout the film beginning with this one. For the time being it was as close as they would get to color in a film.
While two of the robbers have been robbing one car, another robber holds the engineer at gunpoint. A fourth robber struggles with another man, who grabs a shovel for defense and climbs on top of the train. They engage in a fist-fight the robber takes a lump of coal and strikes the man on the head several times until he is unconscious. Then after overpowering him, he hurls the victim's body off the top of the moving train. Two robbers then force the engineer to bring the train to a stop
The Great Train Robbery maintains a simple plot but interestingly does not spare on violence as there are several shootouts, many men are killed violently, as we see with the man bludgeoned with a piece of coal. Viewers of the time were probably very surprised at the level of violence and the use of the special effect dummy being thrown off the train must have been shocking but at the same time added immense entertainment value to the film.
The train conductor is forced off the train and made to uncouple the locomotive from the rest of the passenger cars. The passengers are also forced to leave the train. All of the passengers are lined up while the robbers steal their valuables. One of the passengers runs away from the group in an escape attempt, but is shot in the back. The robbers then make their escape to the locomotive at the front of the train. Of the whole film this scene was the dullest excluding of course the man being shot in the back. The whole scene seemed too take too long and felt as though it could have been shortened. By 1903 standards though, it might have added suspense and tension as the audience waited to see what would happen next.
Farther along on the tracks, the four robbers force the engineer to stop the locomotive. They jump from the train and escape down the side of a hill. The robbers run through a valley and cross a narrow stream. This scene was filmed outdoors and makes the movie that much more realistic. The camera slowly pans to the left where they mount their tethered, horses and ride off into the wilderness.
The film then cuts to the railroad office from the beginning of the film. A young girl enters, her dress is tinted purple, to find the railway dispatcher bound and gagged. After she throws a glass of water in his face he wakes up and gets to his feet. The film then cuts to an interior of a Western dance hall. Couples are in the middle of a square dance while others watch standing against a wall. Some of the ladies' dresses are tinted yellow and red. One male dancer is pushed to the center of the floor and forced to do a jig. Bystanders are amused and shoot their six-shooters at his feet, the shots leave small clouds of colored smoke, to make him dance faster. This scene has been copied many times in later Westerns. Suddenly, the door bursts open and the telegraph operator runs in. He alerts them to the robbery that has occurred. A posse is formed, the men grab their rifles and follow him out the door.
Through a forested area, the four mounted robbers are pursued closely by the posse. As they ride, they exchange gunfire at each other, causing tinted smoke to blast from the gun barrels. One of the bandits is shot and falls from his horse to the ground. He is shot dead a few moments later. The posse rides on after the other three robbers. The remaining robbers have dismounted from their horses. After looking around and not seeing any danger, they dump the contents of their pouches as they kneel down and sift through their loot; they do not notice the members of the posse approaching from behind. A gun battle begins and one by one, the bandits are killed and a few of the posse members also lose their lives. The Great Train Robbery is today most famous for the last scene. A medium shot close-up of the bandit chief. He points and shoots his revolver point blank, directly into the camera, and fires at the audience. This caused a tremendously terrifying sensation at the time. This scene has also been copied many times.
In conclusion, The Great Train Robbery is a simple classic Western that is interwoven with suspense, drama, violence, action and special effects. The film was so innovative for its time that many of its scenes have been copied by modern movie makers. The story is clearly told from beginning to end and keeps the audience interested throughout. All these features made it a hit with audiences in 1903 and today more than a hundred years later it still has the ability to keep an audience entertained.…...

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