Monday, April 12, 2010

Scorsese Film #6 - Boxcar Bertha

Film #6 out of 14 - Boxcar Bertha

Boxcar Bertha, directed by Martin Scorsese in 1972 stars Barbara Hershey as Bertha, a young woman living in the South during The Great Depression who witnesses the her father's death after his crop dusting plane crashes. Having no one, she immediately takes off on the rails and hooks up with and strikes up a romance with a union organizer, Bill Shelly (David Carradine). When the two are separated, she ends up with a Yankee gambler, Rake Brown (Barry Primus) and when she later reunites with Bill and her old friend Von (Bernie Casey), Rake completes their quartet of thieves, usually the theft of train cars. In addition to the police, the train magnates have sent their thugs after them because of Bill's union affiliations, landing them in various prisons and, when they are able to escape, running for their lives.

Boxcar Bertha was intended to be an exploitation film, and it truly was, with a lot of unnecessary shots of Barbara Hershey's legs (she really looks like a guy when she's filmed naked from the back) and lots of languid and sweaty bodies. The film almost seems like a series of vignettes rather than a complete film, and the scenes are jarring and lack any sort of fluidity. There were also a lot of odd cutaway shots and strange closeups. As an audience, we are asked to embrace a surprising number of coincidences, usually in regard to the group being separated and then somehow meeting up with one another again. After a while, I started to chuckle because of course Bertha was going to run into Von in a bar after being separated for quite some time and who knows how many states. The acting is nothing to write home about; Barbara Hershey hasn't really evolved, her lips have just gotten bigger. The only truly notable thing is that they managed to prop John Carradine up for a couple of scenes in the film.

Having said all that, the film was produced by Roger Corman, and it does have the cool vibe of an exploitation film, plus the staggering amount of violence, particularly in the end of the film was reminiscent of a Peckinpah film and actually pretty shocking. The film also simply ends, which was actually kind of disturbing and disconcerting, but I actually really liked that aspect. I can't give Boxcar Bertha a great rating just because it was an early effort by Scorsese, and it did have more negatives than positives, but I actually ended up thinking it was better than I thought I would when I initially sat through the first few scenes.

2.5 out of 5 stars

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