The Great Train Robbery (film)

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The Great Train Robbery is a 1903 American Western film by Edwin S. Porter. Twelve minutes long, it is considered a milestone in film making, expanding on Porter's previous work Life of an American Fireman. The film used a number of innovative techniques including cross cutting, double exposure composite editing, camera movement and on location shooting. Cross-cuts were a new, sophisticated editing technique. Some prints were also hand colored in certain scenes. None of the techniques were original to The Great Train Robbery, and it is now considered that it was heavily influenced by Frank Mottershaw's earlier British film A Daring Daylight Burglary.[1]

The movie was directed and photographed by Edwin S. Porter, a former Edison Studios cameraman. Actors in the movie included Alfred C. Abadie, Broncho Billy Anderson and Justus D. Barnes, although there were no credits. Though a Western, it was filmed in Milltown, New Jersey. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.


Edison Film Catalogue description

From Edison Films Catalogue, No. 200, Jan. 1904: "This sensational and highly tragic subject will certainly make a decided `hit' whenever shown. In every respect we consider it absolutely the superior of any moving picture ever made. It has been posed and acted in faithful duplication of the genuine `Hold Ups' made famous by various outlaw bands in the far West, and only recently the East has been shocked by several crimes of the frontier order, which fact will increase the popular interest in this great Headline Attraction.

Scene 1 — Interior of railroad telegraph office. Two masked robbers enter and compel the operator to set the `signal block' to stop the approaching train, also making him write an order to the engineer to take water at this station....

Scene 2 — At the railroad water tank. The bandit band are seen hiding behind the tank as a train stops to take water (according to false order). Just before she pulls out they stealthily board the train between the express car and the tender.

Scene 3 — Interior of express car.... the two robbers have succeeded in effecting an entrance. They enter cautiously. The messenger opens fire on them. A desperate pistol duel takes place, in which the messenger is killed. One of the robbers stands watch while the other tries to open the treasure box. Finding it locked, he searches the messenger for the key. Not finding it, he blows the safe up with dynamite.... [end of part 1]

Scene 4 — The fight on the tender. This thrilling scene was taken from the mail car showing the tender and interior of locomotive cab, while the train is running forty miles an hour....

Scene 5 — The train uncoupled....

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