Martin Scorsese interviews his mother and father about their life in New York City and the family history back in Sicily. These are two people who have lived together for a long time and ... See full summary »
Based on "Sister of the Road," the fictionalized autobiography of radical and transient Bertha Thompson as written by physician Dr. Ben L. Reitman, 'Boxcar' Bertha Thompson, a woman labor organizer in Arkansas during the violence-filled Depression of the early '30's meets up with rabble-rousing union man 'Big' Bill Shelly and they team up to fight the corrupt railroad establishment and she is eventually sucked into a life of crime with him. Written by
The Reader Railroad was the actual name of the railroad where the train scenes were filmed. It opened in 1889 and is still in business, used at various times for freight, tourism and movie service. At the time of filming it was still regularly using vintage equipment, most notably steam locomotives. See more »
The currency shown in the film is all modern, post 1960s, with modern banking money bands. See more »
Rumor has it Martin Scorsese showed this film, his second, to John Cassavetes, who labeled the movie "sh*t" and suggested Marty work on more personal projects in the future. This advice prompted Scorsese to direct Mean Streets, the first of his many masterpieces. Boxcar Bertha is not one of them, but it isn't as bad as Cassavetes stated, either. It's an average B-movie of the kind Roger Corman would offer to his students (Marty among them).
Plotwise this picture has a more defined structure than Who's That Knocking at My Door: the setting is small-town America, the Great Depression is far from over, and a young girl named Bertha (Barbara Hershey) joins union leader "Big Bill" (David Carradine) in a violent protest against the people who are managing a railroad. When things turn ugly, the two lovers are forced to run for their lives, while still hoping they will prevail.
Hardly an original story (it's essentially the poor man's Bonnie & Clyde), but Scorsese does his best in making it appealing to audiences, shooting in beautiful countryside locations and obtaining strong performances from Hershey (who would later play Mary Magdalene in The Last Temptation of Christ) and Carradine, most notably in a sex scene that, according to everyone involved, was not faked.
Beyond that, though, it is obvious Cassavetes had a point: there is nothing that gives Boxcar Bertha that unique Scorsese feel. He just did his job without finding anything in the script he could connect to; even the religious iconography used in the bloody climax seems to have been tucked in for no particular reason.
Still, the film is enjoyable and worth seeing, even just as the product of a young filmmaker still shaping into the master he was to become.
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