Review: Boxcar Bertha

Hit IFC Center for a midnight screening of Boxcar Bertha, one of the few remaining Scorsese films I hadn’t seen yet.


This variation on the Bonnie and Clyde formula (a woman, a socialist, a black man, and a Yankee find themselves in the crosshairs of a crooked railroad company and embark on a crime spree because… well, what else is a ragtag crew of misfits and outcasts supposed to do in Depression-era America?) is about as handsome a picture as Roger Corman ever produced, but it is undeniably a Roger Corman production. While Scorsese attacks the material with more gusto than it probably deserves, his distinctive voice is largely absent. There are, however, brief, fleeting glimpses of what would later become his stylistic trademarks: a blood-soaked climactic shootout (significantly more cartoonish than Taxi Driver’s, though no less brutal), religious imagery (not nearly as subtle as in his later work, if you can believe it), and the use of period-appropriate music to guide the rhythm of the editing.


As fascinating as it was to see how my favorite director developed as an artist in a studio environment (even a studio as small and scrappy as AIP), at the end of the day, John Cassavetes was right: it’s not a very good movie. Still, it’s worth a watch, if only for its historical significance (without it, we might never have gotten Mean Streets).


[Originally written April 14, 2018.]

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