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The Great Train Robbery


Filmed in November 1903 at Edison's New York studio, at Essex County Park in New Jersey, and along the Lackawanna railroad and released in December 1903, "The Great Train Robbery" is considered to be one of the first significant early US narrative films. Greatly influenced by the British film "Daring Daylight Robbery" (1903) it introduced many new cinematic techniques (cross cutting, double exposure, camera movement and location shooting) to American audiences. It was directed by Edwin S Porter and stars Justus D. Barnes as the head bandit, G. M. Anderson as a slain passenger and a robber, Walter Cameron as the sheriff. From the Edison Film Catalogue 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.... 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.... Scene 6 - Exterior of passenger coaches. The bandits compel the passengers to leave coaches with hands aloft, and line up along the tracks. One of the robbers covers them with large pistols in either hand, while the others ransack travelers' pockets. A passenger makes an attempt to escape, but is instantly shot down.... Scene 7 - The escape. The desperadoes board the locomotive with their booty, command the engineer to start his machine, and disappear in the distance. Scene 8 - Off to the mountains. The robbers bring the engine to a stop several miles from the scene of the `Hold Up,' and take to the mountains. Scene 9 - A beautiful scene in a valley. The bandits come down the side of a hill on a run and cross a narrow stream. Mounting their horses, which were tied to nearby trees, they vanish into the wilderness. Scene 10 - Interior of telegraph office. The operator lies bound and gagged on the floor. After a desperate struggle, he succeeds in standing up. Leaning on the table, he telegraphs for assistance by manipulating the key with his chin, and then faints from exhaustion. His little daughter enters.... cuts the ropes, and, throwing a glass of water in his face, restores him to consciousness. Arising in a bewildered manner, he suddenly recalls his thrilling experience, and rushes forth to summon assistance. Scene 11 - Interior of a dance hall.... typical Western dance house scene.... Suddenly the door opens and the half dead telegraph operator staggers in. The crowd gathers around him, while he relates what has happened.... The men secure their guns and hastily leave in pursuit of the outlaws. Scene 12 - The posse in pursuit. Shows the robbers dashing down a rugged mountain at a terrible pace, followed closely by a large posse, both parties firing as they proceed. One of the desperadoes is shot.... Scene 13 - The remaining three bandits, thinking they had eluded their pursuers, have dismounted from their horses.... and begin to examine the contents of the mail bags.... The pursuers, having left their horses, steal noiselessly down upon them until they are completely surrounded. A desperate battle then takes place. After a brave stand, all of the robbers and several of the posse bite the dust. Scene 14 - Realism. Full frame of Barnes, leader of the outlaw band, taking aim and firing point blank at the audience. (This effect was gained by foreshortening in making the picture). "The resulting excitement is great. This section of the scene can be used either to begin the subject or to end it, as the operator may choose. Remastered, tinted and new soundtrack added in 2010.

The Great Train Robbery is a 1903 American Silent film Short film Western (genre) written, produced, and directed by Edwin S. Porter. At ten 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 film technique including composite editing, camera movement and Filming location shooting. The film is one of the earliest to use the technique of cross cutting, in which two scenes appear to occur simultaneously but in different locations. Some prints were also hand colored in certain scenes.
The Great Train Robbery 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. In 1990, The Great Train Robbery was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


The film opens with two bandits breaking into a railroad telegraph office, where they force the operator at gunpoint to stop the train and give the engineer orders to fill the train up at the station's water tank. Afterwards they knock him out and tie him up. As the train stops to fill up, the bandits, now four, board the train. While two of the bandits enter an express car, kill a messenger and open a box of valuables with dynamite, the others kill the fireman and force the engineer to halt the train and disconnect the locomotive. The bandits then force the passengers off the train and ransack them of their belongings. One passenger tries to escape, but is instantly shot down. Carrying their loot, the bandits escape in the locomotive, later stopping in a valley to continue on horseback.
Back in the telegraph office, the operator wakes up and tries to escape, collapsing again. His daughter enters and restores him to consciousness by throwing water in his face. At a nearby dance hall, there is comic relief when a "dude" is forced to dance when the men fire at his feet. The operator goes to the dance hall to gather assistance, and the men grab their guns and pursue the bandits. The posse catches up with the bandits, and in a final shootout all of the bandits are killed.

=Final shot=

An additional scene of the film consists of a close up of the leader of the bandits, played by Justus D. Barnes, firing point blank towards the camera. While usually placed at the end, Porter stated that the scene could also be played at the beginning.


  • Alfred C. Abadie as Sheriff
  • Broncho Billy Anderson as Bandit / Shot Passenger / Tenderfoot Dancer
  • Justus D. Barnes as Bandit Who Fires At Camera
  • Walter Cameron as Sheriff
  • Donald Gallaher as Little boy
  • Frank Hanaway as Bandit
  • Adam Charles Hayman as Bandit
  • John Manus Dougherty, Sr. as Fourth bandit
  • Marie Murray as Dance-hall dancer
  • Mary Snow as Little girl
  • George Barnes (uncredited)
  • Morgan Jones (uncredited)

Production notes

Porter's film was shot at the Edison studios in New York City, on location in New Jersey at the South Mountain Reservation, part of the modern Essex County Park System, New Jersey, as well as along the Delaware, Lackawanna, and Western Railroad. Filmed during November 1903, the picture was advertised as available for sale to distributors in December of that same year.
The film's budget was an estimated United States dollar150.< name=souter></> Upon its release, The Great Train Robbery became a massive success and is considered one of the first Western films.< name=winter></> It is also considered one of the first blockbuster (entertainment)s and was one of the most popular films of the silent era until the release of The Birth of a Nation in 1915.</>
  • In the 1966 Batman (TV series) entitled "The Riddler's False Notion", silent film star Francis X. Bushman as the wealthy film collector who owns a print of The Great Train Robbery.<></>
  • The final shot is paid homage in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas when Joe Pesci's character fires a gun at the camera at the end of the movie.
  • Ridley Scott also paid homage after the final credits of American Gangster (film) when Denzel Washington's character in a darkened bar fires a gun into the camera.
  • The .45 Long Colt shot clip appears in the historical introduction to the film Tombstone (film), as do numerous other clips from the film, notably the man shot while attempting to escape the robbers.
  • According to media historian James Chapman (media historian), the gun barrel sequence featured in the James Bond films are similar to that scene featuring of Justus D. Barnes firing at the camera. The sequence was created by Maurice Binder.<></>
  • In Martin Scorsese's 2011 film Hugo (film), there is a clip while the main characters were reading a book, with other famous movie clips such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
  • The 1904 film The Bold Bank Robbery was inspired by the success of this film.
  • In 1996 during an Arthur episode, the film was remade, but had background music and dialogue by the voice actors from the TV Show.

  • Category:1903 films
    Category:1900s Western (genre) films
    Category:American films
    Category:American silent short films
    Category:American Western (genre) films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:Films based on plays
    Category:Films directed by Edwin S. Porter
    Category:Films shot in New Jersey
    Category:Heist films
    Category:Rail transport films
    Category:Films about hijackings
    Category:Thomas Edison
    Category:United States National Film Registry films
    Edwin S Porter

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