Great Train Robbery, The

views updated


GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, THE, a motion picture released by the Edison Manufacturing Company in 1903, was written, directed, and photographed by Edwin S. Porter. Based on a Butch Cassidy robbery, its cast included Gilbert M. "Bronco Billy" Anderson, who became one of the first stars of western films. This twelve-minute silent movie, one of cinema's earliest narrative films, used fourteen shots to tell the story of a robbery and the ensuing chase. The film features several innovations, including a panning shot, but the true cinematic breakthrough involves Porter's use of cuts, in which he avoided dissolves and fades, to create a continuous narrative that

shows events happening simultaneously but in different places. Other filmmakers were using similar techniques at the time, but the incredible commercial success of The Great Train Robbery has given it a special historical and cinematic significance. Arguably the first western film, it was definitely the first influential one and the forefather of the genre. This tale also greatly influenced early crime and chase films. Its famous ending, in which a bandit fires a pistol at the camera, provided contemporary audiences with a thrill. Permanent movie theaters, then called nickelodeons, began to spread after this film, when investors saw the financial potential of movies.


Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 3d ed. New York: Norton, 1996.

Musser, Charles. Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.


See alsoFilm .