Review: The Great Train Robbery (1903)

Posted by Brandy Dean December 17, 2012 0 Comment 6669 views

The Great Train Robbery is a 1903 American Western film written, produced, and directed by Edwin S. Porter. The story opens with two masked bandits breaking into a railroad telegraph office, where they force the operator at gunpoint to stop the train at the station’s water tan. When the train pulls into the station, the bandits board the train, kill a messenger, open a box of valuables with dynamite, , halt the train and disconnect the locomotive. The bandits  force the passengers off the train , rob them, and gun down an escapee. The bandits escape on the disconnected locomotive. Meanwhile, in the telegraph office, the operator wakes up and gathers a posses to pursue the bandits. The posse catches up to them and all of the bandits die in a final shootout.

If that sounds like a lot of action in a mere 10 minutes, it is.  The Great Train Robbery  is considered a milestone in the history of filmmaking and rightfully so. The films uses a number of at-the-time innovative techniques such as cross cutting, double exposure composite editing, camera movement and on location shooting. Some prints were also hand colored in certain scenes. But more than technical specs, The Great Train Robbery marked a shift in the kinds of subject matter considered appropriate for films and injected a certain action-packed spirit that had been missing from prior filmmaking.

The final shot of The Great Train Robbery (pictured above) had a profound effect on filmmaking. Porter noted that the shot could be shown at the beginning of the film or the end, but it’s most typically placed at the conclusion. Anecdotes abound of audiences freaking out after believing they had been shot. Whether that’s true or not, that one shot lives in infamy. If you’ve ever seen Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, you might notice a similarity.

Gallery of Images from The Great Train Robbery


Have you seen this movie? Be sure to add your rating and review in the comments!

Our Rating

  • Direction
  • Performance
  • Story


The importance of "The Great Train Robbery" in the development of filmmaking as an art form just cannot be underestimated. And at only 10 or minutes long, what does it cost to check it out?


It's difficult to judge "The Great Train Robbery" by the same standards we would use for a movie made last year. However, there are some fatty parts to the plot. This more emblematic of a medium struggling to develop a vocabulary than it is a con, per se.

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About Brandy Dean

Social media consultant, blogger for hire, and lover of classic movies and silent films.

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