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MGM Studios DVD presents
Boxcar Bertha (1972)

"I ain't cut out for this kind of life."
- Big Bill Shelly (David Carradine)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 26, 2002

Stars: Barbara Hershey, David Carradine, Barry Primus
Other Stars: Bernie Casey, John Carradine, Victor Argo, David Osterhout
Director: Martin Scorsese

MPAA Rating: R for (violence and sexuality)
Run Time: 01h:28m:08s
Release Date: March 19, 2002
UPC: 027616873972
Genre: crime

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Low-budget exploitation king Roger Corman gave Martin Scorsese his first big directing job with the 1972 country crime saga Boxcar Bertha. Based on the true-life exploits of Bertha Thompson, a Depression-era train robber, this film achieved more notoriety for the abundant nude scenes of star Barbara Hershey than for the taut directorial dramatics of Scorsese.

Bertha (Hershey) is yet another variation on the infamous Bonnie Parker, and she takes on the powerful railroad barons (instead of banks) as the local workers struggle to unionize. Bertha hooks up with union organizer Big Bill Shelly (David Carradine), and the pair lead a series of high-stakes train robberies, accompanied by New York cardshark Rake (Barry Primus) and faithful family friend Von (Bernie Casey). The group adopt a philosophy similar to that of Robin Hood, and earn the wrath of railroad baron Sartoris (John Carradine), who employs a pair of violent gun-toting thugs. The story meanders along slowly, erupting into occasional violence, and sporadic nudity.

This a dull affair, and it was tough to accept this as anything but a cheap crime drama with little in the way of palpable tension, except for the startling climax. Performances are decent for a genre film, though Hershey's "free spirit" Bertha looks more like a transplanted hippie plopped into the deep south, and her cornpone accent is cloying. Any movie with a solid scene-chewer like John Carradine is guaranteed some fun moments, but his role here is regrettably small.

Keep in mind that this is really a Roger Corman exploitation project, and not a Scorsese film, and then the flaws won't seem as glaring. The budget was meager on this, and it looks it. Even with its weaknesses, Boxcar Bertha shows hints of Scorsese's future skill as filmmaker during the bloody climax. He staged a tragic final scene that saved this painfully dull crime drama from being completely forgettable, and hints at one of his finer films, which also starred Hershey.

Rating for Style: C
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: This is as good as Boxcar Bertha has ever looked, and the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is very clean and free of any significant blemishes. Colors don't have that faded early '70s look to them, though fleshtones tend to be too red at times. This is a vast improvement over previous VHS prints.

If only the film had been half as good as the image transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Boxcar Bertha's original English mono track sounds pretty good, considering the limited fidelity. The twangy bluegrass score sounds as clean as the format allows, and dialogue is equally clear. Some minor distortion is evident during loud passages, but overall this is an adequate, if not uneventful, mono track.

A French mono track is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: A full-frame theatrical trailer, 16 chapters and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish are all MGM has included. Like most of the DVDs in their "Avant-Garde Cinema" series, the back cover has three "cinema facts," which offer some background production information.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Boxcar Bertha's claim to fame is that this was Martin Scorsese's first film, and today stands more as a cinematic history lesson than as quality entertainment. Fans of Barbara Hershey will appreciate her frequent nude scenes here, but those moments now reek of nothing more than exploitation staples.

Even with the plodding script, Scorsese's memorably violent ending is impressive, and well-executed (considering the budget constraints he was under).


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