Time Machine: ‘The Great Train Robbery’ (1903)

I’ve been doing these Time Machine posts of movies that are more than 100 years old for more than a year now, so I’m shocked that it took me so long to put up one of the major classics of early cinema, “The Great Train Robbery.”

Granted, the acting is bad (the shooting victims really ham it up), the continuity is confusing (how does a posse catch up so quickly with a group of bandits who had a long head start on a train) and the action is ridiculous (all that shooting and the horses in the middle of it aren’t killed?). Let’s not overlook the never-ending gunplay. (Shooting at a dancer’s feet on a crowded dance floor?)

But it is a milestone in film making, even though the classic western was made in New Jersey for $150.

Considering we’re seeing something that was filmed 110 years ago, what strikes me the most is that the action it is depicting likely would have happened within 50 years of the time of filming. Let’s assume the filmmakers were depicting an Old West train robbery. Their reference would have been from the mid- to late-19th century. From a time standpoint, we are farther away from this movie than the filmmakers were from their concept of the era of train robberies. Our ancient history is their recent history.

And that’s why this movie is a Time Machine.

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