Do you know how when you try to learn to cook, and the first couple of meals you make just aren’t very good? That feels like what it’s like with Scorsese. He is a five-star chef in terms of directors now, but he used to make food that was bad.
I did not like his first movie ‘Who’s that Knocking at My Door?’. I thought it was kind of bad and borderline insulting at times. Boxcar Bertha doesn’t work for me either.
The plot Follows Boxcar Bertha, and Big Bill Shelly, two train robbers who fall in love, who are forced to flee when Bertha is implicated in the death of her father. They rob a bunch of trains, kill a bunch of people, and so on. Sound familiar? It is Bonnie and Clyde with Trains instead of banks.
Since it is also based on a real story, it is unfair to call it a Bonnie and Clyde ripoff, but honestly, it still feels like a Bonnie and Clyde ripoff. Now I am not Roger Corman, I don’t know for sure what he was saying when he funded this movie and hired Scorsese. But, I get the sense this was similar to what Asylum Studios does, where they saw Bonnie and Clyde was beloved and decided to fund a movie similar enough to ride off its coattails.
One of the bigger problems is tone. I can’t even get a grasp of what the tone is supposed to be. It’s presented as a classic Roger Corman snuff film, but without the proper tone to make it work. There are a lot of excessively violent movies that I like. Kill Bill is a favorite of mine, Kingsmen is super violent and I love it, but here the violence is different. It feels empty and wrong. Violence can work when a certain tone is established. There needs to be a reason for it to go over the top. The violence in this film does nothing for me. It is not offensive, it is just annoying and unearned.
The film has no real atmosphere. It doesn’t feel like something Scorsese was passionate about, but more so something he did on assignment to get another project funded.
I can’t say I’m a fan of the acting either. A lot of the old reviews for this I read praised the performances of David Carradine and Barbara Hershey, but to me, they felt stilted and weird. Perhaps it was just the times, but these performances would not be held up as good today. It felt like a John Wayne performance, and that’s not a compliment. For some characters, it was almost like they were reading off cue cards, its an awkward delivery. Carradine felt the most natural, and he was honestly okay, but even still, nothing to write home about.
I can’t recommend this one either. To me, it is bland, kind of boring, and empty. I got nothing out of it and had to rewatch bits the day after just to remember what happened the next day. And when a film can’t even stick with you for a day, that is a sign.
Thankfully now we are done with the bad Scorsese movies and can get on to the good stuff, starting with Mean Streets next, which I have not seen, but have heard good things from people I trust. As for Boxcar Bertha, 1 and a half stars.