The Great Train Robbery

by / Friday, 20 January 2012 / Published in Movies

The First Western movie

“The Great Train Robbery” has the honorable distinction of being the first Western movie. When it was shown a week before Christmas in December, 1903, there wasn’t a lot of promotion about the film or any real anticipation from audiences for its showing. “The Great Train Robbery” was quietly added to the end of a vaudeville act at the Huber’s Museum in New York.

Play It Again!

Initially, the patrons at the theatre were indifferent to the movie, but as it played, they became more interested in watching it. By the time “The Great Train Robbery” finished, the audience shouted “Play it again!” and the theatre did. They played “The Great Train Robbery” three more times and finally had to turn the lights on to get the audience to leave. Movie history was made! The western film was born!

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Robbery

Unlike previous films made during that time, “The Great Train Robbery” told a story. It was partly based on the true story about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s robbery of a train in the West. Similar to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s gang, the outlaws in “The Great Train Robbery” robs the train and its passengers. They then escape by detaching the train engine and riding away.

In real life, Butch and his gang got away with their crime. But in “The Great Train Robbery,” the gang is chased down by a town posse. The gang members are killed and the money is recovered. Justice, western-style, is done.

Thomas Edison Production Company.

The driving force behind the making of “The Great Train Robbery” was none other than famous American inventor, Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison had been working for years on a machine to show movies. He even purchased the rights to another inventor’s machine so that he could make the best movie machine on the market.

However, in order to sell more of his machines, Thomas Edison knew that he needed lots of films to show on them, so he created a movie division. In 1899, he hired Edwin S. Porter to help make these films. Porter saw the creative opportunities that making movies offered, so he became an ardent filmmaker that ultimately helped the entire newly-emerging movie industry leap forward.

The arrangement between Edison and Porter was excellent and they complemented each other very well. Thomas Edison focused on the machine, whereas Edwin Porter focused on the films. Each man was gifted in his area of expertise.

In the early days of movie making, people who were making movies used them to record activity. For example, someone doing a magic trick is something that an early movie might show. Porter, however, thought that movies could be used to do much more. He envisioned using movies to tell a visual stories with a complete storyline. So, when Porter made “The Great Train Robbery”, his goal was to tell a story and he thought that one about a train holdup in the west would be an excellent starting point. How right he was!

Famous Threatening Gunshot Scene

Besides the breakthrough story-telling feature, another reason audiences liked “The Great Train Robbery” was because of the shooting scene at the end of the film. In this last scene, actor George Barnes plays a bandit who takes his gun, points it directly at the camera and shoots it. This movie scene has now become famous.

Click the play button above to see this famous scene from “The Great Train Robbery” movie.

When people in the audience saw Barnes point his gun directly at them, they ducked and screamed. They had never seen anything like this before and their natural reaction was to duck. Afterwards, when members of the audience realized that it was just a movie scene, they laughed in amusement and wanted to see it again.

Broncho Billy’s First Western Movie Role

As the first Western movie, it is also fitting that the first western movie star, Broncho Billy Anderson, is one of the actors in “The Great Train Robbery.” Broncho Billy can be seen in three movie scenes in the film. (Click here to read our article about Broncho Billy and the find out more about these scenes.

Important Historical Western

Made over 100 years ago, “The Great Train Robbery” is the beginning of the Western film genre and an important historical movie. This movie launched the beginning of many more stories, legends and romantic visions of the West on the movie screen. Today, millions of people around the world still enjoy western movies.

Where to Buy

Get “The Great Train Robbery” and other Classic Western Movies

If you would like to own a copy of “The Great Train Robbery”, you can purchase it in a special DVD set containing this film and other classic Western films.

“Saddles, Saloons and Six-Shooters” contains 14 classic Western films that were released between 1903 and 1961. Combined, these movies provide over 1000 hours of Western film entertainment.

John Wayne, Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, Clark Gable and Marlon Brando are some to the movie stars that appear in the films in this special DVD collection.

In addition to the silent Western film, “The Great Train Robbery,” this DVD set contains two other notable silent westerns: “Hell’s Hinges” (1916) and “The Vanishing American” (1925)

The following 14 movies are included in the “Saddles, Saloons and Six-Shooters” DVD Collection: (in alphabetical order)

Abilene Town (1946)
Arizona Bound (1941)
Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer (1956)
The Desert Trail (1935)
Fighting Caravans (1931)
The Great Train Robbery (silent-1903)
Hell’s Hinges (silent-1916)
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
The Outlaw (1943)
The Painted Desert (1931)
The Red Man’s View (1909)
Santa Fe Trail (1940)
Trouble in Texas (1937)
The Vanishing American (silent-1925)

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