Boxcar Bertha

Review No. 460

I’d like to run a boxcar through “Boxcar Bertha”.

Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by: Joyce Hooper Corrington and John William Corrington
Based on: “Sister of the Road” by Ben L. Reitman
Boxcar Bertha: Barbara Hershey
Big Bill Shelly: David Carradine
Rake Brown: Barry Primus
Also Starring: Bernie Casey, Harry Northup, John Carradine, Victor Argo

Distributed by American International Pictures on June 14, 1972. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 88 mins. Rated R by the MPAA—mature themes, strong sexual content, violence, nudity, language.

Boxcar Bertha was watched on March 31, 2013.

“Thank you. Yes, I’d just like to say this is a holdup. We’ve come for your money and jewels. So, if you’d just line up against that wall there, Bill, Rake and Von won’t have t’ shoot ya.” –Boxcar Bertha (Barbara Hershey)

My biggest question as far as Boxcar Bertha is, “Why?” No need to finish the sentence. Just a flat-out—“Why?” I remember being told that Martin Scorsese was asked by Ellen Burstyn to direct Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and although it wasn’t his kind of film, it turned out great. From reading the negative reaction this 1972 flop received, I would’ve guessed its star—Barbara Hershey—had asked Scorsese to direct. But geez. It seemed even he couldn’t make her care about the project.

What surprises me the most is that Scorsese does seem to care about the project when no one else does. Joyce Hooper Corrington and John William Corrington wrote this “based on a true story” movie in what feels like no more than a week. It’s a very dumb, overblown, unrealistic, and unintentionally funny B-movie. I don’t know if this is what I should expect from producer Roger Corman, who is known as a god to fans of the exploitation film genre, but if that’s what I’m supposed to expect, he should be ashamed for trashing celluloid like this.

I don’t think Scorsese would have directed with any style whatsoever if this didn’t have any ties with the crime genre (and damn, are they loose). Boxcar Bertha wants to be one of those crime movies that centers in pairs. You know, Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thelma & Louise, etc. The film takes the obvious premise and tries to turn it into something creative. I assume creativity is relative, especially when you can end up with utterly dumb scripts like this one.

A woman named Bertha (Barbara Hershey) is stunned when her father dies during the Great Depression. And she witnesses it. I don’t mean to sound like an ass, but I’m sure this happened to a lot of people in the Great Depression; she doesn’t need to resort to what she did (especially if she’s constantly in her nice-girl state of mind). So Bertha allows herself to get caught up in the world of men. Evil, evil men. As if we haven’t heard that cliché before. And oddly enough, she takes up one of these men (whose name I don’t remember off the top of my head; I shouldn’t need to look it up) to take revenge on the railroad workers whom she believes are the ones responsible for her father’s death. Even though the first three minutes made it very clear that he died in a plane crash.

Boxcar Bertha was Martin Scorsese’s second film serving as director. It goes without saying that he learned his lesson early on. I’ve now seen 14 of his 22 films, and of all the grades I’ve given his canon, this is the first to plummet below a solid B. Hell, it’s a D-plus! In a nutshell, this is by far his worst attempt at a movie. Forget that it’s from one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time. Boxcar Bertha is almost unbearably awful.




Jackie Brown


4 thoughts on “Boxcar Bertha

  1. Just came to your blog from FMR… and subscribed.
    I am just getting into Scorcese myself, but I haven’t seen this one yet. Sorry to hear it stinks so bad. I’ll leave it lower down on my watch list then, not that it was that high on it anyway. From what I’ve seen so far, even when Scorcese tackles something different it’s usually interesting to see, even if it’s not that fantastic. The Age of Innocence is one of my favorites of his, and I was still interested to see New York, New York and I liked the performances even if it was kind of long and could have been done a bit better. Sad to hear that that might not be the case here.
    I watched Jackie Brown myself not too long ago, excited to hear what you think about that one!

    • Thanks for your comment. Many apologize for “long” comments, but I love reading them and replying; unfortunately, most people who leave them just come once and abandon the blog altogether. Hope that’s not the case here! 🙂

      I was browsing through Ebert’s reviews the other day; I knew there must’ve been some reason he connected so strongly with Martin Scorsese in the ’90s, but I was kinda surprised that he’d only given one of Scorsese’s films a grade below three stars. What shocked me even more was that it wasn’t Boxcar Bertha (it was actually The Color of Money).

      I’m interested in seeing The Age of Innocence as well. I haven’t seen it yet, only because it’s based on a book by the author of Ethan Frome. I think the version I had to read for school last year was heavily truncated, and even then it was boring. Nevertheless, I have hope that Scorsese handled it well.

      New York, New York is the only Scorsese-De Niro collaboration I haven’t seen, and it’s because, as you mentioned, it’s long.

      Thanks once again. 🙂

      • No problem! And don’t worry, I’ll be back!!! My comments aren’t usually this long either, it’s just because I just found your site. I hope you get to see The Age of Innocence, I really love it. I don’t think it’s boring, but to be fair if you’re not into the nineteenth century forbidden romance thing you might be bored with it.
        I was reading that review yesterday too, when I was deciding what Scorcese film to tackle next (I went with Casino), and I was surprised by that too! I sort of got the impression that it was a bad movie for Scorcese, but maybe not a bad movie overall. I decided not to watch it because I haven’t seen The Hustler yet anyway, so I went with Casino. Which was really good.

        • Yeah Casino’s awesome, just a bit unoriginal since it’s structurally identical to Goodfellas.

          I actually enjoyed The Color of Money more than The Hustler (both have been reviewed). I’m a fan of any and all movies, as long as they’re well made, so whereas most people my age would say they couldn’t stand The Hustler because it’s black and white, I thought Paul Newman did a damn good job of saving it.

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