Boxcar Bertha (1972)

“Life made her an outcast. Love made her an outlaw.” Notable as Martin Scorsese’s second film (following Who’s That Knocking at My Door in 1967), Boxcar Bertha takes place during the Great Depression and was loosely based on Ben Reitman’s fictionalized autobiography, Sisters of the Road (1937). Barbara Hershey stars as the title character, a poor Arkansas drifter who falls in love with union activist Big Bill Shelly (David Carradine). Disgusted by the disgraceful treatment of railroad workers, the couple embarks on a crime spree against the railroad management along with inept Northern gambler and con artist “Rake Brown” (Barry Primus) and blues-playing “Von Morton” (Bernie Casey). The gang has to elude goons employed by evil railroad baron H. Buckram Sartoris (John Carradine). The film, which has a rather lighthearted tone at the beginning, gradually becomes darker and darker until the genuinely disturbing final scene. It was produced by Roger Corman on a shoestring $600,000 budget and distributed by American International Pictures (AIP). Scorsese appears in a cameo as one of Bertha’s brothel customers. Not the greatest film but fairly entertaining (just like most AIP films of the era in my opinion) and a definite must-see film if you are a Scorsese fan. Scorsese followed up Boxcar Bertha with Mean Streets (1973), while Carradine would ride the rails once again as Woody Guthrie in Hal Ashby’s critically acclaimed 1976 film Bound for Glory. Hershey later starred as Mary Magdalene in Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorsese once remarked, “I showed [Boxcar Bertha] to John Cassavetes, and he just laughed and said, ‘You’ve just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit!'”

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