Boxcar Bertha
Twilight Time // R // $29.95 // October 11, 2016
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted November 28, 2016
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Boxcar Bertha Blu-ray Review

Boxcar Bertha is a 1972 crime-drama from legendary producer Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Little Shop of Horrors, Piranha). The film is one of the first early works from acclaimed director Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas). Despite being a B movie exploitation film the film is perhaps best considered as an early showcase of the developing style of director Scorsese.

Based on the book by Ben L. Reitman, Boxcar Bertha takes place during the great depression. It tells the story of a union leader (who speaks to the working class) named Big Bill Shelly (David Carradine) and a young woman named Boxcar Bertha (Barbara Hershey) as the pair become criminals as they fight against the management of a railroad management company leaving workers in poverty. The supporting cast includes Rake Brown (Barry Primus), Von Morton (Bernie Casey), and H. Buckram Sartoris (John Carradine).

From a production standpoint, the cinematography by John M. Stephens (Sorcerer, Billy Jack), is easily one of the most impressive aspects of the entire production. The cinematography effort by Stephens utilizes the natural landscapes and scenery well with good lighting and plenty of style. The music is composed by Gib Guilbeau and Thad Maxwell and while it doesn't make as much of an impression it gives the film a country-jazz style that is certainly interesting.

The screenplay was written by co-screenwriters Joyce Hooper Corrington and John William Corrington (Battle for the Planet of the Apes, The Omega Man, I Am Legend). The film is lacking a great storyline but it's a decently written film with some interesting moments. The production's "B movie" aspect certainly doesn't help it excel as some kind of great cinematic achievement but the film is a modestly entertaining success.

Boxcar Bertha isn't great. In fact, it's merely a modestly entertaining motion-picture (at best). Yet it's an interesting piece of cinematic history as it showcases another budding filmmaker working with prolific Hollywood producer Roger Corman (who also helped launch the careers of other would-be prolific directors such as James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, and Jonathan Demme) in the process which would be dubbed "The Coroman Film School".

Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, After Hours, Hugo), Boxcar Bertha is one of the filmmakers earliest works: a fact which shows in several ways. The film doesn't tell a great story (as many later Scorsese films would). What it does showcase is a developing filmmaker learning more about the craft and about his own style as a director.

Though it isn't a great film, Boxcar Bertha is a film which will appeal primarily to huge movie buffs: if only to see how a director as incredible as Scorsese was developing his directing style. The film is interesting in framing and offers audiences an early glimpse of the later greatness of the film's director. Scorsese directs with the vision of a true artist (and with experimental shots) even despite the film's modest storytelling aspirations.

The Blu-ray:


Boxcar Bertha arrives on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in a high definition 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. The image is a naturally filmic one with a nice layer of natural film grain. Clarity, depth, and colors are more vibrant with this HD presentation.

Please Note: This release is Region Free.


Boxcar Bertha is presented with a lossless 1.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio sound presentation. It preserves the original audio design of the film. While this is not a robust surround sound presentation, it's an accurate, clear, and impressive representation of the film's sound. It impresses with good clarity and reasonable fidelity. This a good high-def presentation.

English SDH subtitles (for the deaf and hard of hearing) are provided.


A booklet featuring a essay written by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo.

Lossless Isolated Score Presentation

Original Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts:

Boxcar Bertha is an interesting experiment by director Martin Scorsese. Though the film is technically nothing more than a slightly above-average B movie, the film still manages to showcase the developing talent of one of cinema's great auteur filmmakers.

Twilight Time's Blu-ray release features a strong video-audio presentation of the film and is worth a look for fans of Scorsese.


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