American International Pictures
I first heard about Boxcar Bertha many years ago as I was paging through my book, “The Movie Railroads” (1981) by Larry Jensen. As I’ve never been much of a Barbara Hershey or David Carradine fan, I hadn’t got around to viewing this film. Unfortunately, I can’t have those eighty eight minutes back. Yuck…what an awful movie.
Aside from a few enjoyable Reader Railroad steam engine scenes, the movie itself is quite violent and none of the characters are particularly likable or even pleasing to look at (North by Northwest, this ain’t).
But obscure train movies MUST be reviewed and I’ll do my best to present “The Possum Trot Line goes Hollywood”!
Reader Railroad 1702 (an ex-US Army 2-8-0) wades through the Arkansas grass in yet another out-of-focus, artsy fartsy scene in Boxcar Bertha.
The movie takes place in Depression-era Arkansas. To further set the stage, there is constant fiddle or harmonica music in the background — which gets annoying after a while. The first word of spoken dialogue by the overrated Barbara Hershey (Boxcar Bertha) is a cuss word. David Carradine (Big Bill Shelly) plays the commie/pinko Union agitator — not a very lovable character either.
The pair were an item at the time, so the chance to rut on camera was too irresistible to pass up. Also, this was David Carradine in his pre-Kung Fu days so he was still a relative unknown.
Barbara Hershey spends a lot of time in this movie hitching up her dress as she dashes from place to place; Another attempt to board her namesake mode of conveyance.
Here comes Reader #108, a 2-6-2, waddling through the weeds; Flames shooting out the 108’s firebox door.
I believe these are actual Reader Railroad engineer and fireman operating the 108.
Spectacular fireball shots of Reader #108 slamming into a Ford Model A at a grade crossing; Note the explosion has already started just as the engine taps the driver’s door.
Having looted the baggage car, the gang boards the cab of Reader #108; Bertha and Shelly then magically acquire the skill of how to operate a steam locomotive.
Look at those teeth! Barbara Hershey channels the equine Sarah Jessica Parker on board #108; Bertha can’t quite get out of shot, but we still get a good look at the oncoming Reader 1702. Note the ex-Milwaukee Road rib-sided combine in the background.
Showing lots of leg, Bertha once more escapes via boxcar; A red Reader caboose brings up the markers.
I read this headline and went, “GOOD!”; Finally, the credits roll.
I’ll spare you the gruesome rest of the movie and just end this review here. The back cover of my DVD says it is “Beautifully Directed” (by Martin Scorsese) which means “Can’t Keep The Camera In Focus“. If not for the Reader Railroad bits, this film has nothing to recommend itself. Do yourself a favor and just visit http://www.readerrailroad.com/ instead.
NOTE: I am indebted to Glen Brewer for his wonderful article about the Reader Railroad, circa 1974. It was a great help in identifying the various locomotives used in this movie.
Here’s what IMDb has to say about Boxcar Bertha:
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