Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Great Train Robbery (1903)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Great Train Robbery (1903)

In Edwin S. Porter's pioneering film (in two versions, untinted and tinted) - one of the milestones in film history as the first narrative film with many innovative techniques - based upon a true event in 1900 when four bandit members of Butch Cassidy's 'Hole in the Wall' gang halted a Union Pacific train in Wyoming, forced the conductor to uncouple the passenger cars from the rest of the train, and then blew up the safe in the mail car to escape with about $5,000 in cash:

  • the primitive elements of all films were found in this first Western film of only about 10 minutes in length - composed of 14 scenes, with action sequences, cross-cutting (or inter-cutting), and panning
  • in the first scene, the bandits forced the telegraph operator in the railroad's telegraph office to stop the train; then they knocked out the operator with a blow to the head, tied his legs together and his arms behind his back and left him on the floor
  • after the bandits boarded the train, they killed the express mail car messenger and then blew up the strong-box safe using dynamite (with a great big puff of smoke), grabbed the valuables and three mail bags
  • while the train was moving about 40 mph, one of the other bandits attacked the fireman, and during their fist-fight on the tender, the bandit struck the fireman on the head with a lump of coal until he was unconscious, and then threw his body (a dummy) off the train
  • in the sixth scene, after the train was stopped, the bandits forced the engineer to decouple the locomotive from the passenger coaches; the terrorized passengers were forced to leave the coaches (with their hands up) - and robbed of their valuables; then, the bandits made their escape (with large bags of stolen loot) to the locomotive at the front of the train before pulling away
Locomotive Decoupled by Engineer
Passengers Disembarked and Were Robbed
Bandits Escape on Locomotive
  • in scenes eight and nine, once the locomotive was a distance away from the passenger coach, the bandits jumped from the train and escaped down the side of the hill (with a panning shot); further down, they mounted their tethered, waiting horses in a nearby wood, and rode off toward the wilderness
  • meanwhile, in scenes ten and eleven, the telegraph station operator was found bound, gagged and unconscious on the floor by his young daughter (Mary Snow), once revived, he ran to a nearby Western dance hall where couples were dancing a lively square dance, and alerted them to the robbery that had occurred, causing an abrupt end to the dance; a posse was assembled and the men grabbed their rifles and left the dance hall
  • in the exciting conclusion in scenes twelve and thirteen, the four mounted bandits rode into view, pursued closely by the large posse as they exchanged gunfire causing smoke (tinted) to blast from the weapons; shortly later, three of the bandits (who thought they had eluded the posse), stopped to examine the loot in their puches; as they did so, the posse approached on foot and surrounded them; a short, ferocious gun battle began (smoke from the guns was hand-tinted) and one by one, the bandits were killed; the members of the posse gathered up the stolen loot and confiscated the bandits' guns
Pursuit of Bandits by Posse
Bandits Stop To Look at Loot
Final Shoot-Out
  • and in scene 14, the sensational, stunning close-up shot of the dark-hatted bandit chief (with green-tinted shirt and red-tinted kerchief in some versions) (George Barnes) firing directly into the camera (and into the audience, a terrifying moment!) with his six-shooter revolver
The Close-Up of Outlaw Band Leader Shooting at Camera

Telegraph Office Assault

Bandits Board Train

On Moving Train, The Dynamiting of the Strong Box Safe

Bandit's Fist-Fight with Fireman

Bandits Leave Locomotive and Mount Their Horses in Woods

Square Dancers Alerted by Telegraph Operator


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