Boxcar Bertha (1972) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Quick, pick the name that doesn't belong on this list
  • Roger Corman
  • David Carradine
  • Martin Scorsese
  • John Carradine
  • None of the above

If you have any sense, you probably guessed Scorsese. You would normally be correct, at least in a quiz about the grand scheme of things, but you're not right in the context of this movie. Here is it "none of the above." Although Boxcar Bertha is a Corman quickie, shot in three weeks with multiple Carradines, it was in fact directed by the legendary Martin Scorsese. This wasn't a project originated by Scorsese. He was just a hired gun on this film, which came a year before his big breakthrough with Mean Streets.

Although he would eventually prove to be a contemplative filmmaker and a serious thinker with little time for frivolity in his films, Scorsese had no problem delivering a proper exploitation film. The characters are fairly interesting, there's plenty of action, a touch of comedy ... and there is plentiful sex. In fact, the sex scenes in this film were particularly memorable, for a couple of reasons:

  • There is considerable exposure from a woman who would later become a distinguished mainstream star, namely Barbara Hershey. Not many serious actresses have a role in their career with this much nudity from every conceivable angle. The film isn't a softcore because the sex scenes occupy a small portion of the running time, but the nudity is as explicit as any softcore sex film, with the added bonus of a famous woman wearing all that skin.
  • Barbara Hershey and David Carradine weren't fakin' it. They have both admitted that they were doin' the nasty for real.

Unlike many Corman movies, this film makes at least a half-hearted attempt at social relevance. Based on the real-life autobiographical journals of Boxcar Bertha Thompson, the film tells a little bit of the story behind the workers' struggle to unionize against the railroads in the 30's. That serious subtext, combined with Scorsese's quality work, really raised this film a cut above the B-level market that it was supposed to play to. When the man had a set piece to film, by God the young Scorsese already knew what to do with it. There are some camera set-ups in this film that are exceptionally dramatic, especially the final scene, shot down at Bertha from the top of a moving boxcar, watching her run as she tries to keep up with the speeding train, the entire shot framed over the shoulders of a crucified David Carradine. Pretty heavy drive-in fare.

Of course, the film was not created to make a statement or to exercise anyone's social conscience. Roger Corman was in the movie business to make a profit, and his formula was: keep costs low, fire plenty of bullets, flash plenty of flesh, capture the zeitgeist, and save money with an economical recycling of ideas and scripts from earlier movies. The "social relevance" of this film was actually an economically viable angle at the time. This was a drive-in movie and the drive-in audience skewed young. In the period 1968-1974, a film had to have a strong anti-establishment stance to attract that audience, so Corman made sure to pander to that. Also, Bonnie and Clyde was a major cultural phenomenon in that era and this was one of many "Bonnie and Clyde" clones (Bloody Mama, Big Bad Mama, Dillinger) that Corman made to cash in on that vogue. The criminals in this film may have had loftier ideals than the others mentioned, but they were still cut from the same cloth as Bonnie and Clyde - a glamorous young couple who pulled off charming robberies, and who were popular with the people, despite being despised by the authorities.


DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1

  • excellent transfer



Barbara Hershey and David Carradine had two lengthy and well-lit sex scenes, in which Hershey showed everything possible and Carradine showed his butt. They have both mentioned that they had sex for real in their sex scene.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C-. Barely watchable film which veers from social consciousness to mindless exploitation to action, and then back through the cycle again. There are two good reasons to see it: (1) it was directed by Martin Scorsese, and (2) there is a lot of well-lit nudity from Barbara Hershey.

Tuna says: Boxcar Bertha is one of the better Corman films, in that is has nudity from a future star, interesting characters, great pace, decent plot, and some point. I agree with most of what Scoop said, but will bump my score up to a full C. Anyone who generally enjoys the genre should like this one.

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