BOXCAR BERTHA: Early Scorsese Cult Classic on Twilight Time Blu-ray

Boxcar Bertha is now available on Blu-ray from Twilight Time in a limited edition of 3000 units.

Produced by cult classic legend Roger Corman, Boxcar Bertha is probably best known for being the second feature from Martin Scorsese, whose Mean Streets cemented his name and signature genre a year later.

Based on true experiences of Bertha Thompson, Boxcar Bertha is a Depression-era exploitation-drama that follows the exploits of a young woman and her small group of misfit friends who turn to a life of crime for their survival — but maybe also for the fun of it.

While Bertha (Barbara Hershey) takes the title role and the events are centered around her perspective, the tale is as much about her gang, which include her friends Von (Bernie Casey), Rake (Barry Primus), and most importantly their leader and her lover, Big Bill Shelly (David Carradine).

The film strikes an odd tone, rooting for these train-hopping vagrants but also showing how reprehensible they can be. Big Bill Shelly in particular is supposed to be a labor hero and the film even makes a very deliberate Christ analogy with this character, but it’s impossible for me to take this guy seriously when he’s a total crook.

The story meanders a bit, which makes sense considering it’s based on a true account. Despite a freewheeling sort of vibe, this is a story that goes to some progressively darker places. As smaller scams and cons turn into full-on armed robberies, the gang becomes a target of law enforcement. Bertha is separated from the group and even turns to prostitution for a time, and the film ultimately lunges into a violent, bloody, and unexpected finale that’s incredibly shot and edited.

In addition to Boxcar Bertha, Corman had a hand in a similar female-fronted Depression-era crime exploitation films like Bloody Mama and Big Bad Mama 1 & 2, and David Carradine played a similar train-hopping, unionizing labor leader in the sober drama Bound For Glory— if you’ve seen more than one of them, they may blur together a bit. But among them, Boxcar Bertha takes a pretty unusual approach, mixing Cormanesque exploitation with character-driven storytelling. Even while checking off the AIP checklist (nude scenes, acts of crime and violence, etc), Boxcar Bertha never feels like mere grindhouse sleaze, and it wouldn’t be long before everyone knew its director’s name.

The Package

Boxcar Bertha follows the usual Twilight Time format with a transparent Elite case and an 8-page booklet with thoughts on the film written by Julie Kirgo.

Audio: 1.0 DTS-HD MA with English SDH Subtitles

Special Features and Extras

Isolated Score Track

Original Theatrical Trailer (2:30)

A/V Out.

Available directly from Twilight Time.

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