Boxcar Bertha (1972)

R | 88 or 92 mins | Drama | June 1972

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HISTORY

Victor Argo and David Osterhout, who play railroad detectives in the film, are listed in the opening credits as "The McIvers." In the closing credits, Reader Railroad of Reader, AR, and its management and employees are thanked. Boxcar Bertha was partially shot on location in Arkansas, as noted in the LAT review.
       The opening credits for the film include this written statement: "The following events are adapted from the true experiences of "Boxcar Bertha Thompson," as related in the book Sister of the Road ." Although the film’s source, Sisters of the Road , by Dr. Ben Reitman, was promoted as an autobiographical “as told to” book when it was published in 1937, in No Regrets , the 1999 biography of Reitman by his daughter, Mecca Reitman Carpenter, the author wrote that Sisters of the Road was actually a novel based on her father’s experiences as a doctor among hoboes and the poor. According Carpenter, her father, who specialized in gynecology, had many lovers, among them socialist Emma Goldman and other political activists, as well as many of the women he encountered in his medical profession.
       At the time of the film’s release, however, most critics and historians accepted the Reitman novel as factual. Several contemporary articles mentioned that the portrait of Thompson in the film differed significantly from the book, including a Dec 1972 Ms. article that stated that in the book Thompson was portrayed as a political agitator and an advocate for women's rights, seeking birth control, health care, shelter and legal aid for impoverished women during the Depression.
       As noted in a 26 ... More Less

Victor Argo and David Osterhout, who play railroad detectives in the film, are listed in the opening credits as "The McIvers." In the closing credits, Reader Railroad of Reader, AR, and its management and employees are thanked. Boxcar Bertha was partially shot on location in Arkansas, as noted in the LAT review.
       The opening credits for the film include this written statement: "The following events are adapted from the true experiences of "Boxcar Bertha Thompson," as related in the book Sister of the Road ." Although the film’s source, Sisters of the Road , by Dr. Ben Reitman, was promoted as an autobiographical “as told to” book when it was published in 1937, in No Regrets , the 1999 biography of Reitman by his daughter, Mecca Reitman Carpenter, the author wrote that Sisters of the Road was actually a novel based on her father’s experiences as a doctor among hoboes and the poor. According Carpenter, her father, who specialized in gynecology, had many lovers, among them socialist Emma Goldman and other political activists, as well as many of the women he encountered in his medical profession.
       At the time of the film’s release, however, most critics and historians accepted the Reitman novel as factual. Several contemporary articles mentioned that the portrait of Thompson in the film differed significantly from the book, including a Dec 1972 Ms. article that stated that in the book Thompson was portrayed as a political agitator and an advocate for women's rights, seeking birth control, health care, shelter and legal aid for impoverished women during the Depression.
       As noted in a 26 Apr 1972 Var article, shortly before the film was released, Barbara Hershey changed her name to "Barbara Seagull ," a name she publicly vowed to use as her professional name for all projects subsequent to Boxcar Bertha , but she resumed using the surname Hershey within a few years. Hershey and co-star David Carradine lived together for many years. The Aug 1972 issue Playboy included several pages of stills from their lovemaking scenes in the film, which, according to the couple in accompanying quotes in the Playboy article, were genuine. A 27 Jul 1972 DV article stated that newsstand sales of this Playboy issue were banned in Canada because of the explicit photographs.
       Although several contemporary articles stated that Boxcar Bertha marked the directorial debut of Martin Scorsese, he had already directed several pictures, including the 1968 feature film Who's That Knocking at My Door? (see below) and Street Scenes , a 1970 documentary that did not have a commercial release. Scorsese also had worked as an assistant director and editor on the 1970 documentary Woodstock and had directed numerous short films. Scorsese had a minor role in the film as one of Bertha's customers at the brothel. Boxcar Bertha was one of the first film credits for associate producer Julie Corman, the wife of producer Roger Corman. She also produced Night Call Nurses (see below), which was released at the same time as Boxcar Bertha , Jun 1972. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
12 Jun 1972.
---
Daily Variety
20 Apr 1972.
---
Daily Variety
25 May 1972.
---
Daily Variety
27 Jul 1972.
---
Filmfacts
1972
pp. 326-28.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 1971
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 1971
p. 27.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Mar 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 1972
p. 3, 9.
Los Angeles Times
21 Jun 1972.
---
Ms.
Dec 1972
---
New York Times
18 Aug 1972.
---
Playboy
Aug 1972.
---
Variety
26 Apr 1972.
---
Variety
31 May 1972
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
In charge of prod
Assoc prod
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Key grip
Asst cam
Asst cam
ART DIRECTOR
Visual consultant
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost supv
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus comp
[Mus] prod
SOUND
Sd mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles des by
PRODUCTION MISC
Loc coord
Scr supv
Prod assoc
Unit pub
Post-prod supv
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on characters contained in Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of BoxCar Bertha as told to Dr. Ben L. Reitman (New York, c. 1937).
DETAILS
Release Date:
June 1972
Production Date:
early November--mid December 1971
Copyright Claimant:
American International Pictures
Copyright Date:
14 June 1972
Copyright Number:
LP41011
Physical Properties:
Sound
Ryder Sound Services
Color
Movielab
Duration(in mins):
88 or 92
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In rural Arkansas during the 1930s Depression, forthright sixteen-year-old farm girl Bertha Thompson watches as her father Jack plummets to his death while crop dusting. Having witnessed Jack’s boss knowingly order her father to fly in a faulty plane, Bertha, hysterical with grief, attacks the callous man with the help of Jack’s black mechanic, Von Morton, and Big Bill Shelly, a labor organizer who is working on a railroad gang nearby. Days later, rootless Bertha jumps onto a railroad boxcar to start a new life, carrying nothing but her clothes. Stopping at a rail yard, she is soon reunited with Bill, who is preaching to an angry crowd of workers, urging them to fight the railroad bosses and unionize Reader Rail Road. When violence erupts between the workers and the police, Bill whisks Bertha away to safety and finds a meal for her. Attracted by her equally rebellious nature, Bill gently seduces the virgin in a boxcar that night and leaves her some money before he disappears. Bertha uses the money to win at a hobo camp craps game against Rake Brown, a silent cardsharp. With Bertha’s persistence, Rake finally utters something in a “Yankee” accent, immediately guaranteeing that he and Bertha are ousted from the camp, which is filled with Southerners. Realizing he cannot ply his trade without fitting in, Rake soon accepts Bertha’s offer to teach him a Southern accent and idioms in trade for sharing the money gained from fleecing wealthy men in gambling parlors. Happy to have food and a place to stay, Bertha acquiesces to his sexual advances as well. One night, when a cheated customer, an attorney, pulls a gun on them, Bertha ... +


In rural Arkansas during the 1930s Depression, forthright sixteen-year-old farm girl Bertha Thompson watches as her father Jack plummets to his death while crop dusting. Having witnessed Jack’s boss knowingly order her father to fly in a faulty plane, Bertha, hysterical with grief, attacks the callous man with the help of Jack’s black mechanic, Von Morton, and Big Bill Shelly, a labor organizer who is working on a railroad gang nearby. Days later, rootless Bertha jumps onto a railroad boxcar to start a new life, carrying nothing but her clothes. Stopping at a rail yard, she is soon reunited with Bill, who is preaching to an angry crowd of workers, urging them to fight the railroad bosses and unionize Reader Rail Road. When violence erupts between the workers and the police, Bill whisks Bertha away to safety and finds a meal for her. Attracted by her equally rebellious nature, Bill gently seduces the virgin in a boxcar that night and leaves her some money before he disappears. Bertha uses the money to win at a hobo camp craps game against Rake Brown, a silent cardsharp. With Bertha’s persistence, Rake finally utters something in a “Yankee” accent, immediately guaranteeing that he and Bertha are ousted from the camp, which is filled with Southerners. Realizing he cannot ply his trade without fitting in, Rake soon accepts Bertha’s offer to teach him a Southern accent and idioms in trade for sharing the money gained from fleecing wealthy men in gambling parlors. Happy to have food and a place to stay, Bertha acquiesces to his sexual advances as well. One night, when a cheated customer, an attorney, pulls a gun on them, Bertha is forced to shoot the man in self-defense. Just outside, vengeful locals and the police are beating striking railroad workers and burning their camp, and Rake and Bertha jump on a boxcar with escaping workers. Spotting Bill, Bertha climbs into his arms, easily forsaking Rake, who realizes he is no match for Bill’s charms. Soon after, when the police stop the car, Bertha escapes; however, Bill and Rake, along with workers, are taken to a jail. Bill finds Von there, but when he tries to speak with him, the attending officers call him a “nigger lover” and beat Bill mercilessly, inciting a riot between the prisoners and the bigoted police. Although Bill, Rake and Von survive the ensuing massacre against the prisoners, they are then sent to work on a chain gang as punishment. Days later, Bertha, posing as a woman in distress, distracts deputy sheriff Harvey Hall from his duty overseeing the railroad work, thus giving Bill the opportunity to knock him out with a shovel and escape with Rake, Von and Bertha in a stolen car. In the ensuing chase, Bill skillfully evades the pursuing police, including the sheriff, who drives off a cliff, but soon the car breaks down. After pushing the vehicle onto the tracks to cause the oncoming freight train to crash, the four rob the train of $12,000 and flee to a hideout, where they split the money. Days later, Rake reads the newspaper reports of their escapade out loud, including a description of Rake as a “coward” and Bertha as a “whore” implicated in the shooting of an attorney. As Bertha protests that the charges are false, Bill, Rake and Von realize that they have no choice but to continue a life of crime in order to survive. Still committed to the plight of the workers, Bill takes his $3,000 share to nearby union headquarters, but organizer Joe Cox refuses his money, insisting that his criminal reputation can only hurt the union now. Without the option of real work or unionizing, Bill stages a bank robbery in which he insists that in addition to handing over most of the bank’s cash, the cashiers must add $10 to each worker’s paycheck. They then rob the Reader Railroad, hoping to terrorize its owner, power-hungry H. Buckram Sartoris. Flustered but not intimidated, Sartoris immediately hires two sadistic railroad detectives, the McIvers, to capture Bill and the others. Days later, Bill, depressed that he is unable to return to honest work, suggests to Bertha that she leave him and their criminal life, but Bertha refuses out of love for Bill. Soon after, the gang robs Sartoris and his guests at a party the Sartoris is hosting. As the michievous Bertha takes their money and jewels, playfully draping them about her, Sartoris accuses Bill of being merely a common thief instead of a real Bolshevik. Buoyed by malice for Sartoris and confidence in their skills, the men later attempt to kidnap Sartoris on his own train, but the McIvers and several other thugs are waiting for them. While Bertha safely flees, Rake, feeling powerless and exhausted, bravely tries to defeat the McIvers and is killed. Von and Bill are subsequently sent to jail, where the police brutally beat Bill for his past union organizing efforts. Meanwhile, the now penniless Bertha is forced to work at a brothel, where she easily charms and satisfies her customers, but the work drains her of any hope. Then one night, Bertha recognizes the sound of Von’s harmonica playing as she passes a black night club. Spotting Von on the stage, Bertha runs to embrace her friend, who tells her that, although Bill has recently escaped prison, he is quite ill. Von takes Bertha to the shack in which Bill is hiding, where the two reunite in bittersweet tears. As a weary and ill Bill warns her that his days are numbered, Sartoris’ thugs arrive at the shack and beat both of them viciously, crucifying Bill by nailing his hands to a boxcar. When Von realizes what is happening, he reflexively grabs a shotgun and kills each of the assailants, including the McIvers, and releases Bertha’s bound hands. As Bertha runs along the tracks while the boxcar carries Bill’s lifeless body away, she begs the train not to take him from her. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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