Boxcar Bertha

Boxcar Bertha is a low budget 1972 American romantic crime drama film directed by Martin Scorsese.[1] It is a loose adaptation of Sister of the Road, a pseudo-autobiographical account of the fictional character Bertha Thompson, written by Ben L. Reitman.[2][3] It was Scorsese's second feature film.

Boxcar Bertha
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMartin Scorsese
Produced byRoger Corman
Screenplay byJoyce H. Corrington
John William Corrington
Based onSister of the Road
by Ben L. Reitman
StarringBarbara Hershey
David Carradine
Barry Primus
Bernie Casey
John Carradine
Music byGib Guilbeau
Thad Maxwell
CinematographyJohn Stephens
Edited byBuzz Feitshans
Distributed byAmerican International Pictures
Release date
  • June 14, 1972 (1972-06-14)
Running time
87 minutes
CountryUnited States


The film tells the story of Boxcar Bertha Thompson and "Big" Bill Shelly, two train robbers and lovers who are caught up in the plight of railroad workers in the American South. When Bertha is implicated in the murder of a wealthy gambler, the pair become fugitives.



After the success of Bloody Mama, Roger Corman wanted to make another female gangster film. Julie Corman researched female gangsters and came across the story of Boxcar Bertha. Martin Scorsese was hired to direct on the strength of his first feature. He was given the lead actors, including Barbara Hershey, David Carradine, and Barry Primus, and a shooting schedule of 24 days in Arkansas.[4] The Reader Railroad was used for the train scenes.

The locomotive in those scenes was 1920 Baldwin 2-6-2 #108, who later saw service on the Conway Scenic Railroad in the late 1970s. The engine is currently at the Blacklands Railroad yard in Sulphur Springs Texas, awaiting restoration. Locomotive #1702, a USATC S160 2-8-0 built by Baldwin in 1942, was also seen in the film as well. The locomotive is now operational at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

Scorsese makes a cameo in the film as one of Bertha's clients during the brothel montage.[5]

Hershey later called the film "a lot of fun even though it's terribly crippled by Roger Corman and the violence and sex. But between the actors and Marty Scorsese the director, we had a lot of fun. We really had characters down but one tends to not see all that, because you end up seeing all the blood and sex."[6]


Boxcar Bertha received mixed reviews from critics. It holds a rating of 48% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 21 reviews.[7]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 stars out of 4 and called it "a weirdly interesting movie ... Director Martin Scorsese has gone for mood and atmosphere more than for action, and his violence is always blunt and unpleasant — never liberating and exhilarating, as the New Violence is supposed to be. We get the feeling we're inhabiting the dark night of a soul."[8] Howard Thompson of The New York Times found the film an "interesting surprise," with an "excellent" performance by Carradine and "beautiful" direction by Scorsese, "who really comes into his own here."[9] Arthur D. Murphy of Variety was negative, writing, "Whatever its intentions, 'Boxcar Bertha' is not much more than an excuse to slaughter a lot of people ... The final cut has stripped away whatever mood and motivation may have been in the script, leaving little more than fights, shotgun blasts, beatings and aimless movement."[10] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1 star out of 4 and called it a "trashy movie" with violence that "does not shock. It merely depresses."[11] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "What is most impressive about 'Boxcar Bertha' ... is how 28-year old director Martin Scorsese, in his first Hollywood venture, has managed to shape such familiar material into a viable film."[12] Tom Milne of The Monthly Film Bulletin declared: "Abrasively scripted, stunningly shot, and beautifully acted by David Carradine, Barbara Hershey and Barry Primus in particular, Boxcar Bertha is much more than the exploitation picture it has been written off as (by Variety, for instance) and makes a worthy companion piece to both Bloody Mama and Bonnie and Clyde."[13]

See also


  1. "Boxcar Bertha". Turner Classic Movies. United States: Turner Broadcasting System. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  2. Ben L. Reitman (1937). Sister of the Road. New York City: The Macaulay Company. ASIN B0008581E4.
  3. Thompson, Howard (August 18, 1972). "The Screen: 'Boxcar Bertha' Tops Local Double Bill". The New York Times.
  4. Chris Nashawaty, Crab Monsters, Teenage Cavemen and Candy Stripe Nurses - Roger Corman: King of the B Movie, Abrams, 2013 p 120
  5. Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 33
  6. "THEATRE". Tharunka. 27, (13). New South Wales, Australia. 12 October 1981. p. 28. Retrieved 27 April 2017 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  7. "Boxcar Bertha (1972)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  8. Ebert, Roger (July 19, 1972). "Boxcar Bertha". Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  9. Thompson, Howard (August 18, 1972). "The Screen: 'Boxcar Bertha' Tops Local Double Bill". The New York Times. 19.
  10. Murphy, Arthur D. (May 31, 1972). "Film Reviews: Boxcar Bertha". Variety. 6.
  11. Siskel, Gene (July 20, 1972). "Now You See..." Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 9.
  12. Thomas, Kevin (June 21, 1972). "'Bertha' Battles Red-Necks". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 13.
  13. Milne, Tom (May 1973). "Boxcar Bertha". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 40 (472): 94.
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