Boxcar Bertha

The truth can be told: Boxcar Bertha is a fiction based on an alleged autobiography dictated to a Dr. Ben Reitman, who was a bit of a sham himself. So where's the crime in that? Published in 1937, the invented B.B. became an outlaw folk hero who rode the rails, pulling off brazen robberies with her anarchist cohort Big Bill Shelley. You could say this woman-of-the-tracks was conjured into being by popular desire––the Depression needed a feisty-as-all-get-up gal and her pro-union partner-in-crime. Martin Scorsese's first Hollywood film, the well-freighted Boxcar Bertha is never derailed by the wrongheaded truth of the times, that workers were just coal for the engines of industry. Bertha (a rustically sensual Barbara Hershey) and Big Bill (David Carradine) menace the moguls of transport in a drowsy thirties Arkansas where hobo encampments are as common as kudzu. For his part, Bill, more labor organizer than train robber, declares, “I'm not a criminal. I'm a union man.” Harsh times inspire harsh acts.

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