Thomas Edison Brings Innovation to Western Films

Extra, Extra! Bandits had the bright idea to rob a train and now have a posse in hot pursuit.

There is gunfire, people tied up, and even shot. A fireman is thrown from the moving train. Audiences cowered in fear, as the posse was in hot pursuit, cornering the bandits in a secluded wooded area and dealing out justice.  

The Great Train Robbery of 1903 was the first action & Western film in history.

TThis is the gist of the 1903, 12 minute epic drama, The Great Train Robbery,  filmed in Milltown, NJ. Film historians generally consider this Edison Manufacturing Studio’s film to be the first American action film and the first Western film. It could have been inspired by a 1900 train robbery perpetrated by the famous Butch Cassidy.

The Great Train Robbery surprised viewers so much that they reportedly had the audience ducking behind the seat in front of them, or even running from the theater. In a scene at the end of the film, the camera focuses on the bandit leader, played by Justus D. Barnes, who then empties his hog-legged .45 revolver directly into the camera. 

How’s this for realism?! The scene from The Great Train Robbery that scared people out of theaters, 1903.

However, that wasn’t the only wild part of this Western. The man behind the camera and directing was Edwin S. Porter, whose prolific career would eventually include over 250 films made him the most influential filmmaker in the United States. 

Porter was one of the first to use a variety of innovative film techniques in this $150 budgeted classic film including location shooting, minor camera moving, and pan shots. The jump-cuts that he used in editing the film were a new and sophisticated way of showing two events happening at the same time but in different places, making the plot more interesting than it once was.

Action and special effects made The Great Train Robbery thrilling for people in 1903.

BIf this film reminds you of your old Saturday morning Western skits, you wouldn’t be wrong. The innovation of the film set the tone for action-packed Western Movies for years to come. The iconic scene of gunshots making someone dance was born in this film. Furthermore, even media historian, James Chapman, believed that the straight at the camera gun shooting may have inspired the gun barrel sequence of the James Bond films!

Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

Left: Intel-Edison module now available world-wide for developers. Right: The “Tommy” award given by the Edison Innovation Foundation.

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