film 94 of 103

The Train Wreckers

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 28, 2015

The notes direct us to Griffith’s A Girl and Her Trust, which this indeed resembles. The later film works better, what with the advantage of time and evolution and all.  But though DWG has close-ups and comedy, moving cameras and parallel montage on his side, the dramatic and ideological assumptions in both films are virtually identical, and fairly threadbare. We needn’t get too carried away, since they’re all just spinning yarns and all, but as one of many points, under consideration, it’s important to make this one.

The issue in question is that of the nature of protagonism, and of antagonism. It’s more evident in the Griffith, in which there’s title card that actually says “Tramps!” Melodrama needs its bad guys, but it’s a pretty threadbare, woefully under or unconsidered scenario that equates want or poverty with perfidy. Can there be a connection? Of course, especially, as, for instance, Emile Zola (Friedrich Engels, Jacob Riis [Jonathan Kozol, Alex Kotlowitz]) had repeatedly demonstrated, when hereditary or social-environmental disadvantage eliminates any hope or possibility of improvement or mobility. The Train Wreckers is not consciously ideological, and in fact it’s barely ideological at all. But antagonism like this has its roots, and sometimes the imperiled good guys—or gals—are actually the social or systemic bad guys.

Grammar? They’re panning quite freely now, and it is a real boon, a real expansion. The second shot in the film is a real stunner, taken on location, with the external light creating silhouettes out of the dad and daughter. The multiple planes, with the train coming from the back and all, are really exciting. Movies are starting to be in need of different shot sizes, but the shot when our heroine removes her bloomers, runs way back there to flag down the train, which only barely stops when it gets back to the foreground, is a long shot in every sense that you can imagine, and in the best sense too.