The Great Train Robbery Is a Twelve-Minute Short That Was Shot in Various Wooded Parks

The Great Train Robbery is a twelve-minute short that was shot in various wooded parks throughout New Jersey and debuted in 1903. Audiences have been in love with this genre ever since, drawn to the mystique of cowboys, bandits, dancehall girls and those inevitable dare words, “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”

This era – perhaps more than any other – represents the American counterpart to England’s Knights of the Round Table. Rugged heroes, virtuous schoolmarms, sage geezers, plucky townsfolk and, of course, trusty steeds have the added advantage of being based on or inspired by the exploits of real men and women who peopled the burgeoning landscape west of the Mississippi during the years immediately following the Civil War. A man and his gun could go far. A director and his camera could go even further.

Is it any wonder that during the 1950s, film directors were widely enthusiastic to bring this brand of adventure to movie screens throughout the country and to offer viewers a respite from the pervasive anxieties about Communism, racism, and whether aliens in outer space were plotting a sneak attack? During 1954 alone, one out of every five films was about a man and his horse and a slow ride into the sunset.

It may also interest you to know that after his famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp himself developed quite an interest in this newfangled thing called “talking pictures” and offered his services as a professional consultant to filmmakers who wanted to capture what the rough and tumble Wild West was really like. Earp not only lived until the age of eighty (it was 1929 by then) but had cowboy actor pals William S. Hart and Tom Mix as his pallbearers.

Looking for some vicarious excitement set in the days of the Wild West? Here are some top picks to get you started, partner.

Screenwriting for Teens, (Hamlett) pp. 163-164

o  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

o  High Noon

o  The Magnificent Seven

o  Tombstone

o  Rio Bravo

o  Shane

o  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

o  Pale Rider

o  The Searchers

o  The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence

o  Cheyenne Autumn

o  Dances with Wolves

Screenwriting for Teens, (Hamlett) pp. 163-164

Answer ONE of the questions below in complete sentences.

1. In Tombstone, Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer respectively play Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Compare and contrast this gun-toting duo’s personalities and approach to justice with the modern crime fighting pair of Roger Murtaugh and Martin Riggs (played by Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon).

2. Take any non-Western film you like and explain how you would adapt the characters and plot to the Old West. Write the lyrics for what will be the film’s theme song when you’re finished.

Screenwriting for Teens, (Hamlett) pp. 163-164