Boxcar Bertha released
Roger Corman gave a start to many great Hollywood filmmakers, and on June 14, 1972, Martin Scorsese’s first studio movie, Boxcar Bertha, was released through Corman’s American International Pictures. Scorsese had shown considerable promise with his 1967 debut feature Who’s That Knocking At My Door (starring his friend Harvey Keitel), so Corman had let him loose on a film about Bertha Thompson, a Depression era hobo and radical immortalized in Sister of The Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha. Piggybacking on the success of both Bonnie and Clyde and Corman’s own 1970 period exploitation crime pic Bloody Mama, Boxcar Bertha’s tale of criminal lovers starred Barbara Hershey as Thompson with her real-life partner David Carradine playing 'Big' Bill Shelly. Hershey describes the production as "the most fun I ever had on a movie," as Scorsese allowed his actors to freedom to improvise as he strived for a realistic feel. (According to both Hershey and Carradine, they were so willing to be authentic that their sex scene in the movie was real, rather than simulated.) Though filming only lasted about four weeks, Scorsese’s tenure on the film was under threat early on when an executive producer objected to the excessive footage of locomotives in the movie, calling it “a fornicating documentary on trains.” However, he soon learned to shoot quickly and was educated by his colleagues on the coverage necessary to shoot a mainstream picture. On its release, Boxcar Bertha was packaged with another AIP movie, 1,000 Convicts and a Woman, playing theaters as a double bill. Though it received positive reviews (Roger Ebert deemed it “weirdly interesting” and the New York Times called it “an interesting surprise”), it was maybe most important because it taught Scorsese the nuts and bolt of the Hollywood process. Following a screening of the film, he recalls being taken aside by John Cassavetes, who told him, “Don’t do any more exploitation pictures. Do something that you really [want] – do something better.” The upshot of that conversation was that Scorsese went off to rewrite a script he had called Season of the Witch, a project that would become his first great movie, Mean Streets.