What began as a summer series for teachers has evolved into a series for movie lovers; summer break is way over in Arkansas and winter break has begun, and the list isn’t even halfway complete. The list of movies made in Arkansas is extensive; according to an article written for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism back in 2003, Arkansas has appeared in about seventy movies since 1939. (To read the full article, click here.)
But seventy movies are a lot to get through, so the Little Rock Pop Culture Examiner has made it easy for you by recommending only ten. This is the fourth article in a ten-part series. If you missed the first article, click here. If you missed the second one, click here. And if you missed the third one, click here.
#7 — Boxcar Bertha
Legendary movie director Martin Scorcese is getting a lot of attention these days for his first children’s film (which is also his first 3-D film), Hugo. But way back in 1972, Scorcese was a relative unknown who was just releasing his second full-length film, Boxcar Bertha. Produced by Roger Corman, the same man who directed another Arkansas-made film (and the topic of one of the earlier articles in this series), Bloody Mama, the movie is a very loose adaptation of the 1937 book Sister of the Road: The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha by Ben Reitman.
Considered by some to be an exploitation film (i.e. a film that is promoted by “exploiting” subject matter, such as sex or violence), it centers on the title character, the Depression-era freight-riding Bertha Thompson (played by Barbara Hershey, whose mother is an Arkansas native), and union leader “Big” Bill Shelly (played by the late David Carradine), who are the Bonnie and Clyde of trains and modern-day Robin Hoods.
Filmed on location in Camden and Reader, Arkansas, the story is erroneously believed by some to be true. It isn’t. Ben Reitman wrote a fictional autobiography.
Critical reviews of the film are mixed, but if nothing else, it does offer a look at social issues in the 1930s.
According to Ben Fry of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock on encyclopediaofarkansas.net, producer “Corman chose Arkansas because many rural areas in the state could still pass for the Depression-era South,” and Scorcese first got the idea to shoot the later (1988) controversial film The Last Temptation of Christ while filming Boxcar Bertha in Arkansas from a combination of shooting the end of the movie, which depicts a symbolic crucifixion scene, and his first exposure to the original novel by Nikos Kazantzakis while on set when Hershey gave him a copy of the book and suggested he make it into a movie.
The movie is on DVD and is currently available to watch instantly on Netflix.