The Great Train Robbery: Where Westerns Began

A great film tradition – the Western – started with The Great Train Robbery in 1903. Edwin S. Porter’s 10 minute film combined western themes with innovative cinematic techniques (narrative storytelling, parallel editing, minor camera movement, location shooting, etc.). And the film took its inspiration from an event that became the stuff of legend: Butch Cassidy’s 1900 train heist, which ended with Cassidy blowing open a safe and escaping with $5,000 in cash.

Porter’s landmark film helped spark America’s love affair with Western films. Thousands of Westerns flooded cinemas throughout the silent era – films like Broncho Billy and The Greaser (1914)Sky High (1922), and West of Hot Dog (1924). And though the Western faded briefly with the advent of sound film (circa 1927), the genre staged a major comeback with the release of Stagecoach (1939), a John Ford film that turned John Wayne into one of Hollywood’s enduring stars. And yes, we have catalogued 25 free John Wayne Films right here. To find other free Westerns, visit this YouTube channel.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.