**½/**** Image A- Sound B+
starring Barbara Hershey, David Carradine, Barry Primus, Bernie Casey
screenplay by Joyce H. Corrington & John William Corrington, based on Sisters of the Road by Bertha Thompson, as told to Ben L. Reitman
directed by Martin Scorsese
by Bill Chambers Although a Martin Scorsese retrospective could easily survive the absence of Boxcar Bertha, the film is a cornerstone of the director's filmography: Without it, there is conceivably no The Last Temptation of Christ--Bertha herself, Barbara Hershey, introduced Scorsese to the Nikos Kazantzakis source novel during production--and no Mean Streets. Because he'd been toiling away on the Hollywood fringe after getting fired from his would-be sophomore effort, 1970's The Honeymoon Killers, for shooting everything in master (an experiment he would repeat to great acclaim with The King of Comedy), Scorsese agreed to helm AIP's umpteenth Bonnie and Clyde wannabe, an in-name-only sequel to the drive-in sensation Bloody Mama (which incidentally starred his future muse, Robert De Niro). "You just spent a year of your life making a piece of shit," went John Cassavetes's immortal response to the results, a critique not so much of the work itself as of Scorsese's decision to play the hired gun. Thus aborted his mission to position himself as one of the California film brats conquering the industry, as Cassavetes's tough-love approach spurred him to return to New York and resurrect the idea for Season of the Witch, a thematic follow-up to Who's That Knocking At My Door that eventually became Mean Streets.