The Bold Bank Robbers
Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer happy endings. For Bold Bank Robbery, the path to happiness was so obvious and natural
that it seems likely that this alternate film was in the filmmaker's mind too: simply reverse the order of scenes (And omit the capture scenes.
This also leads to a more wholesome film, as the police raid is particularly brutal). Now you have a rags-to-riches story: the Dream that made
America what it is today...
This exhibit of an alternative narrative not chosen by the filmmaker is a reminder that, from its inception, narrative film disseminated
values and ideology: i.e., narrative film has always been a form of propaganda.
Yet, at the same time, flipping the narrative was easy precisely because the original film so clearly contained the elements
of an alternative narrative.
In The Great Train Robbery, while its bandits remain completely anonymous, the dance scene devotes a full minute
(nearly 10% of its running time) to a peek at the lifestyle and camaraderie of the posse (although not very flattering). So flipping the
narrative of The Great Train Robbery is not as easy - more so given that it ends with all the outlaws snuffed. Despite the
homage to its famous final scene, it is not The Great Train Robbery that is the early cinema archetype for Goodfellas,
but Bold Bank Robbery.
In Bold Bank Robbery, it is the police that remain anonymous, and whose most memorable qualities are their brutality
in the capture scene, and their buffoonery in the chase scene (8 years before the Keystone Cops). This is hardly by chance: in those early
days, Lubin films catered to working-class audiences, that would soon plunk down their hard-earned nickels in the nickelodeons to watch them.
That audience, often new immigrants, were more likely to have experiences with police as the violent force of state authority than as
protectors of the public. Take, for example, this earlier entry in the Lubin catalog: the 1903 film The Fooled Policeman:
An officer takes a prisoner to jail, but they stop on their way to imbibe in the flowing bowl. The officer drinks, but the prisoner
throws his liquor under the table and continues to fill the glass of the policeman until he is in a stupor, when he ties him fast to his
chair and escapes. The picture ends in a funny manner. When the officer tries to escape he makes a dash for the door, but the rope pulls
him back with a jerk and he falls to the floor, meanwhile calling for assistance, which arrives in the shape of a gendarme and a waiter
from the inn. Good, rich and funny.
The creator of Bold Bank Robbery, Jack Frawley, undoubtedly at that time
understood what Mack Sennett expressed many years later in explaining the popularity of Keystone Cop comedies:
Nearly every one of us lives in the secret hope that some day before he dies he will be able to swat a policeman's hat down around his
ears. Lacking the courage and the opportunity, we like to see it done in the movies.