A Railway Tragedy
R and actors unknown. P: Gaumont British Picture Corporation. UK 1904
“Very little information has been preserved about this film. The name of the director and actors is no longer known. We only know that the film has been produced in 1904 in the United Kingdom by the Gaumont British Picture Corporation and that it has been distributed in the United States by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company who has registered it for copyright on 10 October 1904. This is the first British crime film and despite its short duration it remains quite impressive because of its naturalist feeling and well built story. (…)
The film gives a realistic impression because it is mostly filmed on location in a street and in two railway stations, with a number of bystanders walking by. It keeps a good suspense throughout with a number of unexpected developments until the end: the man stealing the woman’s purse and then throwing her out of the train, the woman being found alive on the tracks and saved just before she is ran over by a train, the woman waiting for the man at the next station, and the man finally being arrested after a last try by him to bribe the men who had caught him. Continuity editing builds up a story across various locations and an ellipse is used between the assault and the arrest to concentrate the action on the key moments.
The only shot not filmed on location, representing the train compartment where the assault takes place, is a bit weaker than the rest of the film as the constructed set is not very realistic and no moving landscape is seen through the window. A more realistic effect had been achieved with double exposure in the 1903 film The great train robbery. Most location shots involve camera movements to follow the action. In line with many British films of the time the film also carries a social message in warning of possible dangers (see e.g. Mary Jane’s Mishap): here women are advised to be extra careful when travelling alone. American comments on the film at the time of release stressed how European trains with their compartments were less safe than the open American coaches.”
A Cinema History