Excluding the mustache villian, what was the first movie to have a person tied to a train track? Did the movie scene come from a book?

  • You're asking about the exact same trope as the other question, villain or not.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Oct 8, 2018 at 0:47
  • The other answer seems to reference the same works and tropes as the answer to this question.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Oct 8, 2018 at 1:25
  • @Napoleon Wilson this has nothing to do with the villain.
    – Muze
    Mar 13, 2019 at 17:50

1 Answer 1


Trains were and are very common in the age of silent movies and today, and so have often been used to put characters in various types of danger in the movies.

But this article:

https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/rethinking-the-origins-of-the-damsel-on-the-railroad-tracks 1

Says that it is more of a myth that dramatic silent films used the trope of tying a woman to a railroad track.

Though it goes a bit too far in saying:

Tying up women in front of oncoming trains was never a real thing.

But scenes with women tied to train tracks were more common in comedy spoofing melodramatic stage plays than in dramas, even during the era of silent films.

This familiar scenario first appeared in the 1867 short story "Captain Tom's Fright", although a more rudimentary form of it was seen on stage in 1863 in the play The Engineer. However, it really entered the meme pool as a result of its inclusion in the 1867 play Under the Gaslight◊, by Augustin Daly. (Interestingly, in Gaslight the victim is a male, not a fair maiden) By 1868, it reportedly could be found in five different London plays all running at the same time, and remained a theatre staple for decades. The earliest known use of this trope in movies was the 1913 Keystone Komedy film Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life, where it was played for comedy. It's commonly associated with the 1914 film serial The Perils of Pauline, but this is probably due to confusion (no one knows for sure, since neither the full serial nor the script have survived).

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChainedToARailway 2

As noted above, by the time this was first done in film for 1913 comedy Barney Oldfield's Race for a Life, it was already a subject for parody, and in fact might have already been a Discredited Trope or Dead Horse Trope.


In 1907 an attempt to film such a scene in England for a movie ended in tragedy.

http://www.bromley-coppard.com/Stoatsnest/ 3

Being tied or chained to the railroad tracks was not only a meladramic cliche but also inspired real life copycat crimes.

As bizarre (and horrible) as it may seem, this trope is Truth in Television. At least six people in the United States were killed between 1874 and 1910 as a result of being tied to railroad tracks.

https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ChainedToARailway 2

The earliest real-life incident I could find was from 1874, when on August 31 the New York Times reported that a Frenchman named Gardner had been robbed and tied to railroad tracks. He managed to loosen all the ropes but the one that secured his left foot, and the train cut off his leg below the knee. Though he survived to describe the attack, he soon died of his injuries.

There are other examples, including cases involving a kidnapped 13-year-old boy (1881), a 40-year-old mechanic (the article actually uses the word “dastardly” to describe the crime), a college freshman (part of a 1905 fraternity initiation; he died), a 10-year-old boy (1906), and a 19-year-old man (1907).

https://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2266/did-anyone-really-ever-get-tied-to-railroad-tracks/ 4

James Patrick Bulgar was 2 years, 10 months, and 27 days old when he was beaten and tortured by two ten year old boys and left on a railroad track on 12 February 1993, but it is believed he died of his injuries before being bisected by the first train that came along.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_James_Bulger 5

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/6hlrsz/western_films_often_depict_characters_getting/ 6

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