Movie Name: The General
Studio: Buster Keaton Productions
Release Date(s): December 31, 1926
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is the conductor of The General…an important locomotive for the South. When war breaks out, Johnnie finds himself invaluable and unable to enlist due to his job. Without a place in the Confederate Army, Johnnie finds he cannot win the love of Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). When The General is stolen with Annabelle inside, Johnnie will stop at nothing to get it back…and could become the war hero that he’s always wanted to be!
Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, The General is a silent comedy loosely based on The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger. The movie was surprisingly not well received nor was it a box office success. Today, the picture is considered a classic and was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in the National Film Registry in 1989.
Buster Keaton is a classic master of the silent screen. The General is largely considered one of his greatest accomplishments and he also viewed it as his best film. The movie has largely held up over time.
Like many silent movies, the plot is essentially “win the girl”, but The General at least uses a lot more humor and style in its storytelling. The movie feels rather big in comparison to many other silent films and the story’s Civil War ties give it a little more substance than other comedies. It is the interesting mix of drama and comedy that help elevate The General. I do still find it odd however when you watch a movie where the South are the heroes…time has changed the viewing.
Buster Keaton also is a master. He’s very physical in the role with a lot of jumping around, playing on the train aspects, and almost vaudevillian slapstick at points. Marion Mack essentially plays the straight man to Keaton. Both characters often find themselves to be the ignorant heroes who accidentally stop danger without even knowing it.
The movie looks great. The movie often involves the train and has to have moving shots. It surprisingly looks good. Much of the humor occurs from what is happening behind Keaton and around Keaton and the visual jokes are almost as good as the physical jokes.
The General might not be a straight-up comedy, but it does have a lot of humor to it. You could argue it is an early version of the action-adventure-comedy (like Raiders of the Lost Ark). Keaton is an unlikely hero, and The General is one of his best…it makes watching silent pictures easy.