Along with Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton was another king of comedy in the silent film era.
His most famous film is ‘The General’.
Johnnie (Keaton) is a Southern train engineer in Georgia just as the Civil War breaks out. He loves his fiancee Annabelle (Marion Mack). When Johnnie tries to enlist in the army, he is rejected because his job is too valuable to the Confederate effort. Dejected, he leaves the recruitment office. His future father-in-law and brother-in-law see that he has not joined up and assume that he is a coward. Annabelle will have nothing to do with him until he is in a uniform.
A year later, Union spies hijack a train with Annabelle on it. Who better to save the day than the engineer of The General? Johnnie gives chase and does his very best to rescue the woman he loves and to prove that he is brave.
There isn’t a tremendous amount to the plot, which is fine. It basically amounts to a giant chase scene, except for some late-game developments. The decision to cast the Union as the villains is…different. It lends a different perspective and does humanize people who are often cast as being on the wrong side of history. That said, the movie never attempts to justify the southern perspective on the war. It is merely the backdrop.
Keaton is most famous for doing his own stunts. Most of these weren’t just simple tricks of the camera, he actually put himself in danger many times each movie and did suffered a number of injuries in the name of making a great movie. Considering the lack of technology, the limited ways one could set up a situation and the time period’s dearth of safety precautions, this is a real achievement. The fact that they consistently look good is a bonus.
Given the physical nature of the comedy and the film, one should be aware that this is a slapstick. It’s not as frantic as most Three Stooges shorts and it obviously lacks the verbal witticisms of a Marx Brothers film, but this is its own animal.
Being a silent movie, the acting is exaggerated, full of the histrionics and flourishes one should expect from the era. That’s fine.
Special features include: nothing on the bare bones edition.
If you have an appreciation for classic cinema and enjoy your fair share of slapstick, ‘The General’ is a great viewing experience.
It deservedly has an important place in film history.
Add an extra half star to the rating.
Not rated 75 minutes 1926