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Plot: Johnnie loves his train ("The General") and Annabelle Lee. When the Civil War begins he is turned down for service because he's more valuable as an engineer. Annabelle thinks it's because he's a coward. Union spies capture The General with Annabelle on board. Johnnie must rescue both his loves. Runtime: 107 mins Release Date: 23 Feb 1926
Buster Keaton once said that if he hadn't been a comedian, he might have been a civil engineer. He was not only a mechanical whiz but a spatial genius who devised stunts and gags with the grace of pure physics. It's no wonder he adored trains, the most elegant of machines, and brought them into his movies whenever he could. When one of Keaton's former gag-writers loaned him a book recounting the theft of a locomotive from Georgia by Union raiders during the Civil War, he was immediately fired with enthusiasm to bring this "page of history" to life. His first certainty <more>
was that the production had to be "so authentic it hurts." He even insisted on using historically accurate narrow-gauge railroad tracks, which he found, along with appropriate landscapes, near the sleepy town of Cottage Grove, Oregon.Most importantly, the area had stretches of parallel tracks, which allowed scenes of Buster on his trainagilely scrambling over the cars, balancing on the roof to scan the horizon, chopping wood for the engine while armies pass unnoticed behind himto be filmed from another train running alongside. Buster, his train, and the camera are all in motion; the wind whips through Buster's hair while smoky pine-covered hills rise and fall around him. These scenes are not only the highlight of the movie but a peak in the history of *moving* pictures, and they put to shame all later back-projection and process shots, models and computer-generated effects. The quality of Keaton's film-making is simplypun intendedunparalleled. Every shot in The General is clean, fresh and efficiently composed; the action is captured honestly and legibly at all times. The film never tries to be beautiful; its beauty is functional, just like the grave, masculine beauty of the locomotives and railroad bridges and Civil War uniforms.The General's narrative structure is as strong and uncluttered as its look. Like a train, it stays on track, never meandering for the sake of a laugh or a stunt. All of the gags rise organically from the coherent and straightforward storyline. Adapting the historical incident, Keaton made himself the engineer of the stolen train Johnnie Gray , rather than one of the raiders. As he saw immediately, The General is one long chase, or rather two chases, structured like the flight of a boomerang. First Johnnie on a borrowed train, the Texas, chases his own stolen train, the General. He manages to steal it back and races it towards his own lines, pursued by the raiders in the Texas, who try to prevent him from carrying their battle plans to his own high command.The General is not Keaton's funniest film, but here he was going for quality over quantity in laughs. A number of the gags, like the box-car that keeps appearing and disappearing as it switches tracks, have a long build-up for a relatively modest payoff. But the laughter is mingled with a gasp of awe, and the best moments never get stale on repeated viewings. The cannon attached to the back of Buster's train goes off just as the train starts around a curve, so the ball flies straight and hits the raiders' train coming out of the curve. Riding on the cowcatcher, Buster hurls one railroad tie at another lying across the tracks, striking it precisely so that it flips out of the way. A forlorn Buster sits on the crossbar of his train's wheels, so lost in thought he doesn't notice when the train starts to move, carrying him up and down in gentle arcs: stillness in motion.I agree with author Jim Kline who describes The General as Keaton's most personal film, the one that best captures his unique vision, spirit and personality. In many of his films, Buster starts off as an inept or effete character and develops into a hero. But his competent, ingenious and athletic character in The General, who is also modest, tireless, and underestimated, comes much closer to his real nature. There is a shot in The General of Buster's eye isolated on screen, framed by a hole in a white table-cloth, that has always reminded me of Dziga Vertov's kinoglaz, the "camera-eye." Keaton melds with his camera; there's no distinction between his qualities as a performer and the qualities of his movies. They have the same silence, the same strictness, the same strange blend of gravity and humor.The General might be the most serious comedy every made, but it's not a tragicomedy. That, as in Chaplin's blending of pathos and low humor, was something people took to immediately. But no one knew what to make of The General. Original reviews accused the film of being dull, pretentious, unoriginal, and unfunny. Even today, people who have heard it acclaimed as one of the greatest movies of all time are sometimes puzzled or disappointed by it on first viewing. The General is challenging because it doesn't flaunt its virtues; like Keaton's concise and economical performance, it holds a great deal in reserve. Take the movie's most famous shot, of a train crashing through a burning bridge, for which Keaton built a real bridge and destroyed a real train. The shot lasts a few seconds in the finished film: he doesn't dwell on it or hype it. Who else in Hollywood would sink money in a spectacular effect and then downplay it? Keaton never forces a response from the audience, never manipulates, never overplays. He doesn't show off his acrobatic skills or his enormous repertoire of comic talents, nor does he play for sympathy. Anything so subtle will always leave some people cold. But for those who can see the expressiveness of Buster's so-called "stone face," who get his peculiar dry humor, who appreciate the rigorous purity and taste he displayed, these virtues are all the more stunning because they are understated. Buster Keaton always has more than he's showing; you can see it in his eyes.
Richly inventive comedy with a logically impeccable plot that makes the hyperbolic slapstick seem plausible and inevitable; this is a work of art and a work of genius (by J. Spurlin)
Buster Keaton's "The General," about a man and his engine, puts you in a world where the most comically inventive situation that could happen will happen. From major comic situations to throwaway gags, "The General" always knows what to do.The story begins in leisurely fashion. A title card tells us that Johnnie Gray Keaton has two loves in his life: his engine and his girlrespectively, The General and Annabelle Lee Marion Mack . Johnnie goes to visit Annabelle, followed by two engineer-worshipping boys and, unknown to him, Annabelle Lee herself. He and his <more>
entourage arrive at the door; Johnnie polishes his shoes on the back of his pants legs, slicks back his hair, and gently taps the door with the door knocker. Then he turns to notice Annabelle. Keaton's understated reaction is a testament to his uniqueness. Any other comedian would have done an explosive double-take.Now Johnnie and Annabelle are together in her parlor, but the boys are there, too. Johnnie stands up, puts on his hat and opens the door as if to leave. The hero-worshippers are ready to follow, but Johnnie lets them out first, then closes the door on them. This is a gentle ruse in the world of silent comedy. At Keystone both boys would have gotten kicked in the pants.Now the two are alone. Annabelle's father sees them from another room and is about to break things up when her brother enters and announces that Fort Sumter has been fired upon: the War Between the States has begun. Annabelle kisses her father and brother as they go to enlist, then turns expectantly to Johnnie, who cocks his head like a confused puppy. She asks, "Aren't you going to enlist?" Realization hits him, and he leaps off the seat. Before he can run out the door, Annabelle kisses him. This so overwhelms Johnnie that he flings out his arm in a farewell gesture and falls off the porch.Johnnie races to the general store, which is now a makeshift recruitment office. Taking a shortcut he manages to be the first in line. The door to the office is opened and Johnnie comes marching inonly he and the rest of the line go in two different directions, and he has to jump over several tables to get in front again. He gives the enlistment officer his name and occupation, but the man rejects him. Johnnie is more valuable to the South as an engineer. Later, Annabelle believes that Johnnie didn't even try to enlist. She refuses to speak to him again until he's in uniform. What follows is a classic moment: Johnnie sits on the connecting rod of his engine. He's so miserable that he doesn't notice when he starts moving up and down, until just before the train enters a tunnel.Time passes and we learn that a group of Unionists are secretly passengers on The General. When nearly everyone is off the train having dinner, the Unionists climb back aboard and take the engine. Annabelle, a passenger herself, was still on board. She is now their prisoner.But Johnnie only knows his beloved General has been stolen, possibly by deserters. He pursues the engine by taking another, The Texas. Through a mishap he becomes the sole person aboard The Texas, but the Unionists think they're outnumbered and continue to run. What follows is the true joy of the movie: two long chases separated by an important plot twist . Now the movie changes its quiet pace for almost nonstop action.I love it when the Unionists break off the rail car to hinder The Texas. At one point, the car, which Johnnie thought he had switched to another track, reappears in front of the baffled engineer, only to disappear later just as mysteriously. We see the logical circumstances that lead to the car's seeming magic act, and the equally logical situations that keep Keaton occupied, preventing him from seeing what we see.Comic logic is important to "The General." In no other movie do hyperbolic slapstick gags seem so plausible and inevitable. In a throwaway gag, Johnnie empties a burlap sack full of shoes because he urgently needs the sack. Of courseof course!he loses his own shoe in the pile and must stop to hunt for it.We move to the second chase, where Johnnie has The General and the Unionists are the ones pursuing him. Now Johnnie must contend with Annabelle Lee.Marion Mack leaves no mark of her personality on the screen. She deserves credit mainly for being willing and able to take it. Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn were never thrown around, trod upon or knocked about the way Marion Mack was. She has hilarious moments. The excitement of the chase does not prevent her from taking out a broom to sweep the dusty floor of the engine. An exasperated Johnnie tells her to keep throwing wood into the fire. She takes a small stick and daintily puts it in. Johnnie sarcastically hands her a sliver, and she puts that in, too. Then, in a moment that has an audience roaring and clapping, Johnnie grabs her and half-throttles her before kissing her instead.The final section, most of it a battle scene, includes the shot where The Texas begins to cross a burning bridge, only to crash into the river. Owing to Keaton's disdain of fakery one of several reasons his works seem modern he did not use a model but a real train on a real burning bridge. The crash cost $42,000reportedly making it the single most expensive shot ever in a silent film.A worthy closing gag was too taxing even for Keaton's ingenuity. Johnnie's dilemma is to kiss his girl while saluting the passing soldiers. His remedy is only mildly funny. Is anyone complaining? "The General" is a work of art and a work of genius.
It is "generally" or should I pun and say "General Lee"? said that the best comedy of the silent film career of Buster Keaton's career was his Civil War epic THE GENERAL. Apparently planned with more care than any of his other film projects, it involved not only researching a period of history some sixty years in the past, but getting the correct rolling stock, costumes, weapons, and props to make it look correct. And it worked so well that Keaton never really could despite some great moments in STEAMBOAT BILL JR. out-do it. In fact, the closest thing to his best <more>
sound film or film that he influenced that was a sound film was his work with Red Skelton in the comedy A SOUTHERN YANKEE, where he returned to a Civil War theme.THE GENERAL as I mentioned in discussing the Disney film THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE is based on the "Andrews Raiders" stealing of the Confederate locomotive "The General", and an attached train, which was used to damage tracks and bridges. The raid in February 1862 was from northern Georgia into Tennesee. It only lasted 20 miles, as the coal for the train was used up and not replaced. Andrews and several raiders were hanged after a trial. Others went to southern prisoner of war camps. The effect of the incident far outstripped it's military success. The damage after all could be repaired. But like Jimmy Doolittle's Raid over Tokyo in April 1942, it had a tremendous effect hurting Confederate morale. The area attacked was hundreds of miles from the battlefronts of Virginia or Kentucky/Northern Tennessee that were in the current events of the War at the time, and so was considered safe by the Confederate government and public. Instead it had been shown quite easy for Northern raiders to hit and run for awhile.Despite it being a brief incident of the war, the locomotive chase would remain famous after more important events were forgotten. The actual locomotive is still in existence in a museum in the south. When Lesney did it famous series of "Models of Yesteryear" the first locomotive that was included in that series of collectible toys was "The General".The story, however, was ultimately a downer. But Keaton took the basic tale and made it a comedy of the period. First he changes the viewer's perspective - it is not concentrating on Andrews and his men, but on the Confederates. Secondly, he builds up the story of Johnny Gray, a railroad engineer who tries to enlist but is rejected the twist of logic failure in the script is that the Confederate draft board head does not bother to explain to Johnny that he is more useful as an engineer to the cause than as a soldier . Because Keaton's family and girl friend Marion Mack see he is not enlisted, they believe he turned coward.Johnny eventually is the only person who tries to retake "the General" from the raiders, and the film has actually two chases in it - first Andrews and his men stealing the train, and then Keaton sneaking into Northern lines with Mack and retaking it.Along the way are many comic classic moments, such as Keaton carefully standing on the cowcatcher and carefully using physics to knock off broken wooden ties that might derail the train, or when at a moment of dejection Keaton sits on the connecting rod that links the trains wheels and finds himself pulled into the locomotive barn while in a sitting positions. The situation of fighting the Yankees during the second chase, and finding Marion Mack there "helping" him, are wonderful - especially when she judges which lumps of coal are pretty enough to be used to keep the engine fired she throws away the ugly little ones . Keaton's reaction to her stupidity is a wonderful moment.The classic conclusion of the comedy is the battle of the two sides at the river, and the burning of the railroad bridge with it's destruction of a second locomotive . It has been called the most expensive sight gag in history. By the way, the Northern General who ordered the locomotive across the bridge is of some special interest. He was Mike "Turkey Strut" Donlin, a frequent member and starring player of the old New York Giants under John McGraw and Christy Matthewson in the first two decades of the 20th Century. Donlin who got his funny nickname from the way he ran the bases left baseball to become a film actor he had worked a bit in vaudeville . Keaton was a sports fan and showed this in his film COLLEGE, where he shows his abilities in several sports and hired Donlin. This was the latter's most famous performance - look at his reaction to the collapse.It must be regarded as Keaton's finest film, and certainly the best war comedy to come out in the silent period. It may also be the best war comedy to come out of any period of motion pictures.
Probably Buster Keaton's best film, and oddly enough, it's not even a straightforward comedy it's actually an action film, with clever doses of romance and comedy tossed in for good measure. `The General', which is set during the Civil War, is about a train engineer named Johnny Gray Buster Keaton, of course who tries to enlist in the Confederate Army . . . and is turned down because the army feels he'd be much more valuable for the war effort as an engineer instead of a soldier. However, through a series of misunderstandings, both Johnny's family and his girl <more>
think he's a coward, and they refuse to speak to him until he becomes a soldier. Months pass, and Johnny, sad and alone, is piloting his train the General when it is stolen from him by the North. Johnny's efforts to recover the General and to win back his girl's love become an unbelievably funny and action-packed series of events, as Johnny tries to go from being a sad-sack buffoon to being a hero.If you haven't watched many silent films, they demand a greater amount of attention than `normal' film there are no audio cues; and volumes can be spoken with a simple facial expression. Buster Keaton is amazingly expressive, as he's fully capable of going from wildly happy to downtrodden and sad in the blink of an eye. While funny, Keaton is much more than just a clownish figure he manages to evoke a lot of sympathy as well, and he genuinely becomes what can only be described as an action hero as well. His timing, whether for a joke or for a tender moment, is absolutely impeccable.What's also great about `The General' is the sheer amount of stunts and physical humor a movie like this couldn't be made today. No amount of insurance would cover it. Keaton does all his own stunts, and manages to perform a number of feats that are simultaneously hilarious and dangerous he chases down `The General' with a bike, he sits on a moving cattlecatcher, knocking away railroad ties with a tie of his own. All these stunts are fantastic, but it's scary to think that any one of these probably could've killed Keaton if something even went slightly wrong. `The General' is a lot more than slapstick. Personally, I think it's one of the first films to push the envelope of movies it goes for action, romance, and humor, and it pulls all of those elements together into a terrific movie. If you've never seen Buster Keaton or, for that matter, a silent film go find this one and watch it. It's a classic. A+
No one will top Keaton for physical risk, and risk is what deep film experiences are all about. This might be classed as a comedy, but for me it touches deeply enough. Its about a man who needs to prove himself by taking risks and being true. And its by a man who takes even greater risks and is more true. True to the spirit of the social compact, here displayed as the chummy south.He's always done stunts that amaze. Many of his other films have things in them that if the timing were only a little off, he'd be seriously injured, or die. But this takes the cake. Its almost as if he <more>
started with the idea that he'd have three locos to play with and had a year to think up stunts. And the stunts are so physical! And so dangerous. And so, so very effective. His trademark is the deadpan face placed as a sort of innocent cluelessness. Its particularly funny when you see the physical movements and you know that 1 they take incredible preparation and timing to pull off and 2 the fellow you see that looks so puzzled by the reality you see is the guy that devised and directed those stunts.Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
It is more appreciated now than when it was released (by AlsExGal)
This film flopped when it was released in late 1926 for several reasons. First, its premiere was delayed because "Flesh and the Devil" was such a sensation that it was held over an extra couple of weeks. Second, people came to the movies to see Buster Keaton the comedian, not Buster the filmmaker and director, which is more of the role he played here. The film was funny, but it was not gag after gag, like so many of Keaton's other films. Keaton plays a railroad engineer living in the South. A title card declares he has two loves - his girl and his engine. when the Civil War <more>
starts he tries to enlist, but is considered too valuable to be in the Army due to his profession. His girlfriend misunderstands, thinks him a coward, and says she won't speak to him again until he is in uniform.Meanwhile, the Union forces have developed a plan to crush the South that involves stealing Buster's train. Unknown to Buster, his girlfriend is on the train at the time of the theft. Buster starts out in hot pursuit of the thieves to retrieve his train, still without the knowledge of his girl's captivity by the Union army.Forgotten with the arrival of sound, the film revived - often cut up from its original length - in the 1950's because Buster didn't preserve his rights to the film and it fell into the public domain. That is the reason there are so many versions of The General out there today, often with poor video and hideous musical accompaniment.Today The General is considered one of the best silent feature length films, and one of the few silent films to not only be on DVD but to get the Blu Ray treatment too. SHERLOCK, JR. is clever. OUR HOSPITALITY is hilarious. The General is both of these things. It's story driven, races to a climax, and is fueled by cute, clever, inventive gags.Buster recycled these gags when he was a writer for MGM years later in "A Southern Yankee".
Buster Has To Prove Himself......Again! (by ccthemovieman-1)
I liked this a lot more on the second viewing, the first on DVD. It wasn't that the print was so much better as I just appreciated Buster Keaton's humor and physical prowess more today than I did back when I first saw this film. That, and I can never get enough trains on film!Keaton plays "Johnny Gray," a railroad engineer who signs up for the Confederate army when the Civil War breaks out. However, they reject because the South felt he could be far more valuable to their cause if he remained in his occupation than as a soldier. However, because his girlfriend wants him to <more>
sign up, and her brothers all did, she thinks he's a coward because he's not fighting for his kinfolk obviously not knowing why they turned him down . So, things look bleak for our hero. Note: true love never seems to be shown in these Keaton films. Buster always has to prove himself to these fickle women, who demand either heroes or tons of money from their men. Anyway, Buster is chased down the tracks by the Northern army train for much of the film. He tries to hold them off and keep his own little train running....and rescue his girlfriend who was accidentally abducted by the enemy and is being held hostage in one of the cars. It's not as chaotic as I am making it sound, but it's fast-moving and entertaining film for most of the 75 minutes. To be honest, I can't see where it's a "masterpiece," as so many label it, but it's a good film. Maybe I still don't fully appreciate it. Now that I have it on DVD, I will be sure to watch it more times.
Buster Keaton always amazes me. He was truly one of the most hilarious deadpan screen clowns of early cinema. And The General, even clocking in at around three hours, is surprisingly watchable based on his physical performance alone.Granted, I still admit that I prefer the silent clowns in shorts, because it can be a bit exhausting to watch them in an entire feature, especially since they are often strings of vignettes thrown together and my modern brain prefers to edit out everything that's unnecessary, but some of the joy in these films is found in those very moments. There are multiple <more>
points in the General, a story about a Southern engineer that has to rescue his beloved from the clutches of the North in the Civil War, where Keaton's character, Johnnie Gray, has to stop his train, jump out, and remove something from the tracks, which in itself can be quite boring, but the way that Keaton injects physical comedy into those moments keeps me entertained.And it's a marvel how so many realistic, yet comedic stunts that Keaton could come up with. It's nothing fantastic like some of his other films, but it's still funny. And I think the strongest point of his comedy is his completely stonefaced response to all adversity--but he lets you see just a little his plight in his eyes and it's just enough to know that he is frightened, but that the rest of him doesn't react similarly creates such an amusing dissociation that it goes from bizarre to funny. Whether he's pratfalling due to surprise or erroneously succeeding at something he's unskilled in and being shocked by it, that response of his is winning.But the General does show its age a little. It exists in a time when people were still getting quite used to movies and so there is a lot of space that doesn't get edited out to help people get a better sense of the context. I wouldn't dare cut those moments out of this film, even if I could re-edit it, because the space always had something going on, but at the same time, this film, if made today, would be cut to one-and-a-half, or two hours and pack in the comedy more tightly. The plot and story are simple, but exist more than to just help the comedy move along--except at the end when the first story was accomplished. Then we move into a second extraneous, but still amusing, story regarding a battle between the North and the South that could've been excised and still having a decent, though simple, story.I didn't really love the score that the DVD company attached to it, which is a number of classical pieces end on end. I think a new commissioned soundtrack would've better matched the piece, but I guess we get what we get. And on the plus side, you can always mute the movie and play whatever on top of it.Is it perfect? No. But despite the age it shows, it still holds up as an enjoyable work from one of cinema's greatest physical comedians. If you want to spend three hours with a silent clown, this is not a bad way to go. 8/10.
1862, Georgia, USA. The American Civil War is in its second year and Johnnie Gray is barred from enlisting. He is a train engineer and the Confederate Army feel he is more valuable to the Southern cause in his current role than in the army. This frustrates Johnnie and has estranged him from his sweetheart Annabelle, who views him as a coward. Then his beloved engine, The General, is stolen by Union spies and is heading for Union lines. Moreover, Annabelle is on board. Johnnie sets off after the two loves of his life.Great comedy from the silent era, directed and starring one of the greatest <more>
comedy directors and actors of that era, Buster Keaton. This is a rollicking adventure complete with wonderfully thought-out and performed physical comedy and other sight gags. Some very clever use of the plot to generate the comedy.The plot itself isn't overly profound, but crams in a lot of action and adventure, plus some romance.Very entertaining.