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The General - posterBuster Keaton plays Johnny Gray, a Southern railroad engineer who loves his train engine, The General, almost as much as he loves Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). When the opening shots of the Civil War are fired at Fort Sumter, Johnny tries to enlist -- and he is deemed too useful as an engineer to be a soldier. All Johnny knows is that he's been rejected, and Annabelle, thinking him a coward, turns her back on him. When Northern spies steal the General (and, unwittingly, Annabelle), the story switches from drama and romance to adventure mixed with Keaton's trademark deadpan humor as he uses every means possible to catch up to the General, thwart the Yankees, and rescue his darling Annabelle -- for starters. As always, Keaton performs his own stunts, combining his prodigious dexterity, impeccable comic timing, and expressive body language to convey more emotion than the stars of any of the talkies that were soon to dominate cinema.

Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender
Directed By: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Rating: G
Genre: Comedy
Runtime: 79 minutes

Silent

Review

By Almar Haflidason

The GeneralA massive flop on its release, "The General" is an outstanding achievement of silent comedy stunt gags that often look every bit as good as contemporary equivalents.

Buster plays Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who adores both his locomotive 'The General', and girlfriend Annabelle, (Marion Mack). While the reciprocal love from buster's train seems a safe bet, Annabelle is none too impressed when the Civil War breaks out and he is rejected by the army. With Annabelle refusing to speak to him until he's in uniform, the relationship looks doomed. That all changes though once Union spies steal his beloved 'General' and girlfriend, setting him off on a remarkable chase to save them both.

The General7The scale and direction of this chase movie was revolutionary, and newcomers will doubtless be surprised at the excellent pacing of the action. The superb cinematography catches all the right shots as Keaton cleverly builds up the scale of the stunts. These culminate in increasingly impressive train-based acrobatics as he dodges the fiendish attempts by the Union men to derail him.

As with any good blockbuster, Keaton saves the best for last with a climax involving a burning bridge the Unionists attempt to cross by train. Staged for real, the reputed $42,000 cost of that single shot was unheard of in those days, and it's just as impressive today as it was then.

Staged with wit and satisfying cinematic flair, "The General" is a true Hollywood classic.

Trailer