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The General

The General (1927)

January. 15,1927
| Adventure Action Comedy War

During America’s Civil War, Union spies steal engineer Johnny Gray's beloved locomotive, 'The General'—with Johnnie's lady love aboard an attached boxcar—and he single-handedly must do all in his power to both get The General back and to rescue Annabelle.


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'The General', starring Buster Keaton who also co-wrote and co- directed the film, is a hilarious comedy, which is often more subtle and deadpan than you might expect from one of its age. This comedy classic, often considered Buster Keaton's greatest film, has aged exceptionally well, and I found myself laughing more than I often do during modern-day comedies. Keaton himself is brilliant at physical comedy, and deserves credit for his stunt-work on the film alone (he often performed stunts for other actors as well as his own). In addition to excelling as a comedy, the film also functions well as a wartime action film which is gripping throughout and rarely has a dull moment; both the camera-work and practical effects are stunning to this day.I saw the film with a live piano accompaniment, which made for a fantastic experience, and one which was much closer to what it would have been like watching the film at the time, as opposed to watching it with a synchronized soundtrack on a DVD.In summary, the general is a must-see for fans of comedy and action alike, with inspired gags and brilliant central performances.

Anssi Vartiainen

Buster Keaton plays the lead in this silent era masterpiece that takes its inspiration from the Great Locomotive Chase, which in turn was a real event during the American Civil War in which a train was stolen by the North and sped over the lines in preparation for the coming offense.The General has some definitive upsides working in its favour. Buster Keaton is an amazingly versatile performer, able to go from clownish jokester to a saddened victim of war and poor circumstances in a heartbeat. The film is also really ambitious in scope. Keaton performs all of his stunts, most of them hair-raisingly dangerous and completely unimaginable nowadays. Plus, very little money is spared and the film famously has some of the most expensive set pieces and stunts of the silent era.The plot of the film is also a lot more cohesive than say in the films made by Charlie Chaplin in the same decade. Chaplin's films usually contain segments that have little to do with anything except the need for funny situations. The General is also a comedy, but with a clear, clean story arc.On the other hand, I didn't find the humour or the characters as captivating. They're okay, but in this regard the decades of cultural development between the film and yours truly work against the film. I just didn't find the slapstick all that funny.Still, The General is a great watch for all interested in early cinema or really involved physical humour.


"The General" is one of the great films and treasures of the silent era. It's among the best movies of the talented comedy actor, Buster Keaton. In this film, Keaton shows the athletic ability and courage that made him one of the best of the early comedians who performed their own stunts. His physical antics on and off his train, The General, support his title as king of comedy stunts. All the silent era comedy actors seemed to have lots of energy. And, many had daring, courage, and even madness at times. Those were the actors who did all or most of their own stunts. While there were some stunt men around in the early 1900s, it wasn't until the last of the silent years and dawn of sound pictures that stuntmen were a regular part of the cast of films that required any amount of derring-do. And, while a small number of actors today will still do some of their own stunts, nothing can compare to the actors of old who performed their own high-risk and dangerous stunts – and sometimes those for other actors. The five best early actors at doing stunts were Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Harold Lloyd, Tom Mix and Yakima Canutt. The latter two specialized in Westerns, and besides acting and doing stunt work, Mix and Canutt regularly rode and performed in the rodeo circuit. Lloyd was versatile in his venues, but excelled at high stunts on buildings, and sometimes with wild animals. Fairbanks excelled in swashbuckler stunts, sliding down the sails of ships, swinging from anything hanging aloft and jumping (with the help of trampolines) into windows. Keaton was even more versatile. As a child actor in vaudeville, Keaton learned how to fall to avoid injury. He called his technique, soft falls or landings. But even with his training and practice, his film roles with derring-do often left him bruised at the least. At other times, he had suffered injuries from slight to serious. Still, he had become known for his physical resiliency During the filming of "The General" in 1926, Keaton was knocked unconscious by canon fire. He suffered a broken ankle while filming the 1922 short, "The Electric House." And, he broke his neck during the 1924 shooting of "Sherlock Jr.," but didn't know it until years later. This movie has an interesting plot, set during the U.S. Civil War. It opens with a scene and script that reads, "The Western and Atlantic Flyer speeding into Marietta Georgia, in the spring of 1861." The train seems to be traveling about 30 miles per hour. But the film is almost entirely about action and the comedy in the action, involving the train. There is an element of romance. The cast all are very good. The photography is superb. Much of the action with trains is filmed in West-central Oregon, from Eugene to Cottage Grove. There's no information about sound at all, so I assume the music we hear with the film is soundtrack that was added for modern viewing. It probably is meant to replicate the piano accompaniment that was usual with silent films in theaters of the day. This is one instance when I think the piano playing would have been better. The music seems to go overboard at times. This is one of the early great films from the silent era that showcase the talent and early mastery of movie-making skills. It's a fun movie with strong visuals that even a modern family of all ages should enjoy.

Jamie Ward

An endearing and consistently entertaining romp from Buster Keaton that flows seamlessly between exhilarating action, bonkers comedy and stunning on-location photography. As always, Keaton performs all his own stunts here and they never fail to impress and keep you riveted, without being overly dramatic while doing so. It was a flop when it came out back in the mid-20s, but has since been re-evaluated as one of the best silent comedies of all time, and rightly so. Of course, Keaton's deadpan style isn't going to be everyone's cup of tea, but The General uses every tool in the comic's arsenal and comes out shining as a result. Avoid public domain releases and seek out the restored Kino Lorber BluRay for the best possible experience.