Saturday, 6 April 2013

The General


THE GENERAL (BLACK AND WHITE, 1926)

Director
Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman

Cast
Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender, Jim Farley, Charles Smith, Joe Keaton, Tom Nawn and Fredrick Vroom

Ages
4 and up

Plot
Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is on the Confederate side of the American Civil War. When it starts, he tries to enlist, but since he is an engineer, the Confederates think he is much more useful in that role. A year later, Johnnie's beloved locomotive, "The General", is stolen by Union spies led by General Thatcher (Farley) and Captain Anderson (Cavender) with Johnnie’s girlfriend Annabelle (Mack) in it. Can Johnnie save both of them?

Buster Keaton as Johnnie in The General.
Why it’s good
Because Buster Keaton is probably the most representative comedian of the silent movie era, although Charlie Chaplin is probably more famous because of his trademark cane, bowler hat and moustache. Buster didn’t really have such "trademarks" - he is just one of those simple actors who is excellent at acting and did not need an exaggeration.

I think "The General" (1926) is his best work. It is set in the American Civil War and is the least dramatic of his pictures.  If you want to see a dramatic set-piece, look for 1928’s "The Cameraman in Kino" DVD. He is usually misunderstood in his films, always very reserved and here, his girlfriend thinks he is a coward.

Yet all these posturings are just invitations to join in the comedy. The comedy is slapstick, slap-happy and hilarious. Funny comes with a little hardship, you know.

Parent’s guide
The two leads kiss when they meet. There is some slapstick violence, e.g. knocking, firing cannons.

Trivia
The final scene sparked a fire in the forest, so the cast and crew stopped filming to stop the fire. The two armies were made out of 500 National Guardsman from Oregon. When Marion Mack and Buster Keaton tried refilling the water for the locomotive, Buster Keaton did not say Marion will get wet. When she did, she was shocked.

If you like this…
More Buster Keaton films. "The Cameraman, Sherlock Jr." (1924), "The Navigator" (1924), "Steamboat Bill Jr." (1928) and any of the shorts that he made.  

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