The General: Movie Review


photo courtesy of IMDb

Released in theaters in 1926, “The General,” directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, is an action-comedy film following Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton), a train engineer during the American Civil War.

Johnnie attempts to enlist in the Confederate Army, but he is rejected due to the value he could provide as an engineer instead. Due to his failure to join the army, Johnnie becomes a disgrace to Annabelle, the love of his life. However, Johnnie gets a chance to redeem himself when his train, the titular General, is stolen by Union spies. Johnnie proceeds to venture into enemy territory to recover his beloved train. “The General” is a mashup of slapstick comedy and period piece spectacle, an unlikely combination that only Buster Keaton could have pulled off.

Tom Cruise comes to mind when thinking of a modern-day analog to Buster Keaton, specifically when it comes to dangerous stunts. However, the stunts that Buster Keaton performed would simply not be permissible in the 21st century. The film largely takes place on a speeding locomotive, with Keaton falling, leaping, dangling and performing all sorts of hysterical slapstick while constantly being one misstep away from death. Throughout the chaos, Keaton maintains a perfectly deadpan expression, making it an incredibly impressive performance.

“The General” also features the most expensive shot in silent-film history in which a wooden bridge collapses while carrying a real train, sending it crashing into the river below. The entire film has a similarly large budget, allowing for a high degree of historical authenticity. The way that Keaton uses period-accurate trains to generate inspiring comedic scenarios makes “The General” a wonderfully unique and entertaining film.

“The General,” as with many classic silent films, is available for free viewing on YouTube and many other websites.

Rated 9/10