Classic Movie Review: The General (1927)


Title: The General
Release Date: February 5, 1927
Director: Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton
Production Company: Buster Keaton Productions | Joseph M. Schenck Productions
Summary/Review:

I knew I’d need to watch a Buster Keaton film for my classic movie project, but was disappointed that his most famous work is not only a Civil War film, but one sympathetic to the Confederate cause.  So I watched this movie rooting against Keaton much of the time.

The movie was a big-budget spectacular for its era and stars Keaton as Johnnie Gray, a railroad engineer dedicated to maintaining the engine The General.  When the war begins, he attempts to enlist, but is denied because his skills with the trains are needed.  Nevertheless, his fiancée Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) believes him to be a coward, and refuses to speak to him.

A year later, Union spies steal The General (with Annabelle Lee aboard the train) and head north from Georgia to Tennessee with a plan to destroy the rails, bridges, and telegraph wires behind them.  Johnnie pursues The General through various means, eventually working on his own as he leaves the Confederate soldiers behind. There are are a number of spectacular gags as Keaton walks along the train performing various stunts and fights with the spies.  Scenes from the next day show him returning with The General  and Annabelle Lee, leading another chase and culminating in a battle (which was the most expensive shot in film history to that point due to hundreds of extras and the collapse of a bridge with a train on it).

Despite my misgivings, I enjoyed this film and think the stunts and slapstick hold up well, even if the politics do not.

Rating: ***

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