February 23, 2017
The General (1926).
Review #908: The General.
Buster Keaton (Johnnie Gray), Marion Mack (Annabelle Lee), Glen Cavender (Union Captain Anderson), Jim Farley (General Thatcher), Frederick Vroom (Confederate General), Charles Henry Smith (Annabelle's Father), Frank Barnes (Annabelle's Brother), Joe Keaton (Union General), Mike Donlin (Union General), and Tom Nawn (Union General) Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton (#757 - Seven Chances, #762 - College, #805- The Navigator, and #877 - Three Ages)
The General (distributed by United Artists - released on December 31, 1926 in Tokyo) was the 8th feature length film with Buster Keaton as the star, with the silent action-adventure-comedy inspired by the Great Locomotive Chase, a true story that occurred in the Civil War, involving a military raid of a train. The stuntwork that Keaton did himself at personal risk is played to great effect, with him jumping from engines to other parts of the train along with sitting on the front of the train along with sitting on a coupling rod, which is a particularly good gag to watch. The easiest positive one will notice early is the beautiful photography, which has the look and feel of the time it is supposed to portray, where the atmosphere doesn't look fake because of the technical design, all done to good detail. One could almost get lost in how great it looks, but the film is also filled with its share of gags that manage to keep the eyes on screen. There is a good deal of action and entertainment, with Keaton reacting as only he can, with his typical straight-laced reaction wrapping well with the tone of the film. Mack is a fairly decent romantic lead, doing fine in the scenes with Keaton. The rest of the cast isn't given too much time to standout, but they are fine in their roles. The train collapsing off the bridge is a wonderful way to end the movie, along with the last scene with the two leads, which goes off without much of a hitch (narrative wise anyway). Though the movie was later recognized for its brilliance in later years, it was not a success at the box office, in part due to the budget ($750,000, which was big for the time). Keaton soon had his creative freedom taken away from him for future films (with his deal to join MGM in 1928 being described by him as the worst business decision he ever made), but The General manages to live on as one of his great pieces of work in film due to how adventurous and ambitious it goes, with enough spectacle and charm for everyone.
Overall, I give it 10 out of 10 stars.