The General (1926)

Some days are just depressing. You wander around your world, and you just have this cloud over you.

Well, I do. Monday was one of those. I’d been sick all weekend, and missed work again. I was feeling a little better physically, but mentally and emotionally, I was cashed.

Serendipitously, I ended up in my Hulu Plus queue, and there was Buster Keaton’s, “The General.” You can watch it here:

I have an assload of pill bottles on my nightstand, but none of them lifted my spirits like “The General.”

This past year, the Best Picture Oscar went to “The Artist,” a celebration of silent film. “The General” is one of the most-acclaimed films from the silent era, and I can see why.

Buster Keaton’s character, Johnny Gray, is the engineer on “The General,” a locomotive. During the early part of the film, Fort Sumter is fired upon, and the Civil War is at hand. Johnny rushes down to enlist, but he’s not allowed. He’s too valuable as an engineer to waste as a soldier. Nobody tells him this, sadly.

What ends up happening is that he’s piloting The General, when some Union soldiers steal it during a dinner stop. How Keaton regains control of The General, rescues the love of his life, and manages to elude a persistent enemy…these are excellent plot devices. However, the plot is merely a framework upon which action can be draped.

What struck me is how amazingly talented Buster Keaton was. He acted with amazing physicality, taking falls and performing stunts nobody else could do. In addition, he also wrote and directed “The General.” Keaton was the Gene Kelly to Charles Chaplin’s Fred Astaire: he was more athletic and powerful, somehow less-refined (even though Chaplin’s “The Tramp” was a…well, a tramp).

Buster Keaton doesn’t act like a silent movie actor normally acts. He was nicknamed “The Great Stone Face” for a reason. In situations where typical silent film stars would go over the top with facial expressions, Keaton remains preternaturally calm. He has the same neutral set to his face, although his eyes convey volumes.

“The General” was a critical and box office flop when it was released. Today, it’s widely regarded as one of the best films ever made. I’m not the biggest silent film fan in the world. Chaplin doesn’t do much for me, and many of the others I’ve seen leave me flat as well. This one was an amazing 78 minutes of film. I can’t believe I had never seen “The General” until last night.

I mean, what the hell have I been doing the past 86 years?

Highly recommended. (Take a chance. You’ll thank me. ;-))
Grade: A

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One Response to “The General (1926)”

  1. I hope you’re over whatever bug you had. I was sick all weekend, too, and feeling pretty low about missing out on the last long weekend of the summer.

    I saw The General in film school. I do prefer Keaton to Chaplin, any day.

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