179 - The General (1926)

A train worker rescues his lady from the North during the American Civil War.

Johnny Gray (Buster Keaton) tries to sign up for the Confederate Army during the American Civil War to impress Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), but he is told his job as a train engineer is too important and his application is declined. Branded a coward by Annabelle's family, Johnny is outcast and returns to work on the trains.

The North plots to steal a train ready for the invasion of the South and once their plan is realised, Annabelle is inadvertently on board. Johnny grabs another train and sets off in pursuit of his two loves - his lady and his locomotion.

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
The General came with a massive recommendation from my grandfather. I must confess I had never heard of Buster Keaton until my grandfather announced he was a huge fan last Christmas, but I can see where his love of Keaton's film originates.

Everyone remembers Charlie Chaplin for being the King of the silent era as it is his legacy that lives on today in the world of parody and slapstick. Now though, I would argue that case for Buster Keaton. I did enjoy Chaplin's City Lights and loved his Tramp character and The General is similar in that both follow the same slapstick formula, but Keaton prefers to leave out the pantomime for most of his film.

The result is a film that is laugh-out-loud funny - even if you are sat on your own. The comedy isn't just one joke after another, but there appears to be a deep thought that went into each and every stunt giving the humour a decisively intelligent edge while still making the laughs available to all.

Aside from the comedy, the most interesting piece of the film is that it is almost entirely filmed alongside the railway as it follows the epic locomotion chase. Despite having the same formula (chaser is foiled by the chased at every opportunity) it never seems to get old and each scene just has you gagging for more.

Buster Keaton is a genius and this 86-year-old film, so far, is in my top ten.


  1. You'd never heard of Buster Keaton? Next you'll say you've never heard of Harold Lloyd, or W.C. Fields!

    1. Honestly, no. Before the challenge I naively had no interest whatsoever in silent film or films written before 1950.

      ... I have much to learn.

  2. I didn't watch much Keaton, but my hubby watched this one because he loved trains! I prefered Chaplin.

    Have you heard of Harold Lloyd? He was a contemporary of Buster Keaton and Chaplin. Great stunts! Link follows.

    I'm finding this review of such a variety of films very nice to read!


    1. As Tony said above, you're both correct to assume that I've never heard of Harold Lloyd either.

      Could you recommend a film of his to watch? Having read through the link you sent, I'm thinking Safety First would be a good starting point.

      As a aside to my experience - I showed my 14-year-old brother the DVD box for The General and told him this is a film he needed to watch. He looked less than impressed. 5 minutes later, I'd found a 4 minute clip on YouTube and at the end of that he was begging me to borrow the DVD just to find out what happened next. He loved the film.

      I ought to dedicate a post to this lack of education in the root of cinema in the future.

  3. I really do think that Keaton is the most accessible of the early silent comedians for modern audiences. His style endures in a way that Chaplin and Lloyd lack. Don't get me wrong, those two are fantastic, but Keaton is... Well, more awesome, I guess.


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