The General Reviews
Also, like The Gold Rush, this is a film that's considered to be one of the best ever, silent or otherwise, and a top comedy as well. ANd personally, just like The Gold Rush, I'm going to sin again and say that this is overrated and that I wasn't totally in love with it, but still recognize it as being very important and enjoyable, even if, as just a movie it wasn't quite my cup of tea.
Heck, you might be able to take my review of the Chaplin film and just swap out his name for Keaton's, and the review would basically be the same. Well, not really, but close. Instead of being a slapstick comedy based on history, this is a historical film that, while funny at times, isn't really a comedy, but still had some amusing moments and really made me appreciate the logn dead old school way of filmmaking on display here.
Based on a true story, this is the tale of a train engineer named Johnnie Gray who, rejected by the Confederate Army, and dumped by his lady for seemingly being a coward, decides to win the Civil War himself on his own terms. When his beloved train The General is stolen by Yankees, he becomes a one man army determined to get it back, beat the enemy, and re-win the heart of his lady at all costs.
Okay, so maybe I was a little harsh. This film is a comedy, and the above scenario I just described is humorous, but Keaton's style of humor is very deadpan, and it just didn;t always seem that funny to me. I like dry, deadpan stuff, but maybe the fact that this is silent is why some of it seemed lost on me. Actually it's not just a comedy, but a wild adventure/romance too.
Keaton was basically the Jackie Chan of his day, doing all of his own stunts, and staging some really spectacular and amazing set pieces, ones that are still thrilling to this day, and not jsut because of the fact that they're all done practically. That helps though. Like Chaplin's stuff, the best bits from this have all been parodied and referenced many times over, and I once again spent a lot of time saying, "Oh, so THAT's where this comes from!). See, I told you the reviews were interchangable.
This is some good stuff, and it is enjoyable, but yeah, I didn't think it is quite one of the best ever. It's still damn impressive though, and you should definitely give it a watch, if only, once again, for default reasons.
This isn't just a great action comedy for its time; it's a timeless, great action comedy. Some of the stunts Buster Keaton is able to do make Jackie Chan look like my grandmother. I marveled at how precise his movements are as he slips in and out of the bridge of the engine and later balances himself on the front; that first train chase is truly a fabulously choreographed sequence.
Going into the film and even for the most part during it, I was uneasy about the hero of the film fighting for the Confederacy. And the film portrays the Union as being a bunch of bumbling fools while the Confederate general is stern, heroic, and eventually deals justly with Johnny Gray, Keaton's character. Yes, you can say that in 1926 there was an audience who still referred to the Civil War as "the war of Northern aggression" (hell, there are still some people who say that in 2011), and yes, you can say that the side Gray fights for is tangential to the plot, but I maintain that we should expect visionary filmmakers to be visionaries, people who, despite their contemporaries, still see righteousness. Is it too much to hope that Keaton picked the North as his hero? I suppose so, just as it's too much to expect his valorization of the South not to interfere with my enjoyment of the film.
Overall, if it were possible to pretend that Keaton picked the Jets and the Sharks or the Capulets and the Montagues as the film's rivals, then I would have thoroughly enjoyed this silent classic.
This started off rather slowly, and I was beginning to wonder what the big deal was about this film. But as it went along, it got more interesting, more exciting and more creatively chaotic, thanks to Keaton's trademark athleticism and comic timing. Credit his imagination as well, as Keaton had total creative control of the film, and claimed that all the numerous sight gags were improvised during the film's production. I started getting into the film about 1/2 way through, and by the time the battle scenes arrived, I was glued to the screen.
There are several train "stunts" in the film which are simply incredible -- train crashes, locomotives tumbling into rivers on collapsing bridges, cannon fire and gunfire between characters on different trains. The meticulous planning that had to go into these scenes -- there couldn't have been more than one take per scene, considering the destruction involved -- must have taken weeks, even months. The same goes for the battle sequences, which resemble the scope of the similar scenes in Birth of A Nation.
Keaton claims this is his favorite film, and pretty much anyone who sees it holds a similar opinion. I actually prefer Sherlock, Jr. from a comic standpoint, but for its technical merit, this one is unsurpassed.
Being a long-time Charlie Chaplin fan, I never thought that anyone could ever come close to equaling his mastery of physical comedy. I was wrong. Buster Keaton's brand of humor is uniquely original and just as awe inspiring as any Chaplin production I've ever seen. Both men were brilliant performers.
In my opinion, The General is more than just another old movie, it's a national treasure.
Working as an engineer, Johnnie Gray is persuaded to enlist in the army by Annabelle, who is his lover, but after a failed attempt, she refuses to speak to him. A year after his failure, Anabelle gets news that her father has been wounded in the war and she takes a train to visit her father. The engineer of that train is Johnnie, who still has not obtained a position in the army. When his train gets hi-jacked, Johnnie takes an exhilarating adventure into enemy lines that produces laughs and thrills.
Being a slapstick comedy,The General does exactly what it is intended to do: make the audience laugh. Made in 1926, this film is still a laugh riot for audiences of all ages. Buster Keaton gives a phenomenal performance alongside Marion Mack (Annabelle) and together, they give some of the best performances of the silent era. Comparing this film to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Buster Keaton carefully plans out great shots and better characters. Being very simplistic and one-dimensional, the characters in this film are hilarious. Though there are many excellent aspects to this film, the soundtrack on this DVD doesn't represent the appropriate soundtrack used in silent films. I preferred the soundtrack from the copy I saw before viewing this film in school.
In all of his films, Keaton has a certain artistic elegance, something that modern filmmakers lack. The plots to his films are significantly better than slapstick nowadays such as The Three Stooges (2011). Keaton's style is an inspiration for comedic directors such as Woody Allen, one of the most unique and masterful comedic directors in film history. The characters in The General have a certain charm, one that is evident in other comedy classics like Duck Soup. Although it may not be the most complex of films, Keaton makes it easy to follow and interesting enough for the avid movie watcher. It may not measure up to The Gold Rush but The General was a big, an important step forward in the realm of slapstick comedy films.
Being one of the greatest films made in the 20?s, The General is a nostalgic look back into the history of film. This film is intended to make people of all ages laugh and I believe that is has done so for 86 years. Buster Keaton remains one of silent comedy's greatest ranking with Charlie Chaplin. I am sure I will revisit this film many times because of its great entertainment value and importance to the evolution of film.