Sunday, November 6, 2011

The General (1926)

This film is a masterpiece, and one of the best and funniest films I have ever seen.  The General was directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, and stars Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Joe Keaton (Buster's dad), Glen Cavender, and Jim Farley. From making the viewer empathize with the characters, to the thrilling chase scenes, to the some of the funniest moments ever filmed The General has everything.  Every stunt Keaton performs is better than the one before it, and his fascination with trains is evident and the focal point of the entire feature.  I think the attention to detail as well as the chemistry between the main characters is what makes the film so great.

The story begins at the start of the Civil War.  Johnnie Gray (Keaton) tries to enlist as a soldier in the Confederate army.  He gets turned down but not because the army doesn't want him, but because they think he'll be more valuable to them in his current job as an engineer.  Of course they don't explain this to Johnnie so he, and everyone else including his girl, think he didn't join because he was unfit or that he was a coward.

When Johnnie's train is stolen by Union spies the fun begins as he tries to track down his missing locomotive, and his beloved Annabelle (Mack) who was kidnapped while she just happened to be on the train at the time it was taken.  From this point on the film becomes a showcase for Keaton's many talents whether they are his directorial skills, physical stunts, or his slapstick gags and routines.

Marion Mack is adorable, I would love to have her for a sweetheart, and I think she plays the role of the dizzy girlfriend really well.  I personally think she steals some of Buster's thunder in some of the scenes she shares with him.  One great scene has Johnnie Gray and Annabelle being chased by the Union army. While Johnnie has his hands full trying to stay ahead of the enemy, Annabelle picks up a broom and decides to tidy up the engine a bit.  Keaton's reaction is priceless. 

The stunts are unbelievable.  I imagine the film must have been fairly costly to make due to the lavish scenery, props, and cinematography.

The score by composer Robert Israel does just what it should, it enhances every single scene. Overall, what an incredible film.  I actually ended up watching this a few times over the past couple of days, and to be honest with you, I would have no problem sitting through it again. For anyone who isn't familiar with Keaton's work this is a great film to start out with.  And for Keaton fans, just sit down and enjoy the magic one more time ...

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