Saturday, May 22, 2010

The General (1926)


After his train is stolen, along with the love of his life, by Union spies, southern train engineer Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) must race into enemy lines of the North to get them before its too late.

There's a certain uncanny charm to the films of Buster Keaton. If you've never seen a film of his, the best way I could summarize it in modern terms would be to think of 90's Jackie Chan without all the Kung Fu. Keaton had a knack circus like stunts, using his scrawny figure to put himself into situations few others could imagine. And The General is just the kind of film that offers itself to that medium of comedic entertainment.

An element of lunacy, and character, wrapped into one situation after another as our typical bumbling hero just can't seem to get everything right. Put that man in charge of a huge vehicle, and let the magic happen.

Add to that two thrilling train chase sequences, and you've got yourself the basic plot of The General. What the film really serves as, is a stage for Keaton to work his magic time after time. The movie doesn't slow down to deal with different plots. Everything moves as the pace of the train, and in that Keaton and Bruckman created a fast paced thriller with plenty of laughs to go around.

The only real weakness in the film lies in that its comedic setups are at times far too obvious. Not so much a problem with the film, as much as it is a telling on how many films have taken notes from it.

Benefiting from the thrilling predicament, The General doesn't have to rely solely on its gags to get through. Keaton's natural charisma stands plenty strong enough to keep viewers at the edge of their seat. Each new plot point increases the tension, and Keaton handles it with care.

The only supporting character to get any screen time is that of Gray's beloved, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). A typical dimwitted, yet beautiful, female heroine, who is good for a few laughs, but really there as the romantic counter to Keaton's frantic nature.

Frantic, perhaps the best way to summarize The General. Always on the move. Keeping you zoned in at every turn. Never a wasted shot, never a waste scene. Sit back, throw up your boots, and just enjoy this Silent film classic.

A testament to the ever talented, physical specimen, that is Buster Keaton, The General will wow, thrill, and amuse film goers from beginning to end.

4 better thoughts:

Mike Lippert said...

I managed to pick up a new copy of this from an alternative video store. It was 2 for 15 so I also got John Woo's Hard Boiled which, when you think about it, would make a great double feature. Good review.

Chase Kahn said...

Oddly enough, I've seen "Sherlock Jr." and "Steamboat Bill Jr." and loved both of them, but I've never seen "The General" - needs to change.

Simon said...

I want to see this, but my library is, as always, vastly unhelpful.

Univarn said...

@Mike Definitely a good pickup.

@Chase Interesting, I'd definitely recommend it.

@Simon Attack attack!

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