Sunday, January 11, 2009

The General (1927)

I have seen snippets of this one through the years, but decided that I should finally sit down and watch it all the way through. This movie is set during the civil war. The Northern forces have stolen The General, a train manned by Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton), who was rejected by the Confederate army because he was more valuable to the South as a railroad engineer. The Northern forces plan to use The General as a supply train for it's forces in a bit of a Trojan Horse maneuver. The only person who knows about this is Gray and he must stop the attack and save the girl (there is always a girl). To do this, he must single-handedly chase down a train, cross enemy lines, re-cross enemy lines and tell the Southern Forces about the plan against them.

The talented Buster Keaton doing his thing

I don't think I could say anything here about Buster Keaton that hasn't been said a million times. His physical acting abilities are astounding. His comedic timing is impeccable. He was an amazingly talented man. What they were able to pull off without any special effects is really stunning. The dangerous stunts he performed without stunt men - amazing. The whole performance is terribly brilliant.

As for the movie? I think this is a spectacular and riveting movie for it's time. I think it set the bar for what other movies started aiming for - a dash of humor, a dash of romance and a little action too. And, I think everyone should see this brilliant movie once. Perhaps, on the outside, twice. Much beyond that, unless you are a film historian, you are probably good. I say that because the movie - while being brilliant for it's time - wears on after a while. As clever as all the Spy vs. Spy tricks were between the two dueling trains, it got a little old for me pretty quick. I don't know that this would be a film that I could watch multiple times and still be as entertained as when I watched it all the way through today.

Also, this may be blasphemous, but I have to say I prefer the Chaplin movies to the Keaton movies. I understand he was the original and what an original he was. I just think Chaplin movies really benefited from that extra decade of movie experience. Chaplin movies have more going for them than physical stunts and action - that extra decade made a difference.

So, I recommend watching this if you have never seen it. Anyone claiming to be a film buff definitely has to watch it. Today's audiences won't be bowled over by it, I don't think, but if you put it in the proper historical perspective one should, at the very least, be impressed. Opposing views always welcome - let me know if I am off the mark here.

1 comment:

kda0121 said...

I actually prefer Keaton to Chaplin. Charlie was very aware of his genius and had no problem reminding the audience of it. His glances, looks, giggles all betrayed his enormous ego. Don't get me wrong, I still think Chaplin's great and I have most of his work, but he was just a bit pretentious.

Keaton, on the other hand, kept that deadpan look of his no matter what was going on. I thought his gags were just as funny and actually more intricate than Charlie's. The General is a prime example of Buster's work, but if you're tired of that one, try The Cameraman and Sherlock Jr. on for size.