"If you lose this war don't blame me."
After not quite understanding all the hype with Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. I finally got to see it in his masterpiece, The General. This film really worked for me and the action engaged me in a way that I didn't feel worked all that well in his previous movie. I was only able to appreciate the technical aspects of Sherlock Jr. but didn't really care much for the story or the characters, but in The General I was hooked with Keaton's character and the action sequences really drew me into the story. There were some spectacular chases that were thrilling to watch and I was in disbelief that this film was directed nearly 90 years ago because it was beautifully shot and the effects looked believable. There was one scene where a train collapsed on a burning bridge that was gorgeously shot. Keaton not only had a talent for comedy, but he proved to be an action star as well. The General meshes these two genres together in an enriching manner allowing the audience to be laughing one moment and feeling thrilled the next.
Based on true events that took place during the American Civil War, the screenplay was written by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton. We are first introduced to the main protagonist, Johnny Gray (Buster Keaton) as a Southern railroad engineer. There are two things that he loves in life: his train engine (The General) and Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). When the Civil War breaks out, Annabelle's father and brother enlist as soldiers for the Confederate army, so Johnny also feels he should do the same. The officials consider he is more useful as an engineer so they don't allow him to enlist. Annabelle believes Johnny is a coward and is lying to her about not being allowed to enlist so she breaks up with him. Johnny continues working as an engineer, but when Union spies steal his beloved train and kidnap Annabelle, who happened to be riding The General that day, he does what is in his power to catch up with the spies and save the two things he loves the most in life. The film thus becomes a thrilling cat and mouse chase across the Southern railroads.
Buster Keaton proved his unique talents in The General through his comedic performance and physical ability by doing all the stunts on his own. There are several great action scenes in this film and Keaton does some acrobatic stunts proving he deserves to be considered as an action star as well. I had a great time with this film and was completely entertained throughout its 105 minute runtime. It's one of the best films that have combined action with comedy from the silent era, and very few contemporary films do it as well as Keaton did way back in 1926. I'm on board with Keaton acknowledging this is his best film and really can't understand how it was a flop when it came out because The General was genius film making. Now justice has been made and it is considered amongst the best films of the silent era. If you haven't had the chance to see this film, you should because it is a thrill.