The two things engineer Johnny Gray (Buster Keaton) loves most in the world are his Southern belle sweetheart and his locomotive. When Northern spies steal the latter, the intrepid Confederate single-handedly takes on the entire Union army in order to get it back. Against a backdrop of magnificently photographed Civil War battle scenes unfolds one of the great chases in movie history. Set almost entirely aboard moving trains, Keaton's THE GENERAL is physical comedy refined to elegant perfection and widely considered to be the actor-director's greatest film.
Keaton created this great comedy out of an authentic episode of American history - a story about the famous Civil War locomotive. This silent gem was selected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry. Running times vary by supplier.
THE GENERAL was an original selection to the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 1989. "The General" is a silent film. The Image laserdisc and Kino video release feature an orchestral score by Carl Davis. Remade in 1956 as "The Great Locomotive Chase" starring Fess Parker. Based on an actual incident, though in real-life the locomotive was stolen by the Confederates. Keaton decided to switch it around, making the Union soldiers the bad guys. He felt that putting his hero on the losing side would make him more sympathetic. "The General" was filmed entirely on location in Oregon, the only place where Keaton was able to find both suitable scenery and the single-gauge railroad track he needed to run the antique trains. Keaton was a great train enthusiast and an absolute stickler for authenticity -- he always felt that he would get more laughs if his comedy evolved logically out of realistic situations. "The General" was unlike any other comedy ever made in that it was designed to look like a historical epic. Keaton used the Civil War photographs of Matthew Brady as a guide and "The General" remains one of the most convincing depictions of the Civil War ever put on screen. "The General" was Buster Keaton's favorite of all his films, and his pet project -- he poured his entire heart and soul into the production, sparing neither cost nor effort. The spectacular climax where the enemy locomotive crosses the burning bridge and crashes into the river below was done in one take using a real train. Onlookers from miles around gathered to watch the scene being filmed. Afterwards, the fallen train remained in the river bed for years, untouched. Production values like this made "The General" one of the most lavish and expensive movies of its day. But it was a critical and financial flop at the time. Reviewers and audiences panned the film, complaining that it did not provide enough laughs. Over the years public opinion on "The General" has been completely revised. Not only is it considered Buster Keaton's greatest film, it widely recognized as one of the true masterpieces of American cinema.
"...THE GENERAL is an epic of silent comedy, one of the most expensive films of its time..." - 08/31/1997 Chicago Sun-Times, p.8
"...THE GENERAL goes beyond comedic parameters to surpass GONE WITH THE WIND as the greatest Civil War movie..." - 11/05/1999 USA Today, p.6E
"...Keaton's brand of comedy -- the poker-faced everyman character, the elaborately constructed stunts that seem to work accidentally -- has influenced all generations of comic actors..." - 12/01/2003 Premiere, p.3
5 stars out of 5 -- "Every stunt takes place before the camera in real-time....THE GENERAL remains a breathless, beautiful delight." - 03/01/2006 Uncut, p.128
"[I]t's still a wonder to see the quicksilver Keaton executing mathematically precise, guffaw-inducing gags and pratfalls. A sublime comedy..." -- Grade: A - 11/21/2008 Entertainment Weekly, p.102
"Perhaps the first action comedy, Buster Keaton's defining 11926 classic THE GENERAL makes great use of Keaton's laws-of-physics defying body and face..." - 12/09/2009 A.V. Club
5 stars out of 5 -- "A perfect opportunity to witness Keaton's glorious action-comedy..." - 01/17/2014 Empire