The One about Buster Keaton’s “The General”

In 1927, the American silent film “The General”, now known as one of the greatest films ever made, was released in theaters.

But the film starring silent film star Buster Keaton was not a big success in the box office, in fact it was a box office disaster and received negative critic reviews. But only until later would the film be seen as the ultimate classic film making it into the American Film Institute’s top 100 films of all time (at #18) and was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 1989, the first year of the registry.

The film revolves around an engineer named Johnnie Gray (played by Buster Keaton) who is in love with Annabelle Lee (played by Marion Mack). The Civil War between the Union and the Confederates is hitting close to home and immediately, Annabelle’s father and brother enlist to join the Confederate Army. Annabelle expects the same from Johnnie, which he does.

Unfortunately, Johnnie is not allowed to join because of his importance as an engineer and he must stay in town. Unfortunately, Annabelle tells him that she will not speak with him until he dons a soldier’s uniform. Her father looks as Johnnie as a man who is running away and deems him a coward.

Meanwhile, the Union army has spies who are intent of stealing the train known as “The General” and thwart the Confederate Army by destroying the bridges and stopping supplies from getting to them. Eventually, the Union succeeds in stealing the The General but inside one of the box cars is Marion who was retrieving some items but now has been captured by the soldiers.

As for Johnnie, he sees the train being stolen and tells the other men in town about what took place but he is the only person willing to chase after it and eventually using another locomotive, The Texas to go after it.

Will Johnnie be able to retrieve The General and thwart the Union but most importantly, save his his girlfriend Annabelle?

“The General” is such a great pleasure to watch. Watching it today, even comparing to many of the greatest chase scenes of all time, “The General” is the action film of that era that still shocks us today.   I’m quite surprised of how epic and historically accurate this film was.  From hundreds of extras (500 extras from the Oregon National Guard) wearing Union and Confederate uniforms, Buster Keaton doing thrilling but very risky stunts and one of the most expensive action scene used in a silent film of a train falling from a collapsed bridge.

Sure, today we see Jackie Chan and others doing these amazing stunts but back in the 1920’s, to see Keaton doing these stunts and considering the lack of support during that time or the lack of a double used for stunts, the man was seriously risking his life in the making of these films.  But he made it look easy and fun, Keaton…was absolutely fearless.

KINO international has given fans of this film more than they probably expect but we are very grateful.  “The General” has never looked this incredible and for many of us who have only seen worn out versions on VHS or terrible quality video public domain files, this Blu-ray release is just a sight to behold.  To see such detail and clarity for this 1927 film or for a silent action film is incredible.

For those who are building their Blu-ray collection and want quality must-own films, “The General” should be in your collection.  “The General” is a Buster Keaton masterpiece that is indeed one of the greatest films of all time.

Dennis A. Amith