Directed By: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Starring: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender
Tag line: "Love, Locomotives and Laughs"
Trivia: Buster Keaton always said that this was his favorite movie
One of the most instantly recognizable of silent film stars, Buster Keaton rarely showed any emotion on screen. At a time when others relied on over-the-top pantomime to drive their performances home, Keaton’s characters were cool and collected. This demeanor earned him the nickname “Stone Face”, a moniker he perfected in his 1926 classic, The General.
Railroad engineer Johnny Gray (Keaton) is in love with the beautiful Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). When the Civil War breaks out, Johnny tries to enlist in the Confederate Army, but is turned away because his railroad experience is deemed more beneficial to the war effort. As she watches every other able bodied young man go off to war, Annabelle tells Johnny she's ashamed of him, and breaks off their engagement. But Johnny will get a chance to redeem himself when the Union army steals his beloved train, The General, inadvertently kidnapping Annabelle in the process.
In The General, Keaton remained true to form in that his Johnny Gray kept his head while everyone else was losing theirs. What made this character so remarkable, however, was not so much his composure as that he kept it in the midst of unbelievable chaos. Never mind silent films; The General has some of the most amazing action sequences I’ve ever seen, period. There are moments of such daring that, at times, the movies downright exhausting to watch. Take the scene where Johnny’s train is stolen by Union spies. As Johnny realizes The General is speeding off without him, he tries to pursue it on foot. During the chase, he comes across several modes of transportation to help him keep up, including a railway cart, a bicycle, and, eventually, another train equipped with a huge cannon. The game of cat and mouse continues, one perilous turn after another, as the thieves do everything they can to slow Johnny down. From this point on, The General becomes a thrill-a-minute action adventure, with a few incredibly dangerous moments thrown in as well (the Union spies try to stop Johnny’s approach in the other train by throwing railway ties onto the tracks, and Johnny has to run ahead of his train to clear the way, sometimes doing so at the last possible second). Through it all, Johnny shows no signs of concern. He has a job to do, and will do it to the best of his ability, and always with a clear head.
The Roman playwright Plautus once said, “Patience is the best remedy for every trouble”. Buster Keaton made a career out of proving this statement. Quietly calm when surrounded by absolute anarchy, Keaton maintained his poise through numerous films, usually as the world around him was falling apart at the seams.