Quick recap: Johnnie, played by Buster Keaton, is on a one man mission to rescue a locomotive from the Union soldiers who stole it. As always, hijinks ensue.
Fun (?) fact: This movie is based off of a much less hilarious incident during the Civil War. Union soldiers stole a train dubbed ‘The General’ and drove it north, all the while destroying power lines and train tracks. They were eventually caught by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest ( who founded the KKK). The men were found guilty and hanged.
My thoughts: I enjoyed The General much more than my last Buster Keaton film, Steamboat Bill Jr. I cheered on Johnnie from the very beginning because he was just so darn likeable. Than I realized he was on the Southern side of the war, meaning I was basically cheering for slavery. But then I remembered the North eventually won, so it’s ok to support a small victory like this.
Keaton made me laugh much more this time around, especially during a scene involving a cannon. For the first shot he is careful to put in the correct amount of gunpowder but when the cannonball nearly blows up his own train, he says ‘screw it’ and poured the whole keg of powder. There was only a minimum of slapstick in this film, although considering it is a silent film, most of the gags are still visual. The General seems like more of a mature film than other silent ones I’ve watched- the plot is succinct and action makes up a large part of the run time, because what’s the point in having several minutes devoted to watching the actors’ mouths move?
I was most surprised by how in depth I got to understand Johnnie’s character. Most silent films have archetypes that are easily identifiable but they don’t stick around for long. This movie is just the beginning to showcase how films can be used as a character study. The very first scene shows Johnnie hard at work as an engineer and then as he walks to his girlfriend’s house, two little kids follow him and mimic his every move. He doesn’t mind it, although he gets a little annoyed when he wants some privacy time with his love. It’s such a little moment but it says so much about his character. And the ending sealed the deal for me. Johnnie is finally hailed a hero and it was so sweet to see him finally get his recognition.
Final review: 5/5
Up next: Good Morning, Vietnam