|Fig 1 - The General Poster|
I had always been aware of Buster Keaton's presence in the history of cinema yet somehow I had never witnessed him perform until today. 'Perform' being the operative term of course, as I don't recall a single frame of The General in which Keaton can contain his outlandish reactions to the mishaps he finds himself in.
Considering a staggering 148 acting credits to his name, it was all the more surprising I hadn't come across him before. So without expectation I started up the film and found myself instantly transported to the 1800's, and plunged head-first into the authenticity of the American South.
The story centers around Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton), a train conductor living in the outbreak of the American Civil War, who finds himself rejected from enlisting in the fight and haphazardously winds up heavily involved through his own misfortune. When Johnnie's lover Annabelle (Marion Mack) is captured by train-robbers, he stops at nothing to track down the men who took her. This takes Johnnie on an adventure of misfire and mayhem in his attempt to reach his 'other beloved', The General.
I'm a big fan of films which use the score to its advantage and The General does this with absolute confidence and precision. Every slapstick moment is accounted for and the up-tempo rhythm accompanying what is often Johnnie's impending doom make the scenes all the more hilarious.
Keaton absolutely carries the film as Johnnie Gray, which is exemplified by his somewhat ape-like agility and great comic timing. Whether navigating from one end of a train to the other or simply stocking up on firewood, Keaton manages to find a way of getting a laugh. And several moments did absolutely have me howling. In addition, Annabelle Mack makes for a terrific comedic counter-part to Keaton's zany persona, often unintentionally sabotaging him on the run from Northern soldiers.
Often showing signs of very contemporary techniques for the era, The General manages to not date itself in its simplicity and requires only a singular funny bone in ones' body to appreciate almost a century later.
Fig. 1 The General Poster (1926) From: The General - Directed by: Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton