A massive flop on its release, "The General" is an outstanding achievement of silent comedy stunt gags that often look every bit as good as contemporary equivalents.
Buster plays Johnnie Gray, a train engineer who adores both his locomotive 'The General', and girlfriend Annabelle, (Marion Mack). While the reciprocal love from buster's train seems a safe bet, Annabelle is none too impressed when the Civil War breaks out and he is rejected by the army. With Annabelle refusing to speak to him until he's in uniform, the relationship looks doomed. That all changes though once Union spies steal his beloved 'General' and girlfriend, setting him off on a remarkable chase to save them both.
The scale and direction of this chase movie was revolutionary, and newcomers will doubtless be surprised at the excellent pacing of the action. The superb cinematography catches all the right shots as Keaton cleverly builds up the scale of the stunts. These culminate in increasingly impressive train-based acrobatics as he dodges the fiendish attempts by the Union men to derail him.
As with any good blockbuster, Keaton saves the best for last with a climax involving a burning bridge the Unionists attempt to cross by train. Staged for real, the reputed $42,000 cost of that single shot was unheard of in those days, and it's just as impressive today as it was then.
Staged with wit and satisfying cinematic flair, "The General" is a true Hollywood classic.
Read a review of the DVD.