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"The General" (1926) starring Buster Keaton

"The General", a thrilling comedy about the Civil War, lifted Buster Keaton from the ashes of oblivion decades after his name and legacy were forgotten.  Audiences and critics in the 1920ies did not appreciate this extraordinary masterpiece, but Buster Keaton always regarded "The General" as his best film.  Today he is totally vindicated and the world agrees with him.

Simple mortals like us are not able to give adequate praise to this masterpiece.  "The General" is fascinating, thrilling, suspenseful, spectacular, and yet thoroughly entertaining.  None less movie authority than Orson Welles stated that Buster Keaton's "The General" is "the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made." (From Wikipedia).

The film contains the single most spectacular scene of the Silent Era when a real train falls from a burning bridge and crashes into the river below.

"The General" has been voted in the list of the best films ever made, and is ranked number 1 in a list of the greatest silent films by Silent Era.

"The General" was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" in 1989, the first year it was enacted.

The film enjoys extraordinary popularity and has an outstanding rating 8.3 in IMDB.

Directed by                 Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Produced by               Joseph Schenck, Buster Keaton
Scenario by                Al Boasberg, Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton          
Based on                   The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger
Starring                      Buster Keaton, Marion Mack
Cinematography          Bert Haines, Devereaux Jennings
Distributed by             United Artists
Release date              5 February 1927
Running time              75 min.
Country                      United States
Language                   Silent film, English intertitles

You can see a slideshow of stills from this film and other interesting stuff on our website

Silent Hall of Fame is the only place where we actively work to bring back from oblivion the names and legacy of formerly illustrious silent movie stars, which have made a major contribution to the industry and the world but do not have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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File:The General (1926).webm
The General is a 1926 American silent film comedy film released by United Artists. Inspired by the Great Locomotive Chase, which happened in 1862, the film stars Buster Keaton who co-directed it with Clyde Bruckman. It was adapted by Al Boasberg, Bruckman, Keaton, Paul Girard Smith (uncredited) and Charles Henry Smith (uncredited) from the memoir The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger (soldier).
At the time of its initial release, The General, an action-adventure-comedy made toward the end of the silent era, wasn't well received by critics or audiences, resulting in mediocre box office (about a half million dollars domestically, and approximately one million worldwide). Because of its then-huge budget ($750,000 supplied by Metro chief Joseph Schenck) and failure to turn a significant profit, Keaton lost his independence as a filmmaker and was forced into a restrictive deal with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In 1956, the film entered the List of films in the public domain in the United States due to the claimant's failure to renew its copyright registration in the 28th year after publication.< name=pd> }}</>
The film has been reevaluated, and is now considered by critics as one of the Films considered the greatest ever. In 2007, The General was ranked #18 by the American Film Institute on their AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) of the AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies of all time.</> Union soldiers try to ford the river, but Confederate artillery and infantrymen open fire on them, eventually driving them back in disarray.
After returning from the battle, Johnny feels himself separated from the celebrations ensuing, as he is still not a soldier. He returns to his locomotive to find the Union officer he had knocked out earlier in order to escape regaining consciousness on the floor of the cab. He takes the officer as a prisoner in a chivalrous manner, and is spotted by the general leaving the locomotive with a Union officer in his custody. The general formally takes the officer prisoner by accepting his sword. As a reward for his bravery, Johnnie is commissioned as a lieutenant in the army and given the captured officer's sword. In the final scene, Johnnie tries to kiss his girlfriend but is obliged to return the salutes of passing soldiers. Johnnie finally uses one hand to embrace his girlfriend while using his other to blindly salute the men as they walk by.


  • Buster Keaton — Johnnie Gray
  • Marion Mack— Annabelle Lee
  • Glen Cavender — Captain Anderson
  • Jim Farley — General Thatcher
  • Frederick Vroom — A Confederate General
  • Charles Henry Smith — Annabelle's Father (as Charles Smith)
  • Frank Barnes (actor) — Annabelle's Brother
  • Joe Keaton — Union General
  • Mike Donlin — Union General
  • Tom Nawn — Union General


File:The General (Cottage Grove, Oregon).jpg in Cottage Grove, Oregon}}}

Keaton performed many dangerous physical stunts on and around the moving train, including jumping from the locomotive to a Tender locomotive to a boxcar, sitting on the cow-catcher of the slow moving train while holding a railroad tie, and running along the roof. One of the most dangerous stunts occurred when Buster sat on one of the coupling rods, which connect the Steam locomotive components of the locomotive. In the film, the train starts gently and gradually picks up speed as it enters a shed.
The climax of the film includes a spectacular moment where a bridge (sabotaged by Johnnie) collapses as a railroad train crosses it. Keaton filmed the collapse in the conifer forest around the town of Cottage Grove, Oregon, using 500 extras from the Oregon National Guard. They all dressed up in Union uniforms and were filmed going left-to-right before changing into Confederate uniforms and being filmed going right-to-left.
The production company left the wreckage of the locomotive in the river bed after the scene was filmed. The wrecked locomotive became a minor tourist attraction for nearly twenty years, until it was salvaged in 1944-45 for scrap during World War II.


The General on its initial release fared poorly in both box office and critical reaction. Variety (magazine) reported of a theater in which it played, "after four weeks of record business with 'Flesh and the Devil', looks as though it were virtually going to starve to death this week." It goes on to say that The General is "far from funny" and that "it is a flop."</> The Los Angeles Times reported that the picture is "neither straight comedy nor is it altogether thrilling drama" and goes on to state that the picture "drags terribly with a long and tiresome chase of one engine by another."</> It is also on his list of Great Movies.<></> It was ranked number 1 in a list of the 100 greatest films of the silent era by the website<></>
U.S. film distributor Kino International (company) released the film on Blu-ray Disc in November 2009.<></> This is the first American release of a silent feature film for the High-definition video video medium. The Blu-ray edition replicates the same extra features of Kino's 2008 "The Ultimate 2-Disc Edition" on DVD, including the choice of three different orchestral scores as soundtrack.
American Film Institute recognition
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs #18
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) #18

1953 Version

In 1953, a new version of the film was created by Raymond Rohauer, a film distributor and collector. The movie was re-edited with an introduction and music. As of 2013 this version is under copyright, as Rohauer filed a copyright registration in 1953 and renewed the copyright in 1983.< name=pd/>


The story was remade in 1956 by Walt Disney as a non-comedy adventure film starring Fess Parker and entitled The Great Locomotive Chase.

See also

  • Buster Keaton filmography
  • List of United States comedy films
  • List of films in the public domain

  • Orson Welles interview, from the Kino 10 Nov 2009 Blu-ray edition of The General
  • Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railway Adventure by Lieutenant William Pittenger (soldier)


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    Category:Films shot in Oregon
    Category:1926 films
    Category:1920s comedy films
    Category:American Civil War films
    Category:American comedy films
    Category:American films
    Category:American silent feature films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:Chase films
    Category:Films directed by Buster Keaton
    Category:Films directed by Clyde Bruckman
    Category:Films set in Georgia (U.S. state)
    Category:Films set on trains
    Category:United Artists films
    Category:United States National Film Registry films
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