dirs. clyde bruckman & buster keaton
As I’ve said before, I love Buster Keaton. He was a genius; he was stoic; he was gorgeous in a weird, subtle way. The General has long been hailed his finest effort, but I disagree, and apparently it didn’t earn such a reputation overnight.
The General dragged. While Sherlock, Jr., his effort from 1924, seemed natural and effortless, The General dragged, and seemed to have only a fraction of the heart that Sherlock had. While his cool “stone face” doesn’t often give the impression he’s having as much fun as we had, he looked as bored as I felt, and it took me a really long time to get through this one.
The gags were plentiful, but not exciting. The majority of the 75 minute film is one train chasing after the other, with a few classic Keaton twists thrown in for good measure. While the stunts were just as dangerous (and arguably more so) than the ones in Sherlock, danger didn’t equal excitement, and certainly didn’t give off the same feeling of originality. It all just seemed to be lacking something, and the only explanation I can muster is heart; Keaton seemed to be losing steam (no pun intended).
Wikipedia reports that Orson Welles called the movie “the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made.” Audiences seemed to disagree. The lore of the film goes that it was a box office disaster, and started Keaton down the road to his well-documented alcoholism, stemming from a loss of creative control with the production companies he helped popularize. He entered a dark period of his life before reemerging in the 1940s and 1950s, where he was able to re-energize his career both on film and on television.
Keaton was a genius and he was a babe, don’t let this movie kill his rep. If you want to see him in all his glory, go and watch Sherlock, Jr, and you’ll certainly agree.
Available to stream in standard quality via YouTube.