The to be so good that it went on

The General is an American silent comedy film made in 1926,
inspired by events that occurred during the American Civil War. It is a black
and white film starring Buster Keaton as Johnnie Gray alongside Marion Mack as
Anabelle Lee. Buster Keaton is also listed as the producer of the film and
co-directed it with Clyde Bruckman. It was one of the highest budget movies of
the silent era, but it failed to do well at the box office during its initial
release. The audience and the critics did not know what to make of it, they all
expected Keaton’s straight out comedy, but the General perplexed them. Instead,
Keaton was just ahead of his time, since the movie turned out to be so good
that it went on to be called ‘cinema’s greatest achievement in comedy’.

The film tells the story of Johnnie Gray, an engineer from
the South, to whom two things are the most valuable in life – his lover,
Anabelle, and his engine – The General. Anabelle wanted Johnnie to join the
Confederate army, so much so, that she refused to marry him if he did not join
it. Johnnie eagerly goes on in an attempt to enlist himself as a soldier for
the upcoming war, but much to his dismay, is declined the position as the
authorities believed he is ‘more valuable to the South as an engineer’.  A while later, Anabelle is shown leaving to
meet her injured father on The General which is the Southern locomotive that in
engineered by Johnnie. During a stop for lunch, the locomotive is stolen by
Union spies while Anabelle is still on it. Johnnie ran after the train, even
tried to follow it with a bicycle, a sidecar and finally by another locomotive.
Ultimately after reaching the enemy territory, Johnnie and Anabelle find each
other and rescue their way out of the North on The General.

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The most amazing thing about this film, which I believe
comes even before the amazing comic sense portrayed, is the craft of stunts and
acrobats performed by Keaton. The danger and intensity of the stunts was
reaching another higher level as the movie progressed. What catches the eyes of
the viewer in an instant is the effortlessness by which the stunts are
performed because it is quite clear by the visual that it is in no way an easy
task but Keaton just continues to display such smooth moves. On top of it all,
he is successful in inserting comedy in all of his stunts as well, without
making it look like scripted by any means.

 

Every scene is meshed in a way that it surprises the
audience and builds up the anticipation. The entire storyline of how Johnnie
couldn’t even enlist himself as a soldier at one point, but eventually got the
title of a Lieutenant because of his massive help to the army of South,
reflects very nicely by the end of the film. Marion Mack’s character, Anabelle,
brings a very interesting aspect to the film. Apart from bringing the subtly
romantic element to the film, the inclusion of Anabelle’s character during
Johnnie’s journey from North back to South, makes the atmosphere of the scene
more interesting.

 

It is a classic example of what a comedy movie should be
like. It has such unique elements included in it – history, politics, romance,
and yet all these work well for the movie along with comedy. The acclamation of
the entire movie, most definitely goes to Keaton, who carries the entire movie
on his shoulders and leaves the audience satisfied by the end of it. I could
not point out any one special scene throughout simply because every scene was
topped with such perfection by every artist that it seemed impossible to pick
out one out of all to be highlighted. The best part, however, I believe is that
it ends very beautifully. With Johnnie finally having everything he wanted –
Anabelle, the uniform but more importantly, The General.

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