Considered by many Buster Keaton’s masterpiece and one of the greatest movies ever made, the 1927 silent comedy The General – co-directed by Keaton and Clyde Bruckman – has received a classy DVD treatment courtesy of Kino International (website): “The General - Ultimate 2 Disc Edition.” Whether or not you’re a Keaton admirer – and I’m no fan of gag-based comedies – I find it impossible not to be thrilled that this cinematic landmark is now available on DVD in a version newly mastered in HD from a 35mm archive print struck from the original camera negative.
As with just about every Buster Keaton vehicle, The General doesn’t offer much in terms of plot. After being rejected by the Confederate army and taken for a coward by his beloved paramour, the pretty but dull Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), granite-faced Johnny Gray (Keaton) gets a chance to prove himself when Yankee spies steal his equally beloved locomotive, the ugly but thrilling The General. The Yankees had better watch out.
Like Charles Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and other silent comics, Keaton was the Star (capital “S”) of his films, which were constructed as showcases for his talents and were fully centered on his (deceptively) hapless heroes. The General is no exception to that rule – and that’s just fine for Keaton fans.
“His stunts and sight gags, perfectly framed and presented for maximum clarity and comic impact, fit perfectly into an ambitious action epic,” writes Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. “Spectacular chases, fires and explosions are captured with fluid camerawork. There are no stunt doubles for Keaton and of course no digital effects. This is the real thing you’re watching – in every sense. It has incidentally, one of the cleverest ‘sniper’ sequences to be seen in any war movie.”
Once again, whether you laugh until your intestines come out or you witness the misadventures of Johnny Gray and his beloved locomotive with a face as stony as that of the film’s hero, The General is a cinematic landmark that must be watched at least once. This Kino release provides you with a great opportunity to do so.
The General was written and directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman. Adaptation by Al Boasberg and Charles Smith, from William Pittenger’s The Great Locomotive Chase. Photographed by J. Devereaux Jennings and Bert Haines.
‘The General’ DVD Extras
- Three musical scores to choose from:
- Music composed and conducted by Carl Davis, performed by The Thames Silents Orchestra (in 5.1 Stereo Surround or 2.0 Stereo)
- Music arranged and directed by Robert Israel
- Theatre organ score by Lee Erwin
- A video tour of the authentic General, presented in association with The Southern Museum
- A tour of the filming locations, presented by John Bengtson, author of Silent Echoes
- Behind-the-scenes home movie footage
- Filmed introduction by Gloria Swanson
- Filmed introduction by Orson Welles
- “The Buster Express,” a brisk montage of train gags from throughout Keaton’s career
Buster Keaton The General images: Courtesy Kino International.