Buster Keaton plays a Southern train engineer at the outset of the American Civil War. He wants to fight in the war but the recruiting agents turn him away because he’s too important to the South as an engineer. Cut to a year later and a few Southern Army Agents are going to perform a daring heist of dressing up as Northern civilians and steal a train. That train is called the General, and Buster’s going to drive it! I think! I may have missed something but who cares!? Trains! Look at the Trains!
This movie is heavier on plot and drama than you might expect from a silent-era comedy. You might even consider this an early action-comedy, or maybe even a dramedy and though it wasn’t totally unknown for movie makers to mix genres in this way, it wasn’t exactly common either. This movie is ahead of its time and though I felt the Civil War was an odd choice to set up a comedy, especially from the South side. But, the story itself is setup well and I enjoy the visual comedy especially.
Outside of the story, what really stands out throughout the movie is the score. I’m not sure if it was the music from the original movie released in 1926 or if it was redone for the DVD or something. Either way, it works very well with the film at capturing the emotions or pacing or action of each scene and also the feel and rhythm of a train. I liked the addition of sound effects though I feel that was probably done after the fact.
One complaint I have about this movie is it feels like maybe a bit too much setup, though it does get more exciting and funnier once the story gets going, it feels like it spends maybe a bit too long getting there. There’s also a bit after Buster rescues the girl that feels just a bit too long without adding much to the film in terms of plot or comedy.
Why you should watch it before you die: Because it’s not nearly as shoddy as I just implied, just a few parts are back and really it’s probably the funniest comedy you’ll see about the Civil War.
+5: Pretty good, by the end of it
+1: Awesome score and sound effects
+1: Good visual comedy
-1: First act is too long and there aren’t many jokes
-0.5: Weird scene in second act that should have been cut and takes up too much screen time
+1: Probably the funniest Civil War battle I think I’ve ever seen