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The General

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The greatest of the silent clowns is Buster Keaton, not only because of what he did, but because of how he did it. Harold Lloyd made us laugh as much, Charlie Chaplin moved us more deeply, but no one had more courage than Buster. I define courage as Hemingway did: "Grace under pressure." In films that combined comedy with extraordinary physical risks, Buster Keaton played a brave spirit who took the universe on its own terms, and gave no quarter. I'm immersed in his career right now, viewing all of the silent features and many of the shorts with students at the University of Chicago. Having already written about Keaton's "The General" (1927) in this series, I thought to choose another title. "The Navigator," perhaps, or "Steamboat Bill, Jr.," or "Our Hospitality." But they are all of a piece; in an extraordinary period from 1920 to 1929, he worked without interruption on a series of films that make him, arguably, the greatest actor-director in the history of the movies. Most of these movies were long thought to be lost. "The General," with Buster as a train engineer in the Civil War, was always available, hailed as one of the supreme masterpieces of silent filmmaking. But other features and shorts existed in shabby, incomplete prints, if at all, and it was only in the 1960s that film historians began to assemble and restore Keaton's lifework. Now almost everything has been recovered, restored, and is available on DVDs and tapes that range from watchable to sparkling. It's said that Chaplin wanted you to like him, but Keaton didn't care. I think he cared, but was too proud to ask. His films avoid the pathos and sentiment of the Chaplin pictures, and usually feature a jaunty young man who sees an objective and goes after it in the face of the most daunting obstacles. Buster survives tornadoes, waterfalls, avalanches of boulders and falls from great heights, and never pauses to take a bow: He has his eye on his goal. And his movies, seen as a group, are like a sustained act of optimism in the face of adversity; surprising how, without asking, he earns our admiration and tenderness. Because he was funny, because he wore that porkpie hat, Keaton's physical skills are often undervalued. We hear about the stunts of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., but no silent star did more dangerous stunts than Buster Keaton. Instead of using doubles, he himself doubled for some of his actors, doing their stunts as well as his own. He said he learned to "take a fall" as a child, when he toured in vaudeville with his parents, Joe and Myra. By the time he was 3, he was being thrown around the stage and into the orchestra pit, and his little suits even had a handle concealed at the waist, so Joe could sling him like luggage. Today this would be child abuse; then it was showbiz. "It was the roughest knockabout act that was ever in the history of the theater," Keaton told the historian Kevin Brownlow. He claimed that Harry Houdini dubbed him "Buster" because of those falls; Houdini was a friend, but the nickname came before the Keatons met him. Buster and Joe discovered that when he was hurled through the bass drum and emerged waving and smiling, the audience didn't see the joke in treating a kid that way. But when Buster emerged with a solemn expression on his face, for some reason the audience loved it. For the rest of his career, Keaton was "the great stone face," with an expression that ranged from the impassive to the slightly quizzical. He falls and falls and falls in his movies: From second-story windows, cliffs, trees, trains, motorcycles, balconies. The falls are usually not faked: He lands, gets up, keep going. He was one of the most gifted stuntmen in the movies. Even when there is fakery, the result is daring; in "Go West" he seems to fall from a high suspension bridge, but actually falls only 50 feet or so before landing in a net; there's a cut to another shot showing him falling the last 20 feet. Both halves of this "faked" stunt are dangerous. And in "Our Hospitality," where he was almost killed when a safety wire snapped and he was swept toward a waterfall, he finished the sequence with a fake waterfall--but even it was 25 feet high, and he's swinging above a nasty fall. Keaton is famous for a shot in "Steamboat Bill, Jr.," where he stands in front of a house during a cyclone, and a wall falls on top of him; he is saved because he happens to be exactly where the window is. There was scant clearance on either side, and you can see his shoulders tighten a little

just as the wall lands. He refused to rehearse the stunt because, he explained, he trusted his setup, so why waste a wall? In film after film, Keaton does difficult and dangerous things and keeps the poker face. His philosophy is embodied in his body language: The world throws its worst at him, but he is plucky and determined, ingenious and stubborn, and will do his best. Walter Kerr, in his definitive book "The Silent Clowns," writes of Keaton's "stillness of emotion as well as body, a universal stillness that comes of things functioining well, of having achieved harmony." When Harold Lloyd dangled from a clock face far above the street, he intended to terrify his audience. When Keaton sat on the front of a moving locomotive in "The General" and attempted to knock one railroad tie off the tracks with another, he could have been crushed beneath the train, but he presents the action as a strategy, not a stunt. Kerr talks of the "Keaton Curve," the way an action ends up where it began. There's a shot in the early short "Neighbors" where Keaton escapes a house via a clothesline, swings safely across to his own house--then finds that the clothesline keeps rotating, depositing him right back in trouble. In "The General," there are innumerable examples of the Curve, for example a scene where the train goes around a bend so that a cannon now points at Buster instead of the enemy. You can also see the Curve in many of those scenes where he invents ingenious "labor-saving" devices--to serve breaskfast, for example. One of his funniest shorts is "The Scarecrow," which includes a house where everything--table, bed, stove--has more than one function, so that a meal consists of a tour through the parabola of the house's gadgets. Another of Keaton's strategies was to avoid anticipation. Instead of showing you what was about to happen, he showed you what was happening; the surprise and the response are both unexpected, and funnier. He also gets laughs by the application of perfect logic. In "Our Hospitality," he discovers he is in the house of a family sworn to kill him. But Southern Hospitality insists they cannot shoot a visitor in their own house. So Buster invites himself to spend the night. In the last decade of silent film, Keaton worked as an independent auteur. He usually used the same crew, worked with trusted riggers who understood his thinking, conceived his screenplays mostly by himself. He had backing from the mogol Joe Schenck (they were brothers-in-law, both married to Talmadge girls), but Schenck sometimes missed the point. He was outraged that Buster spent $25,000 to buy the ship used in "The Navigator," but then. without consulting Keaton, spent $25,000 to buy the rights to a third-rate Broadway farce that Buster somehow transformed into "Seven Chances." Like Chaplin and Lloyd, he was a perfectionist who would reshoot sequences until the laughs worked, would take as long as necessary on a single shot, would supervise every element of his films. No filmmaker has ever had a better run of genius than Keaton during that decade. But then talkies came in, and he made "the biggest mistake of my life," signing on with MGM for a series of sound comedies that mostly made money, but were not under his personal control. He didn't like them. By the late 1930s, Buster Keaton (1895-1966) was out of business as a self-starting auteur. He continued to work all his life, doing innumerable TV appearances and turning up in movies like Chaplin's "Limelight," Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" and even "Film," an original screenplay by Samuel Beckett. He lived in the San Fernando Valley, raised chickens, and thought his work had been forgotten. Then came a 1962 retrospective at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris, and a tribute at the 1965 Venice Film Festival. He was relieved to see that his films were not after all lost, but observed, no doubt with a stone face, "The applause is nice, but too late."

Arguably the greatest of Buster Keaton’s silent comedies, The General begins with a single, brilliantly sustained premise and works it into an engaging story that combines edge-of-your-seat excitement, stunningly conceived stunts and sight gags, spectacular set pieces, touching sentiment, and a rousing finale.

Essentially a chase film, The General tells the Civil War-era tale of stoic young Confederate railroad engineer Johnnie Gray (Keaton), whose precious train is stolen — and beloved Annabelle (Marion Mack) kidnapped — by Union spies. Commandeering another train to give chase, Gray winds up sallying deep into enemy territory, riding by the seat of his pants as he confronts obstacles and difficulties at every turn, often with only moments to act and split-second timing needed to avoid disaster. Ironically, though often named one of the best films of the silent era as well as Keaton’s personal best film, The General is not Keaton’s most characteristic film, and was a critical and box-office flop in its own day. A typical Keaton vehicle spends the first two acts with story gags and plot complications, then goes for broke in the last act with a crescendo of amazing stunts and set pieces. Sometimes, as in Steamboat Bill, Jr., plot points are simply throw to the winds in the last act. (Compare Douglas Fairbanks’s final-reel acrobats in The Mark of Zorro, which blows away the rest of the film.) By contrast, The General is story-driven and more disciplined in tone and style. Keaton’s acrobatics are likewise at the service of the story rather than being showcased by it. The stunts aren’t Keaton’s showiest, but the physics and geometry of Johnnie Gray’s ordeal, involving cannons, fires, fence rails, water towers, and various obstacles on the tracks from railroad ties to free-rolling train cars, are as elegant and precise as anything in Keaton’s oeuvre. Watching Keaton in action, one can easily believe he was one of Jackie Chan’s main inspirations. Yet in his deadpan understatement Keaton was perhaps unique among physical comedians. Perhaps misleadingly nicknamed “the Great Stone Face,” Keaton was in fact a subtle actor, but didn’t go for broad emotion or histrionics. Instead, his characters keep their emotions on a short leash, making them all the more sympathetic. Part of The General’s strength is its historical persuasiveness; the look of the film was meant to evoke Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs, and though a comedy The General has an authentic period feel unmatched by dramatic Civil War films. In 1998, amid an orgy of end-of-the-millenium top 100 lists, the American Film Institute released its list of the 100 best American films, a list that included three Charlie Chaplin movies but inexplicably no Buster Keaton films, despite the fact that several of his works, most notably The General (1926), rank among the silent era’s best and frequently hover near the top of many critics’ lists of the best films ever made. But this has been Keaton’s lot in life, both during his career and since his death: to toil away in the shadow of the most famous comedian who ever lived. Though a late-career rediscovery of his work saw Keaton hailed as a cinematic genius, even Chaplin’s superior as a director, Keaton still retains his underdog status. Pacific Film Archive will show The General and One Week (1921), Keaton’s first independent film, as the first installments in a new series: “Movie Matinees For All Ages.” The series debuts at 2 p.m. Saturday with Keaton and will be followed over the next couple of Saturdays with the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers (1932) and Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939). The General is essentially one big chase sequence, brilliantly constructed and expanded to feature length. The story, based on a true incident from the Civil War, concerns a Southern train stolen by Northern soldiers, who spirit the engine back into Northern territory, burning bridges and destroying telegraph wires as they go. Buster, as Johnnie Grey, is the General’s engineer, and sets out to recapture his beloved locomotive. Along the way, Keaton stages a series of beautifully choreographed and increasingly dangerous stunts until he arrives in enemy territory, rescues his train—and, almost by accident, his girl—and then heads back to Southern territory while hounded by Northern soldiers. Thus the chase folds back on itself, like an arc that delivers Keaton back

where he began—the “Keaton Curve,” as critic Walter Kerr put it—with gags and stunts from the first half now expanded upon in the second. The General and Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) are unique among screen comedies in that they combine two seemingly incongruous genres: the comedy and the epic. Such a pairing had never been attempted before, as the grand scale of the epic seemed at odds with the smaller, more personal nature of character-based comedy. But whereas Chaplin’s film only contained a few outdoor shots in the early scenes before retreating to the comfort of studio sets, Keaton preferred to shoot on location; few of his comedies take place in studio sets. And though location shooting and period costumes were nothing new in Keaton’s work, The General dwarfs his previous efforts in scale and detail. Many critics consider it the most convincing celluloid recreation of the Civil War, the imagery recalling Matthew Brady’s photographs from the period. Keaton instructed his crew to make it “so authentic it hurts” and carefully replicated the trains, uniforms, styles and terrain of the era. There were no special effects; Keaton’s desire for authenticity extended to every shot, culminating in the dramatic scene in which a train crashes through a burning bridge as scores of Northern soldiers pour over the hillside to converge on the Southern army’s front lines. Critical reception was mixed. Some thought it a solid picture while others considered it Keaton’s weakest effort, taking offense at the notion of making light of the Civil War. Ultimately the considerable expense of the production caused Joseph Schenk, Keaton’s producer, to intervene with the usually autonomous director-star, requiring that his next feature be decidedly less extravagant. Keaton dutifully followed up with College (1927), one of his most restrained efforts, before embarking on the more elaborate Steamboat Bill, Jr (1928). It was while making Steamboat that Keaton learned that Schenk had sold his contract to MGM, bringing an end to Keaton’s independent career. Under MGM, Keaton struggled to keep control over his work but quickly became subsumed by the studio system after his first feature, The Cameraman (1928). Thus Keaton, like Erich von Stroheim before him and Orson Welles after him, became something of a victim of his own success as the expense of and lack of contemporary public appreciation for his greatest achievement ultimately undermined his career. PFA’s screening of The General will be preceded by One Week, the first two-reeler Keaton released as an independent artist after his apprenticeship with Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. One Week was hailed as the year’s best comedy upon its release, establishing Keaton as one of cinema’s most innovative artists. The film is an excellent introduction to Keaton’s work as it features many of the characteristics that would become his hallmarks: a fascination with machinery, a semi-surrealist perspective, trains, and of course, the Keaton Curve, as the efforts of Buster and his bride to construct a pre-fabricated house eventually leave them homeless once again. While I’ve always had an appreciation for the talent and artistry that has went into movies from the “silent era”, I normally don’t really go out of my way to watch them (which can likely be attributed to being “spoiled” on modern movies). However, as I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s excellent “Hugo” with my family for a Home School project, we decided that for a family movie night, we’d find a silent movie classic to watch. And after seeing the promising ProSouth sounding summary of Buster Keaton’s “The General”, we all knew this was one we couldn’t miss. In the famed 1927 silent era classic “The General”, Buster Keaton takes on the role of a Southern Train engineer known by the name of “Johnnie Gray”. Having just arrived in Marietta, Georgia, Johnnie is visiting his fiancee Annabelle when the War for Southern Independence breaks out. At

Annabelle’s prompting, Johnnie attempts to sign up to fight for the Confederacy, but is rejected for being much to valuable to the South as an Engineer. At first, because Johnnie is not recruited, everyone (including his fiancee), believes Johnnie is a coward to the Southern Cause. But in the story that follows, this Southern boy proves that he is anything but as he sneaks behind Yankee lines with his train (The General) to rescue his girl – and in the process, manages to subvert their insidious plans! Our son, who is eight, loved this movie and was quite taken with Johnnie and his train. In fact, more than once throughout this film, he was “talking” to the screen to tell the character to “look out!”. As for my wife and I, we enjoyed the amazing stunts, and story-telling – which, due to the silent nature of the movie, seemed to convey much more emotion than a lot of modern-day flicks. Additionally, if you enjoy history, The General feels like a very authentic motion picture glimpse of the UnCivil War. Also, you’ll want to see one of the highlights from the film, which involves a train plunging into a river when attempting to cross a weakened bridge. This impressive sequence was filmed outside the town of Cottage Grove, Oregon, and used 500 extras from Oregon’s National Guard. Filmsite Movie Review notes that The General is, “Filled with hilarious sight gags and perfectly timed stunt work, the chase comedy was written and directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, and filmed with a huge budget for its time ($750,000 supplied by Metro chief Joseph Schenck).” This movie comes highly recommended. If you’re a Southerner who is tired of the South and her people being maligned through Federal propaganda, then you owe it to yourself to spend a little time taking in the story of Buster Keaton’s fine Southern Hero – Johnnie Gray. Kino Lorber has taken on the awesome responsibility of transferring all of Buster Keaton's surviving work to Blu-ray in the next year or so. In honor of this great and noble undertaking, we'll be taking a look at their existing releases in the run up to their late November release of Keaton's Seven Chances. In the past, we've reviewed both their double feature of Sherlock, Jr./Three Ages and their superlative edition of Our Hospitality, today's review takes on Kino's first Buster Keaton Blu-ray and one of the great American films, The General. Consistently ranked among the greatest films ever made, Buster Keaton's THE GENERAL is so brilliantly conceived and executed that it continues to inspire awe and laughter with every viewing. This Kino Ultimate Disc Edition was mastered in HD from a 35mm archive print struck from the original camera negative. Rejected by the Confederate army and taken for a coward by his beloved Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), young Johnny Gray (Keaton) is given a chance to redeem himself when Yankee spies steal his cherished locomotive. Johnny wages a one-man war against hijackers, an errant cannon and the unpredictable hand of fate while roaring along the iron rails. "Every shot has the authenticity and the unassuming correct composition of a Mathew Brady Civil War photograph," wrote film historian David Robinson, "No one - not even Griffith or Huston and certainly not Fleming (Gone With the Wind) - caught the visual aspect of the Civil War as Keaton did." Buster Keaton had a life long fascination with trains, and they found a loving home on screen with him on more than one occasion. However, there is no greater film about trains than this one, The General. It is the real life story of a great Civil War act of espionage by the Union soldiers who stole the titular engine in 1862 in an attempt to disrupt the Confederacy's supply lines and end the war as soon as possible. The Blues' managed to get the train, but they weren't able to complete their plan, thanks to the interference of a civilian and a very couple of very determined train folks who didn't take kindly to thieves or Union soldiers.

The story doesn't exactly lend itself out to comedic interpretation, but leave it to Keaton to take this chapter in history and turn it into one of the funniest films ever made. The General is not only a comedy, it is also an amazing action film, a romance, and a historical drama. Most filmmakers attempting to shove all of those ingredients into the same pot would come out with something half-baked, but Keaton's take is picture perfect. The film features some of his most famous stunt work, and for a man known for his physical gags, that is really saying something. Not only does Keaton do all of his own stunts, he does them on a moving train, and there are times when that thing is really going, it's still impressive even today! Among the many memorable gags is the bridge collapse. The sequence which features the Texas, the rival train, crashing into the Rock River was the most expensive single shot in Hollywood history up until that point. In 1926 a $42,000 shot was nothing to sneeze at, but ultimately it paid off, not only for the film, but for the town of Cottage Grove where the film was shot. After shooting completed, the stunt train was left in the river and became something of a tourist attraction in Cottage Grove, in fact, the town still enjoys notoriety for its appearance in The General, and rightfully so. Many of the shooting locations are still visible eighty-five years later, and there aren't many small towns about which you could say that! One interesting facet of this film is the fact that it is a work in which the Confederacy is the side with which the audience is expected to feel sympathy. This is a tact that I don't think would really work these days, with people fearing the microscope of political correctness. However, in 1926, the Civil War wasn't such ancient history, and there were still some veterans of "The War Between The States" around, who surely were a political force in some fashion. Confederate pride wasn't something to be ashamed of, yet. That has all changed, and the American film-going public doesn't like its sensibilities being challenged like that anymore. It is really fantastic that Keaton took on the story, because if it had waited anther couple of decades, it probably wouldn't have been told at all! While The General isn't my favorite Buster Keaton film, and I haven't seen them all yet, it certainly is among the very best. The film has been recognized by the AFI and many of the film world's biggest names as a masterpiece, and rightfully so. Kino have treated the film with great respect, and this is a fantastic package to get. The General was shown to a preview audience in San José, California, during the first week of November 1926. A few days later it was shown in Glendale, California. According to Bert G. Bates in The Oregonian (Nov. 15, 1926), “Buster Keaton’s Oregon-made super-feature comedy, ‘The General,’ clicked 100 per cent when presented to a preview audience at the Alexander theater in Glendale this week. The somber-faced giggle producer has one of the greatest pictures of the year, and Joseph Schenck, who witnessed the preview, declared that it was undoubtedly the greatest comedy Keaton has ever produced and should earn $1,000,000 for United Artists.... The picture has laughs galore and will set a mark for Chaplin and the rest of the top-notch comedians to shoot at. Following the preview showing the audience stood and applauded long and loud as a tribute to Keaton’s efforts.” The General was copyrighted on 22 December 1926, and played in several cities in Oregon in early January 1927, but its scheduled December opening at the Capitol Theatre in Manhattan was delayed until Saturday, 5 February. The delay prevented Keaton from making a personal appearance at the opening. In the Winter 2001 issue of The Buster Bulletin, David Macleod went through reviews in popular movie magazines that the general public would likely have seen. * Bioscope (Jan. 27, 1927): Excellent comedy for 1st class houses. It cannot fail to please a discriminating audience. Buster

Keaton gives a performance of polished comedy. * Picturegoer [UK] (April 1927): Buster Keaton as the engine driver hero of an American Civil War story, goes unsmilingly as usual through a series of amusing adventures. Marion Mack is his leading lady, and there is an excellent supporting cast. Capital entertainment. * Motion Picture (March 1927): Buster Keaton has evolved a mild little comedy of Civil War days. It’s a pleasure to laugh continuously but comfortably, with no painful side-splitting, while Buster inadvertently becomes the hero of the Confederate Army. He is relentlessly aided, throughout the picture, by the heroine, who is nothing short of an inspiration. Marion Mack plays this delightful brand of leading lady with infinite good nature. Don’t miss her and Buster. * Photoplay (March 1927): ...Buster Keaton does spoof the Civil War most uncivilly in his new comedy. Buster is a locomotive engineer who saves a whole Confederate army single-handed. There is an undercurrent of heroic satire in the way Buster is always saving the moron heroine in crinolines. Anna-belle Lee is a gorgeous laugh at all the helpless young ladies of historic fiction. * "Brief Reviews of Current Pictures," Photoplay (May 1927): Good satire on war melodrama and excellent comedy thrills. * Picture Play (May 1927) gave a negative review, perhaps unique among contemporary fan magazines: What is easily Buster Keaton’s most ambitious comedy is his least funny one. Mr. Keaton’s task was to invest it with comic byplay, which he does, but there is an underlying solemnity in the proceedings which puts rather a crimp in the farcical treatment given them. “The General” is a one man show, a mistake in a picture lasting over an hour. * Carl Sandburg, who was once also a movie reviewer for The Chicago Daily News, wrote the following, which can be found in Arnie Bernstein, ed., ”The Movies Are”: Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays, 1920-1928 (Lake Claremont Press, 2000): If they’ll put Buster Keaton at the head of the armies next time there’s a war his maneuvers will bring that war to a pleasant, painless and prompt conclusion, because the belligerents will simply die laughing. At least that is the impression one gets viewing him in The General, a Joseph M. Schenck production, directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman, the star’s first feature for United Artists, and now having its first Chicago showing at the Orpheum Theater.... The play is chockfull of hilarity, pathos and thrills, such as when Johnnie chases himself with a loaded cannon; attempts to burn down a bridge and gets on the wrong side of the fire; shoots a cannon into the air and with fool’s luck hits the dam that floods the river and puts the enemy to rout. And if any young “modern” thinks short skirts and knickers an attribute to agility, let her behold the acrobatics of Marion Mack in hoopskirt and lace beruffled pantalets.... If you want a good laugh, don’t miss The General. Buster Keaton said that The General was one of his three top financial successes. And Marion Mack said in an interview: “...we were surprised when it took off as it did. It was the audiences that made it such a hit; the studio never realized what a gem they had in their hands until the

money started rolling in.” Yet, in the ledger books the film was a flop, with a domestic gross of only $474,264. No one has yet fully researched the discrepancy here, and no one has yet determined its actual earnings or loss, as opposed to its reported loss (there’s often or always a major difference between the two). Several theories have been advanced for this reported failure and its aftermath; here is mine. Previous Keaton features had been released through Metro and its successor, MGM. Since Joe Schenck had just switched jobs, The General was the first of three films to be released through United Artists (a far less wealthy studio than MGM), and all three UA/Keaton releases have long been considered financial flops. When Keaton was forced to move to MGM, after his first couple of MGM features (which were fairly true to his "independent" form), he was placed in assemblyline pictures that, ironically, made far more money than his independent features had made. Could this have been due far less to the superiority of MGM’s product (as MGM would have had us believe at that time) and more to MGM’s superiority in booking clout over the fledgling United Artists? (In the Blesh biography, Keaton himself claimed that UA’s poor marketing process cost Steamboat Bill Jr., his final UA feature, $750,000.) In any case, after a quarter-century of mostly neglect, Keaton’s silent films were “re-discovered” by audiences when demand for them rose after Life magazine printed James Agee’s famous silentfilm essay “Comedy’s Greatest Era” in 1949. Since then, The General has worn the hearts of audiences and critics alike, and it continues to do so via DVD releases and theatrical revivals. ORIGINAL STORY : Lieutenant William Pittenger is best known for Daring and Suffering: A History of the Great Railroad Adventure (J. W. Daughaday, 1863), his terrifying first-hand account of the now-famous Union attempt to steal a Confederate railway engine and run it north, destroying cables, tracks, and bridges along the way. The attempt was an almost instant failure. A squad of 21 Union soldiers under the leadership of a secret agent named James J. Andrews boarded a Confederate train as civilian passengers, stole it during a meal break, ran it a few miles north, and pulled over to a side track to allow a scheduled Confederate train to pass in the other direction. William Fuller and Jeff Cain, the conductor and engineer of The General, pursued the stolen train by rail and foot. They first used a hand-cart (as Buster Keaton does in the film), then a small work locomotive called The Yonah which they borrowed from a railroad work crew, and finally a fullsized Confederate army locomotive called The Texas, which pursued The General for 51 miles -in reverse. During the chase, Confederate soldiers were able to repair the sabotaged telegraph wires and send messages ahead of the raiders. Andrews and his men were hunted down by bloodhounds, and they were eventually intercepted and captured near Chattanooga, TN, by a squad of Confederate troops led by Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest (who, after the war, was one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan). Tried as spies, Andrews and seven of his raiders were hanged (a special gallows was built to hold all eight men). The rest of the raiders were traded in a prisoner exchange. In 1863 the survivors of the mission were awarded the first Medals of Honor (Andrews and the raiders who had been hanged later received the Medal of Honor posthumously). TRIVIA : Buster Keaton wanted to use the real locomotive The General in the movie which was at the Louisville and Nashville Railroad Depot in Chattanooga, Tennessee (it's in Kennesaw, Georgia now), but was unable to, and had to dress up another 4-4-0 locomotive instead. Keaton performed many dangerous physical stunts on and around the moving train, including jumping from the engine to a tender 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 drivers of the locomotive. In the film, the train starts gently and gradually picks up speed as it enters a shed. It is nearly impossible for any engineer to start any train moving this precisely. If he had not accelerated by just the correct amount, the rods might have been moving so fast as to send Buster flying, possibly injuring or killing him. The story goes that it took considerable persuasion on his part to get the engineer to go through with it. The first try at getting the cannonball to shoot out of the cannon into the cab caused the ball to shoot with too much force. To cause the cannonball to shoot into the cab of the engine correctly, Keaton had to count out the grains of gunpowder with tweezers. In the scene where Johnnie and Annabelle refill the water reservoir of the train, Marion Mack said in an interview many years later that she had no idea that she was supposed to get drenched. Buster Keaton had not told her what was supposed to happen, so the shock you see is genuine. In the scenes with the opposing armies marching, Keaton had the extras (which included 500 Oregon National Guardsmen) wear the uniforms of the Confederacy and march in one direction past the camera, then he had them change uniforms to the Union blue and had them march past the camera in the other direction. The film's hard-edged look was inspired by the battlefield photographs of Mathew Brady, which captured the carnage of the Civil War in shocking detail. Many notables have cameos in this film. Glen Cavender, who played the leader of the hijackers, had been a hero in the Spanish-American War and a winner of the French Legion of Honor. Also, Frederick Vroom had appeared earlier in Keaton's The Navigator as the girl's father whose ship is hijacked. Keaton's former director of photography, Elgin Lessley, has a cameo as the Union general who gives the command to cross the burning bridge. Joe Keaton, Buster’s father who played parts in several of his other movies, also plays a Union general. Producer Louis Lewyn (who was also Marion Mack's husband) has a bit part as a soldier. An earlier version of the film featured some scenes with Snitz Edwards, who had previously served as a memorable "sidekick" for Buster in Seven Chances and Battling Butler. These scenes were eventually deleted. Since United Artists was initially leery of offending viewers for whom the Civil War was still a fresh and wounding memory, The General opened first in two theaters in Tokyo, Japan, under the title Keaton, Shogun. A review of the movie in the British publication The Bioscope (Jan. 1927) stated that "Keaton has provided himself with a better acting part than he has since Grandma's Boy," which was actually a Harold Lloyd film. Filming dates: June 8 to Sept. 18, 1926 Filming locations: * Oregon – Cottage Grove; Eugene; McKenzie River; Row River * California – Santa Monica

Filming budget: $750,000 (approx. $9.2 million in 2010 dollars) Domestic box-office gross: $474,264 ($5.8 million in 2010 dollars)

"Bloopers": Revealing Mistake: When Johnnie is running through the woods to escape the Union soldiers, his hat drops from the tree before his head hits the hat to dislodge it. Factual Error: The cowcatchers on Western & Atlantic RR trains had horizontal bars, rather than the vertical ones seen on all three trains in the film. Continuity: - When The General is first stolen, Johnnie is washing his hands. When he sees the train pulling away, he walks away from the sink with his hands covered in soap, but in the following reverse shot where he tells the passengers what has happened, his hands are clean. - When Johnnie is chopping wood on the train, the piece of wood changes size between the different shots. - Johnnie's and Annabelle's clothes are dry, neat, and clean the morning after camping outside without shelter during the thunderstorm - When Annabelle Lee is brought inside the Union headquarters by two soldiers, her clothes are soaking wet from the rain clearly visible through a window, but the soldiers' clothes are dry. - When Johnnie is chasing the General in the Texas, during most of the chase the engine has a sliding hatch in the cab roof, but just before Johnnie abandons the Texas, the roof changes to a smooth roof without a hatch, and slightly different shape, obviously meaning he changed engines. - Annabelle gets drenched when she and Johnnie stop for water, but as they return to the engine, her dress is dry. Anachronisms: - The enlistment scene takes place in 1861 but the "Southern Cross" flag hanging outside the enlistment office wasn't used until 1862. - The movie takes place during the Civil War in the 1860s. However the General is equipped with air brakes which weren't invented until 1872 by George Westinghouse. - The Union infantryman, who was killed by the flying sword blade, was using a Springfield trapdoor rifle which was not made until after the end of the Civil War.

BUSTER KEATON AT LOEWS

FILM MUST BE ACCURATE

The Globe (1844-1936); Mar 15, 1927; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Globe and Mail (1844-2009)Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1996) ProQuest Historical pg. F4 pg. 14

The Washington Post (1923-1954); Apr 3, 1927;

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

THE SCREEN: A Civil War Farce.

By MORDAUNT HALL. New York Times (1923-Current file); Feb 8, 1927; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) pg. 21

PALACE

The Washington Post (1923-1954); Apr 4, 1927; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1996) pg. 4

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

STUDIO FLASHES

New York Times (1923-Current file); Feb 6, 1927; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2009) pg. X7

Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

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