The General

The General (Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton, 1927)

In the 1920's there was a big opposition between moviegoers: the Chaplin side against the Keaton side. Chaplin's tramp was more emotionnal and had more sensivity in his adventures. While on his side, Buster Keaton was more of a mime, the same sad face of a "white clown" - Fellini. Chaplin used many emotionnal lever to make us care about his little tramp, many faces and so much misery. Meanwhile, Keaton used with his sad expressions the fact that he was made of "rubber" to make us laugh.

Near a century later, this opposition between those two greats is more like a conjunction. The competition they delivered to each other helped to keep better and better quality in their performances for the public. And someone who likes Chaplin nowadays will surely like Keaton. I think Chaplin was a better storyteller: he understood the world around him better than most of the people of his time. Keaton was more a stuntman than Chaplin was, he could do scenes with a high level of danger and never hurt himself.

The danger is palpable in The General, some scenes are total madness: Buster Keaton is in the front of a steam engine for much of the lenght of the film! I was very young when I understood that a train doesn't stop like a bike...and even just a bike you could seriously hurt yourself when you fall from it! So the steam engine can kill the stuntman! The General is like watching extreme sports for the 1920's! It's crazy, it's dangerous, the adrenaline is in the top and the guy could be seriously hurt and he possibly could die if something goes wrong!

For the modern day moviegoers that discovers The General, they may find some gags cartoonesque. Well, they couldn't be more right! When at Warner Bros. they were doing Bugs Bunny cartoons, they openly declared that they were truly inspired by Buster Keaton's films. The cartoons gave more opportunities to the animators that could emphasized some of the gags and stunts Keaton did in his films. His influence is even palpable in Spongebob Squarepants cartoons!

As you have probably wondered, I'm not gonna write a synopsis or an analysis on The General, I love this movie too much to find its weaknesses and I prefered to let you my personal impressions of it. The General deserves its spot on the Top 5 of the greatest Silent films of all time!

A Retrospective by Michaël Parent


  1. As a gigantic fan of Keaton, I tip my cap to you here because you've hit all of the high points that make Keaton so wonderful to his fans.

    Have you seen "Seven Chances" yet? It's my favorite of all the Keaton films.

  2. Sadly, I didn't catched it yet. I should treat myself with a boxset of his entire work! I kind of think I haven't seen lots of his greatest work... Seven Chances is on my films to watch list!


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