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The General

Love, locomotives and laughs. 

Year: 1926 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 
Certificate: BBFC U Cert – Universal 
Subtitles: It is expected that this film is fully subtitled. 
Directed by Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman 
Starring: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender  
An image from The General

Johnnie Gray has two loves in his life; firstly his engine, affectionately titled “The General” (not a euphemism, an actual steam engine) and lastly, his fiancée Annabelle Lee. When Civil War is declared, Annabelle gives Johnnie an ultimatum. Johnnie must either join the Confederate Army or loose Annabelle’s love forever. Unlike the other men in his town, locomotive engineer Johnnie is forbidden to enlist, as he is considered to be more valuable to the war-effort as an engineer. Refusing to believe this excuse, and branding him a coward, Annabelle refuses to speak to Johnnie again until he is in army uniform. However, when Union spies kidnap Johnnie’s beloved locomotive, they inadvertently capture Annabelle as well. Upon discovering his beloved has been kidnapped, Johnnie pursues the Unionist’s and infiltrates enemy lines, risking everything to save both Annabelle and his beloved locomotive.

With the brilliant blend of breathtaking action, laugh-out-loud comedy and heart-warming romance, The General is critically regarded as one of the best silent films of all time. The excellence of this film also lies in the simplicity of its filmmaking; literally what you see is what you get. Showing off a remarkable array of dangerous and mesmerising physical stunt work, Buster Keaton takes his life into his own hands, and puts the audience on the edge of their seats. From a high speed chase on a penny farthing, to riding on the front of a moving train, the action sequences are performed without a blue screen or safety equipment. Without a doubt such dangerous action sequences would never be commissioned in contemporary, safety conscious Hollywood. With the films climax crowned the most expensive stunt of the silent film era, The General proves to be a timeless cinematic experience.

Grace Johnson

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Screenings of this film:

1998/1999 Autumn Term (35mm)
2010/2011 Spring Term (35mm)