Friday, April 18, 2008

Spring’s Arrival and a movie review of “The General”

Spring is now here. Every morning I wake up to a chorus of birds. Some of the early trees are budding out as my sinuses have informed me. The weather is warmer and at most I find myself wearing a light jacket in the mornings or evenings. Today, I went out in short-sleeves. Life continues to be busy. On Wednesday, I had an evening meeting with architects and building folks that went way late. I’d walked back to the office for the meeting (not quite a mile) and it was nearly ten o’clock when I got home. I was dead and decided I needed to do something mind-numbing, so I flipped on the TV and watched “The General” on TCM. Although I’d heard of the movie (get the joke?), and I seen clips from it, I’d never watched the whole thing. I’m glad I did; it’s a hoot.

“The General” is a classic Buster Keaton film, back from his silent movie days. The film is based loosely on the well known train chase that occurred north of Atlanta during the Civil War. In the film, as in the real incident, Union spies came into Georgia with the plan to steal a locomotive and to burn the bridges north of Atlanta in order to keep the South from supplying goods to the their western army. When the train takes a dinner stop in Marietta (this was long before dining cars), the spies steal the train and head north. I don’t remember all the details of what happened in the real event, except that another train chased the spies and they were eventually caught and didn’t do much damage.

In the movie version, Johnny Gray (played by Buster Keaton), who was rejected by the Southern army because they needed train engineers, chases the union spies on foot, on a gaudy-dancer, then in another locomotive. Keaton, who is known for his very flexible and humorous movements, dances all over the train as it runs down the track. He single-handedly thwarts the spies’ plans, taking his train behind enemy lines and into the house where the Union officers are housed. Hiding under a dining room table (a very funny scene, especially when the Union general burns Keaton with his cigar that he keeps holding under the table), Johnny “hears” of the Union plans. He also finds that Annabelle, his true love (played by Marion Lee), was on the union train and is now held in the house. He sets out to save her and to win her hand along with saving the southern army and his engine, all in one swoop. They steal away during a thunderstorm (it’s worth watching the movie to see the lightning special effects; cinematography has come a long ways in 80 years). Then there is another train chase as Johnny Gray and Annabelle rush back through the lines and warn the confederate general, who at the end of the battle commissions Johnny Gray as an officer. The movie ends with him kissing Annabelle.

The real joy of the film is watching Keaton’s chiropractic-loving moves. Without sound (the video has music in the background), Keaton has to depend on facial expressions and movement to create comedy. It was just what I needed after a long day. In looking for more information on the movie, I discovered that it’s in public domain and you can watch it all online—so if you don’t have anything else to do, click here and ENJOY! (I tried to embed this, but couldn't get the movie to start).


  1. Murf, really? "Hearing" of a "silent movie"

  2. But you had the 'get the joke' before revealing it was a silent film. Sheesh. :-)

  3. I'm with Murf, I didn't get it because I was expecting all the information necessary to get to joke to be above where you asked if we had gotten it. Then again, it has been a long week and I'm ready for giving my brain a couple days off.

  4. Ed, I admit, I should have dropped the hint that the movie was silent--I assumed people had heard of it or equated Keaton's early work with silent films.

  5. I can't believe you're a published author. ;-)

  6. A silent movie is just what I need after a day at the office, the old office that is. :)

    Thanks for the review; I'll have to check out the link.

  7. I can't wait to watch it - thanks for the link!

    I've always loved how the medium influences the artistry. We lost something when silent movies faded to black. I'd love to see a modern day filmmaker try to revive the form.

    Michele wants you to have a happy Saturday. So do I.

  8. When I was a kid, once a week we'd go to a local pizza parlor that showed silent movies. (they also sometimes had jazz music). We'd order pizza, my folks would get a pitcher of beer and my brother and I would drink suicides . . . I still have a fondness for the days before the talkies

  9. As someone said, the genius of Buster Keaton is so obvious, you don't need sound.


  10. Murf, you're not alone. I'm sure there are some English teachers rolling in their graves

    Scarlet, I hope your new office will have a better work environment

    Carmi, you know, even the silent movies weren't silent as they had music playing--often with loud clashes for thunder, etc. It would be fun to see what a modern film maker could do with the silent genre

    Diane, sounds like a nice family memory

    Sherman, you're right!

    Diane & Sherman, since both you and Diane are attorneys, if either of you need a legal assistant, check out Scarlet (doing my bit for employee/emplorer match-making)!

  11. I love the birds singing in the morning...what a great way to start out a day. But my sinuses, like yours, have been suffering from the pollen. Yellow sheets lay on our pond and I do Allegra D in the morning and Zyrtec in the afternoon. But things could be worse so you can't complain.

    Oh and we cried on tax day too!

  12. Sounds like a great movie - one that I would enjoy.