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on 5 April 2005
This actually came out in France last year (alongside a theatrical re-release of the restored film) and it really is an essential purchase for all Keaton fans (and all silent movie fans as well). The film has never looked better, and has been beautifully restored, and while it doesn't show Keaton at his funniest, it definitely shows him at his most inspired. The film is a classic, and feels much more modern (in how it is edited and filmed) than almost any other silent film I have seen.
While the film alone would be worth the purchase price, this disc is full of bonus features.
Buster Keaton Rides Again (a documentary about the making of the Railrodder) is actually more interesting than the film it is about, and it is great to see Keaton as himself.
The Iron Mule is an Al St John short film that features a "blink and you miss it" cameo from Keaton. This is a nice addition, and is a film most silent film fans won't have seen. And while far from funny, is a nice touch.
The Orson Welles "introduction" comes from an early 70s TV screening of the film where Welles tells (for eleven minutes) of his admiration of Keaton and this film. It is interesting and again a nice addition to an already packed disc.
Some of the features are just padding (not that any padding is needed) such as "tinted film", "restoration of the film" and "return of the general".
But without a doubt this is a five star purchase, and with a full Keaton collection promised for later this year I hope this is the first of many excellent Keaton discs.
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I had two choices watching this movie...smile or laugh out loud. When I wasn't smiling I was laughing. Keaton's The General is a perfect introduction for those who may shy away from silent movies or who may think silent comics are too exaggerated and mannered. The story line is simple, but what Keaton does with it is genius.

Johnny Gray (Buster Keaton) is an engineer for the Western and Atlantic Railroad. He has two loves, his engine, the General, and Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), a fine Southern belle. When war starts, Johnny rushes to enlist but is rejected. He's more valuable to the South as a train engineer than he would be as a soldier. Trouble is, nobody tells him why he was rejected. Worse, Annabelle thinks he may be a coward, and tells him she doesn't want to see him again until he is in uniform. Just then northern spies secretly enter the town to steal the General and take it north, destroying bridges and lines along the way, while a Northern army moves south. Unknowingly, Annabelle Lee finds herself on the train and is kidnapped. Johnny sees the General chugging away and races after it, determined to bring back the General. When he realizes Annabelle Lee is held captive, his resolve knows to bounds.

For the rest of the movie we are on one of the cleverest, fastest, funniest chase movies ever filmed. Keaton creates slapstick situations and sight gags that not only are funny, but that always are in character and which always are part of the specific plot point. And when he rescues Annabelle and realizes how hopeless her Southern belle helplessness can be, his exasperation is matched only by his love. The General features a big cast, a major battle, fleeing armies, a failing dam and a spectacular moment when an engine tries to cross a burning bridge and everything collapses into a river gorge.

Keaton's timing and inventiveness are legendary; so is his risk-taking. He does all his own stunts and some of them were dangerous. In one, he is lying back on the engine's cow catcher while the train is moving at some speed forward. In the distance is a railroad tie across the tracks. Keaton has another railroad tie in his hands. At the last moment he tosses his tie so that the end hits the end of the other tie and they both bounce off the track just as Keaton on the cow catcher passes. This scene has no cutting. The two ties fly off as high as Keaton's head. He could have been killed; instead we laugh. It's amazing that in his older years Keaton could still walk. His body took incredible punishment for the laughs. Try falling hard backwards off a moving flatcar and landing on your back across railroad ties. His ingenuity is extraordinary. How do you build excitement out of an extended train chase? Both engines are behemoths and are on the same track. They can't pass each other. Keaton does it with endless bits of business. In fact, he does manage to reverse the chase at one point in an immensely clever moment combining logic and split-second timing.

What makes Keaton so funny and so contemporary is that he doesn't do double-takes. He barely reacts. But he's no stone-face. Keaton's characters are simply very serious fellows. Things happen to them. His characters don't react to events so much as they overcome them with honesty and good intentions.
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on 2 January 2008
While the General is a great film I have serious doubts about the quality of this print which lack the sharpness of many of the carefully restored masterpieces of the silent screen we have seen in recent years. I am also convinced that the speed of this particular print is too slow (and to be fair prints are usually too fast) which you can see when people are walking.
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on 13 December 2006
This silent film is a joy for all lovers of the silent era and for railway fans. The escapades of Johnny (Buster) as he rescues the two loves of his life, his engine 'The General' and Miss Annabelle Lee, are comic masterpieces. The humour may be from the 20s, but it doesn't date. I have recently seen this film at a special viewing at the Alexandra Palace, and can honestly say that there was not one member of the audience who didn't leave with a smile on their face.

Buster continues to do all his own stunts, and in this film one of the simplest looking is also one of the scariest - how many of us would calmly sit on a steam locomotive's connecting rod as the train moves into the engine shed?

I would recommend this film unreservedly; a good laugh is a tonic to the system, and the NHS couldn't prescribe anything with a better guarantee to lift the spirits.
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VINE VOICEon 29 September 2007
Long acknowledged as `the' Keaton film - and the one that he chose to restart his career at Venice (if I remember correctly) - The General shows Keaton at his subtle, stone-faced best, although I wouldn't recommend it as the place to start discovering Keaton if you haven't done so yet. The shorts provide more of an accessible view of the quintessential Keaton as his death-defying best, performing stunts that these days - and even towards the end of his own career, when Hollywood wanted to protect his valuable name and image - are reserved as the domain of stuntmen.
He still dices with death in The General, notably when he throws one railway sleeper at another to pivot it from a railway line, while leaning backwards on the front of a moving-train (apparently with no way of preventing the train hitting the sleeper if he had missed), but this film is more notable for the way it easily maintains the viewer's attention using what is essentially a one-thread plot for over 100 minutes. Today, we've become accustomed to criss-crossing narratives and films being covered in ridiculous attention-seeking smatterings of special effects - to the detriment of the narrative - but Buster works things entirely the other way. And not just because special effects weren't at his disposal - as he shows in his short `The Cameraman', in which he pushed the moving image to places it had never been before.
Even outside the world of special effects, Keaton is much less the extrovert than his contemporaries Chaplin and Lloyd. Even though the straight-faced way he pulls off his gags is a huge part of his style, the quality of his material means that he really doesn't need to fill his films with the showboating, guff and common Laurel and Hardy style slapstick that others often relied on to pad out a film.
To put it bluntly, the film could be compared to a 80-minute chase with a bit of social history at the beginning a huge fight at the end and Buster getting the girl, but the way Keaton works the chase - the narrative that is woven into it; his wonderful on-screen persona; his marvellous directing (the shots of Buster on the train going in the opposite direction from the troops, and the point-of-view shots when Buster is trapped under a table in the enemy meeting house) - make the film much more than the sum of its parts.
Appreciable on myriad levels, The General deserves it place in the annals of film history.
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on 28 December 2010
I first saw this film in the 70s at a public viewing and it has remained ever since in my memory as an outstandingly good film that I was determined to see again. Now, over 30 years later I at last have my own copy of it, and the film has proved to be even better than I remembered. I had not realised how much this story is based on fact, which is explained so well in the 18 minute long extra 'Video Tour of The General'. The other extras are interesting too. But back to the film itself. I had read the other reviews, which raved about the quality of the image, and even after the hype, I was still astounded by just how good the picture is, even though it's over 80 years old. I sat down with my wife and teenage son and daughter, and we all loved it, set to the Carl Davis score. (I have not tried the other two scores yet.) This film is a love story, an American Civil War story, an extended train chase and a damn good yarn, all rolled into one. In fact it's hard to believe that anyone could NOT enjoy it, and in the Blu Ray version with no region restrictions, it's an absolute bargain.
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on 3 April 2010
if you know anything, you already know that _The General_, Buster Keaton's great masterpiece, is simply quite possibly the single greatest film ever made, and easily the greatest comedy ever made.

You MUST BUY this Bluray version, it is spectacular. it is actualy mastered from a NEWLY STRUCK PRINT, FROM THE ACTUAL CAMERA NEGATIVE. I'm not kidding.

Let me type that again - they FOUND THE CAMERA NEGATIVE, and they STRUCK A NEW PRINT, so as to MASTER IT FROM THAT PRINT. Right out of the {insert string of astounded vulgar adjectives here} chemical bath. I mean that's unbelievable.

The only thing that could be better than this is if Buster Keaton came back to life and appeared in your living room and went on to become your best friend and roommate.

Additionally the disk is packed with excellent bonus features (such as a nice piece by old Orson Welles, and excellent history about the real "General" steam train).

This is without a shadow of a doubt the greatest and most important movie ever made about trains; easily the most important work of comedy in our entire planetary era; easily the greatest silent film ever made (as a curiosity, it was in fact the most expensive silent film ever made); as Orson Welles points out, as a sort of passing matter, it is far and away the best Civil War movie ever made; and indeed just generally perhaps the greatest, most human, most "real", film ever made.

On top of all that the Bluray is the last word in classic film bluray presentations ---- a miracle. BUY IMMEDIATELY.

On a technical note, there are NO region restrictions, and the seller is shipping same-day. I cannot emphasise enough how good this Bluray is, I'm going to buy more copies just in case the world comes to an end or something. Buy instantly.
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Lauded by film critics over the years as the greatest of Buster Keaton's films, if not the greatest comedy ever made, this film is one that I have wanted to see for a while. It had a heck of a reputation to live up to, and did not disappoint!

It tells the tale of a railroad engineer in the South during the American civil war, whose beloved train `The General' and girl are stolen by Northern spies who are planning to cut off the South's supply lines before the North makes a big attack. Johnny Grey first pursues his two loves into the depths of enemy territory, and then in turn is pursued back to his homeland, giving us a stone cold classic chase comedy.

As well as allowing Keaton's love of trains full reign as he demonstrates (and probably invents) all the classic railroad and chase visual gags, this film stands out for other reasons. Based on a true story (no, really!), the attention to detail in recreating the period is superb. Also, much like John Ford's work in monument valley a few years later, the beautiful landscape in which Keaton was filming is as much a part of the story as the actors. The film manages to be the personal story of one man, but also has a grand epic quality to it. Finally there are the stunts. No-one was better than Keaton, and he was never better than in this film.

Sadly, this was much misunderstood upon its release in 1926, mainly because it makes the Confederates the heroes of the story, a viewpoint that did not find favour in the America of the time. Also, it was unusual for this style of comedy in that people do get hurt, and in the final battle scene are seen to die on screen. The scenes of troops coming through the woods in the early morning mist was probably quite disturbing to a nation for whom the first world wa was still a fresh memory. Subsequently it was a commercial failure that ended Keaton's creative independence. Luckily it has been reassessed and is now recognised as a classic.

This two disc special edition is the bees knees. I believe it might even have elicited a smile from the great Stoneface himself to see the film treated in such a fashion. The film itself is presented in a beautifully restored print, looking fresh and sharp, allowing Keaton's amasing stunt work and the amazing scenery to be seen in detail. The new score from Joe Hisaishi is a joy, and really compliments the film. There are various documentaries regarding the filming, restoration andrescoring of the film. There is also Keaton's last film, the railroader, almost a follow up to the General. This a really nice touch to the set.

Classic film with a superb presentation. Five stars no hesitation.
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on 8 September 2015
As I’m sure you know Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman’s 1926 silent comedy The General is widely considered to be one of the greatest films of all time. Orson Welles no less acclaimed it “the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made." Such hype inevitably invites a fare dollop of skepticism. Just in the comedy genre is it really better than City Lights (1931), Modern Times (1936), The Music Box (1932), or even other Keaton classics like Steamboat Bill Jr (1928) or Our Hospitality (1923)? Certainly, the film flopped when it came out to negative feedback from critics and the public alike. It did turn a small profit, but the film cost Keaton his independence at United Artists. For two more films he stomached working with a production manager who interfered intolerably before he joined MGM, a decision he regretted for the rest of his life. His marriage ended, his career floundered and he succumbed to alcoholism. His last wife Eleanor Norris (they married in 1940) is credited with putting Keaton back on the straight and narrow, but his film career was effectively over. He turned up later in Billy Wilder’s scathing 1950 Sunset Blvd. playing himself as a washed up card-playing has-been who has one word of dialog (“pass”) which he says twice.

Despite its effect on his career however, Keaton claimed The General was his best film and the whole world it seems gradually came to agree with him. Perhaps two factors explain the initially cold reception. First, people turned up to see a comedy first and foremost with lots of laughs delivered at breakneck pace à la Keaton’s previous two-reelers. They were confronted by a comedy yes, but one married to a love/war drama where the regularity of laughs is sacrificed to the need to tell a story. Contemporary expectations confounded, many people noted especially the ‘tedium’ of the long train sequences – a complaint that seems bizarre now as it is precisely these sequences which pack the greatest appeal. Second, America in 1926 still wasn’t ready to laugh at their civil war, a conflict which still nagged deeply at the national psyche. Keaton’s high regard for his own work however is thoroughly born-out by a film which boasts a nigh-on perfect narrative structure wherein the numerous sight-gags are ingeniously worked out, beautifully paced, and seem to emerge organically from the film as a whole. The film convinces us that a battle (and a girl) can be won in a day through an intricate web of activity executed without “The Great Stone Face” ever once breaking into a smile.

Written by Al Boasberg, Bruckman and Keaton and based on a real 1861 civil war incident recreated in William Pittenger’s memoir ‘The Great Locomotive Chase’, the film’s narrative structure bares comparison with Carl Mayer’s marvelous absolutely symmetrical scenario (also inspired by a book) for F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1927). Both films feature a three-act structure book-ended by a prologue and an epilogue. Problems posed in act one are answered in act three through a central act which features the reconciliation of the central couple. The story is centrally about Johnnie Gray (Keaton) a Western & Atlantic Railroad engineer in love both with his engine (named ‘The General’) and his girl Anabelle Lee (Marion Mack). He unsuccessfully attempts to enlist on the side of the Confederacy. Anabelle watches her family go to war and is ashamed her man is not with them. He is refused because his engineering is more useful to the South than his skills as a soldier, but she and her family believe he is a coward. A Union plot to steal Johnnie’s beloved engine acts as a catalyst which propels him into the action. Noticing his engine has been stolen (he doesn’t know Anabelle is inside), he takes pursuit and the first act is a hilarious train chase which takes him behind enemy lines as the North advances and the South retreats. Johnnie catches up with the Union soldiers in a hut in the country and the second act charts how he enters the house, overhears the Union’s plan of attack and then sees at last Anabelle held captive. He rescues his love (taking her from comfortable bed into a torrential thunderstorm endured in a forest replete with a bear for company!) and they reconcile their differences. Act three is act one in reverse this time with Johnnie and Anabelle in The General riding back to their lines with the Union in hot pursuit on another train. More elaborately worked out sight-gags are ingeniously woven into the narrative as the film climaxes with the Union’s train plunging into a river from atop a bridge and a battle between North and South in which at last Johnnie gets to fight (cue more hilarious gags). The battle over, Johnnie brokers the surrender by introducing the Union general (who he had accidentally and conveniently knocked out earlier on his train!) to his Confederate opposite number. The battle won, Johnnie finally gets his uniform enlisting as a lieutenant and kisses the girl.

Sunrise is universally admired for its ingenious narrative structure (one of the most perfect in existence) and those who have seen it will recognize the parallels between the two films immediately. Domestic discord is followed by a train/trolley-car ride to a different location. The only difference is the matter of stress – the comic antics of the train ride replacing the prolonged etching out of the other film’s love triangle. Sunrise’s miraculous city episode central act in which the Man and the Woman reconnect is replaced by a forest episode central act in which the man wins back the love of his girl. Act two of Sunrise is extended to include romantic smooching and then (after the return trolley ride) a lake-top idyll whereas The General cuts to the chase with the girl a bag of potatoes tossed in as cargo and Johnnie driving the train away. Both journeys end in conflagration – Sunrise in a storm on the lake and The General with a full scale battle. Both involve elements of hubris. In Sunrise the Man starts off wanting to kill his wife and finishes with the storm seeming to accomplish it for him. In The General Johnnie starts off wanting to fight, is rejected, but then finally is granted his wish. Both films end on a kiss with everyone happy. My argument would be if Sunrise is commonly seen as a great film because of the logical symmetry of its narrative structure which makes an unlikely stream of events plausible by sheer screen-writing craft, then the same can be said of The General.

Of all film genres I’d say none divides audience response more than comedy. You can’t be neutral about the great comedians. You either love them or hate them. The narrative structure of a film can be as perfect as can be, but if you don’t find the central figure funny then the film just won’t work for you. This is different from virtually every other genre where even if you dislike a particular actor, if he’s given good material then it’s still possible to appreciate the film. I personally find Keaton hilarious. I had a hard time watching this film objectively because I was laughing so much. For my taste he is better than Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin I find is too contrived, too obvious and too sentimental (bathetic rather than pathetic) most of the time for me to respond. I can’t deny the genius of some of his films, but like I say, if you don’t find the central comedian funny then you are not going to like the film. Keaton’s poker face, his genius with setting up sight-gags, whole sequences which work wonderfully without seeming to have been contrived (even though they clearly ARE) and his ability to transmit feeling without seeming to do anything (eg; the classic image of him sitting on the piston of a steam engine as it moves around, carrying him into the shed to convey Johnnie’s sorrow) is for me pure genius. Couple a liking for the central figure with a beautifully worked out narrative structure and you have gold, pure.
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Buster Keaton was perhaps the greatest of of the silent comedians. He was remarkably deadpan, and you were often left wondering if there were any emotions beneath that stoney face. He failed to make the transition to talkies and was largely forgotten until there was a retrospective of his work in Paris in 1962. Once again he came to the publics appreciative eye, and deservingly so. "The General" is the finest of his films. It was included in Barry Normans 1992 book of his "100 best films of the century", and who am I to argue with this very respected critic.

"The General" is very loosely based on a real incident from the American Civil war when Union soldiers hijacked a railway engine from behind Southern lines. Disney used the same story, but less effectively in the 1956 film "The Great Locomotive chase". In the Keaton version he is a devoted engineer whose pride and joy is stolen by rebel soldiers. If that were not bad enough, Keatons fiancee is also aboard. A double whammy. The chase is on. Showing commendable bravery and resourcefulness our hero manages to rescue both. Of course there are numerous thrills and spills as he does so. His remarkable agility is shown to great effect in many hair raising stunts. It is quite obvious that he eschews the thought of any stunt double.

I am not a great lover of silent movies although I have tried hard. But as always there are exceptions to the rule, and "The General" is that exception. I sat down and enjoyed every moment of this lovely restoration. Not only do we have a brilliant chase movie that gives "Apocalypto" a run for its money, but the sight gags just keep coming and coming. Perhaps only Laurel and Hardys "Sons of the Desert" has made me laugh out loud as much. But visually it is also a treat with all that railway hardwear on display. The amazing stunt with the engine and the bridge must be one of the most spectacular in movie history. Up there with the blowing of the bridge in "The Wild Bunch". Oh, and who can forget that very annoying revolving cannon.

"The General" is a remarkable piece of work and a wonderfully innovative film, It is a pleasure to watch from beginning to end. If I am honest this is probably not the best print available at this time, but on the plus side it is available at a bargain price at the time of this review and still worth every penny.
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