The General (1927)
Genre: Silent Action War Comedy
Directed By: Buster Keaton (Go West; The Navigator)
Overview: This is debatably Buster Keaton's greatest work. In it, he plays a train engineer during the civil war who singlehandedly must stop the surprise attack of Union forces.
Acting: I guess by now, those of you who read my reviews know that Buster is one of my favorite silent film dudes. In this he continues to play up his meekness, yet with a resolute bravery that is almost imbecilic. Him, everyone, hilarious. So far, even if his stuff isn't terrific, it's still a pleasure, if just to watch Buster knock a guy in the head with a log.
Cinematography: Having watched a good chunk of silent film, I can tell you that this is some of the best camerawork out there. It's no Eisenstein or Gance high-art metaphorical work, but the shots are crisp and have a distinct focus on the action. For a film to be entirely on train tracks and still be exciting, it has to be well shot and let me tell you, I noticed.
Script: Minimalist as always, Buster's forte was setting up a scene, introducing just enough plot to get the most basic of character arcs then follow through with scene after scene of proving that 'he can do what the girl thought he couldn't'. If silent film is 'stop talking and watch', then Buster's got it down.
Plot: The story is simple but the course is elaborate. When Buster's job is too important to get in the army, his disappointed girlfriend snubs him, until he gets a chance to redeem himself, go deep into enemy territory, save her and get out, all the while being chased by an army. This is mostly action, but not the usual stunty stuff you'd expect, it's more skin-of-your-teeth vehicle stunts. The fact that the vehicle is a train or three makes this really cool besides.
Mood: You'll want to go and steal a train to save your woman after seeing this. The action is non stop and the era only reinforces the 'look of the civil war' this is set it. I found myself glued to this and I'd gladly see it again. If I had kids, they'd love it.
Overall Rating: 84% (The General is Majorly Good)
Aftertaste: People I talk to all remember silent film from their childhood days. I don't know why everyone I know, including myself has only seen this stuff when they were young. I'll show this to someone today and they'll get this wave of remembrance like they found something they lost. It's a good thing. I mean 80 years later, come on, it has to be good... 80 years!