Consistently ranked among the best films ever made, Keaton's "The General" (1926, 75 min., stereo) is so brilliantly conceived and executed that it continues to inspire awe and laughter with every viewing. Rejected by the ... more »Confederate Army as unfit and taken for a coward by his beloved Annabelle Lee (Marian Mack), young Johnnie Gray (Keaton) sets out to single-handedly win the war with his cherished locomotive. Also includes "The Playhouse" (1921, 23 min., mono), a technical tour-de-force in which Keaton plays every member of a stage company, the entire audience and an undisciplined chimp to boot! "Cops" (1922, 18 min., mono) is the quintessential chase film, with Buster tumbling into a series of marvelous mishaps while fleeing hundreds of uniformed policemen. Digitally mastered from archival prints, with original musical scores.« less
David M. (KingofGarageSales) from FAYETTEVILLE, AR Reviewed on 4/25/2014...
Every motion done with split-second timing, the DVD "The General" portrays the efforts of a young Confederate would-be soldier whose attempts to enlist are rejected because he's too small. He overhears a conversation of Union generals (who had been acting as spies) of tremendous importance and races to the Confederate Generals to give them the warning necessary to thwart the Union attack.
I admit that I was only mildly interested in obtaining this DVD; I'd heard of Buster Keaton (and, from the same era, "Buster" Crabbe) but hadn't really watched more than brief vignettes of Keaton's acting and comedy skills.
Having received "The General" (with two other short subjects) DVD, I can only say that the delay in watching it was my loss. Keaton's deadpan reaction to the unexpected exceeded Bob Newhard and many others at their best, and the amazing thing is that this movie (and I suspect all of his) was made in the days before stunt doubles.
How he was able to maintain a stoic expression while running ahead of his slowly-chugging locomotive (named "the General") throwing aside railroad ties that the Bad Guys have left on the tracks to slow down their pursuer, is more than I can comprehend. I may put it in my Tower--once I've had a chance to watch it once more.
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The version to buy
M. Boxwood | 11/16/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It was with some trepidation and annoyance that I found myself plunking down more hard-earned money for my fourth copy of Buster Keaton's immortal silent comedy,"The General." I am pleased to report that the investment was a worthy one. The public domain versions of this film are undeserving of comment and should be avoided at all costs. I made the misfortune mistake of buying one of these hack jobs first and was rewarded with a poor transfer with completely inappropriate music. I then purchased the double feature of "The General" and "Steamboat Bill, Jr." offered by Image. The picture quality was greatly improved in regards to clarity and contrast. My personal complaint regarding the Image version is the musical accompaniment provided by the Alloy Orchestra. Clanky and mechanical, their score is more a cacophany than a symphony and works against, rather than complements, much of the action in the film. Next, I procured Kino's original version of "The General", which, to my disappointment, was softer and less sharp than the one offered by Image. It does feature a more pleasing score by Robert Israel. This brings me to Kino's updated and restored version, and I can affirm that my quest for the best version of this film has come to an end. Why go into such nauseating detail regarding the purchasing process? For one, it demonstrates how much I appreciate this film and how important it is to obtain it in its preeminent form. I also hope it will convince those mulling over the different available versions of this film that the Ultimate 2-Disc Edition is the version to buy. Other reviewers have mentioned the techniques used to restore the film, and it is indeed the most lustrous version I have seen. The nighttime sequences are suffused with a rich dark blue, and the sepia tone used give this version the appearance of a Matthew Brady daguerrotype more than ever before. Special mention should be made of the three musical scores. Robert Israel's orginal score has been retained, and a fine organ score by Lee Erwin is also an option. But for my money, the film is best enjoyed with Carl Davis' 1987 score for Thames Television. Those familiar with his scores for "Ben-Hur", "The Crowd", "The Big Parade", and many others know how he can elevate the emotion of a silent film. He does the same here, interweaving distinctly Amercian music that works perfectly. As for the film itself, it is not mere hyperbole to state that it is one of the undisputed masterworks of American cinema and not just the silent period. It was derided by the critics of its age as not being funny. To be honest, it's not funny in a conventional sense, rather it is sublime. Some have criticized Keaton's film as too mechanical, but there is always an insistent humanity fighting against the mighty contraptions Keaton is laboring to free both himself and the woman he loves from. "The General" is in many ways a cinematic obstacle course. The first half finds Johnnie Gray being deprived of his two loves: Annabelle and his locomotive. He has to negotiate all manner of hardships in order to be reunited with both of them. The second half has him fleeing for home and employing the same sorts of means to discouarage his pursuers that were once used against him. In terms of narrarive, chronology, and geometry, "The General" is a mirror image. It is also a film that must be watched closely and patiently in order to be fully appreciated. Beause of this, it merits repeat viewings and provides new insights each time. It is a film for the ages that has at last received the proper format to be fully enjoyed and appreciated."
Highly Recommended for Keaton Fans
Cheated | California USA | 02/18/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a good sampler if you are just getting started on viewing Buster Keaton films. "The General" is a classic, and "The Playhouse" and "Cops" are among his best shorts.Film #1 is "The General", a Civil War tale involving trains, one of Keaton's obvious real life obsessions. "The General" was filmed in 1926 in the town of Cottage Grove, Oregon. He stars as the engineer of a train who tries to join the Southern Army but is rejected as being too important to the southern cause as an engineer to be sacrificed as an infantryman. Keaton helps out anyway and is chased throughout the film by the mean Yankees. There's a scene where the engine of one of the trains collapses a bridge and tumbles into the river, which happens to be the most expensive scene filmed in the entire silent film era, and it's kind of thrilling. Keaton took great pains in making sure that authenticity of the Civil War era (1861-65) was shown throughout the film, but I wish he didn't dress the Confederates in matching uniforms, like their counterparts, the Yankees. With the limited resource material he had at the time, it is understandable; however, the reality was that matching uniforms in the Confederacy was rare, for reasons too long and detailed to go into here.Film #2 is "The Playhouse" (1921). Although this isn't as fun as the Keaton shorts that involve his being chased around Los Angeles, I found it unique and interesting. In one scene, Keaton falls asleep and dreams that he is every person inside a live theater, from the spectators (women, too), the actors - including a monkey!, the guys in the orchestra pit, and backstage help. It was hilarious to see him take every part in a minstrel show, a softshoe act (my favorite), and he had the monkey act down perfectly. Just from seeing how Keaton imitates the precise details of the various acts shows us that he absorbed A LOT from watching the other performers when he toured in vaudeville his first 20 years of life.Film #3 is "Cops". This is one of Keaton's all-time classics. Keaton is swindled out of a wad of money by a con man who sells him some poor family's junky-looking furniture, who think Keaton was hired to be their mover. When a bomb is thrown at a policemen's parade and ends up on Keaton's wagon full of furniture, Keaton uses it to light his cigarette and then tosses it out, landing in the parade and exploding. This, of course, causes a million cops to chase Keaton through the streets. We get to see a lot of 1922 Los Angeles in this film, and sometimes you may find yourself getting too distracted at looking at the interesting streets instead of him. If you're interested in seeing more 1920's L.A. in Keaton's films, try "Sherlock Jr." and "The Goat"."
Keaton the Rebel
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 03/18/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The General was not terribly popular when first released, but is now generally recognized as being Keaton's finest film. It has a combination of comedy and drama which made it a radical departure from previous silent films. It is perhaps this fact that contemporary audiences found difficult. After all, it was unexpected to see people actually killed in a comedy. Keaton went to great lengths to make his film as authentic as possible. His stunts are real and really dangerous. He made great efforts to have trains that looked as if they were from the Civil War and to clothe his extras in period costumes. In this regard he perhaps tried a little too hard. The southern soldiers look just a little too tidy. They all seem to have the same hats and they all seem to have shoes. This does not quite fit in with the history of the period. It does not matter however, for Keaton was not making a history film. There are critics who emphasize the historical accuracy of The General, but this emphasis can go too far. Keaton is not suggesting that we believe that the actual historical event, that his film is based on, happened this way. His film is a comic version of the events not a representation of the events themselves. It is thus that he can successfully find laughter in the most tragic conflict of American history. The print on the Kino DVD is very good. Most importantly it is shown at the correct speed. I have seen a video version of The General which ran 107 minutes, but it did not include any more material than this DVD. Rather it was shown at the wrong speed, so that everything ran slowly. This was disastrous for Keaton's films depend on speed, for his comedy depends on his quickness of thought and action. The print on the Kino DVD is furthermore, well tinted mainly in sepia with night scenes appearing blue/grey. The music which is played during the film is on the whole fine. It is mainly a selection of tunes from the Civil War period. The only time I found the music questionable was when `The Teddy Bears Picnic' accompanies Buster's meeting with a bear. The childlike imagery it evokes is quite wrong. This DVD is good value for it also includes two of Keaton's best short films. The Playhouse is very funny, but is also noteworthy for being technically ingenious. Cops is another chase film, but in the end is more pessimistic than The General. It includes the famous image of Buster's hat on a gravestone which, in way, sums up his whole comic career."
GREAT entertainment for the whole family
Nate Goyer | Sydney, Australia | 01/23/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Buster Keaton has always been a personal favorite and I'm EXTREMELY HAPPY that Kino International is putting out such high quality DVDs of his work. Since many of the copyrights are now public domain, there are many garbage DVD transfers out there. Fortunately the Kino Buster Keaton series is gorgeously preserved.If you are new to Buster Keaton's work, I recommend starting with The General DVD. It is his most seminal work and rated as one of the 10 Greatest Films of all time by Sight and Sound. The scene with the trainwreck is a cinema classic, and one of the biggest budget effects of it's day.2 20 minute extras, 'The Playhouse' and 'Cops' are on this DVD as well, and are an excellent and welcome addition. 'The Playhouse' uses film trickery to simulate multiple Buster Keatons at the same time and stretches the technology of the day to new creative heights. 'Cops' is a great slapstick chase flick which all ages can equally enjoy."
The pinnacle of silent comedy!
Jeremy Gable | Anaheim, California United States | 10/12/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When the average person thinks of famous silent movie stars, Buster Keaton takes an undeserved backseat to Charlie Chaplin. Neither was better than the other, which is why they were both so popular. Chaplin's movies had better stories with more original plot points, and they were able to get more emotions out of us. Chaplin could make us cry as well as laugh.Keaton, however, had more comic invention. His movies were funnier, because he had better ideas of how to get an full laugh out of an audience.Never is this more evident than in the DVD release of Keaton's greatest film, "The General". Watching the film for the first time, I noticed something unusual about the film. The entire film took place on a train. This is something that Chaplin would not do. He would have left the train 30 minutes into it. I think that the reason he would have left the train would be because he would have run out of ideas, whereas Keaton did not."The General" takes place during the Civil War, and Keaton plays a train engineer who is rejected from the Enlistment Office because of the necessity of his job. He is discouraged and his girlfriend will no longer talk to him.Then, Union spies take his train and the girl, two things that are described in the film as "the loves in his life". He goes out to set things straight...and ends up helping the war effort in the process.This film features the perfect example of the attraction to the silent comedy. We get the scrawny underdog, wanting to help but rejected every step of the way. Suddenly, he is thrown into a situation that under any other circumstances would be out of his league, and pulls through with flying colors. This is a dream fulfilled.And all the while, Keaton handles the subject matter with humor that is original, inventive, tasteful, and laugh-out-loud funny. His deadpan reactions hold up better over time than Chaplin's overdone expressions.The DVD also has some extra treats. Two shorts are included. One is "The Playhouse", which contains, if nothing else, an opening sequence that is a marvel of optical camerawork, as Keaton plays numerous characters at once, many of them interacting with each other (compare this to "The Parent Trap" and you'll see how revolutionary Keaton was).The second is "Cops", and the film's ending is one long, fantasic chase scene. Even to this day, ideas are borrowed from this hilarious short.If your experience with silent comedies consists only of watching characters called "The Tramp", and you want to be a Keaton fan, the DVD of "The General" is the perfect place to start."