Buster Keaton is often described as one of the three great silent comedians, with Chaplin and Harold Lloyd being the other two. (Harry Langdon is sometimes spoken of with the same reverence, but most of his films are lost).  Keaton’s character was different from Chaplin’s rather sentimental figure, preferring to remain expressionless throughout his escapades, something which led to his nickname, ‘Old Stoneface’.  Halliwell said:

‘Despite his unathletic build and his tendency to be accident-prone always proved sufficiently tenacious and indomitable to right the prevailing wrongs and win the girl… he seemed to be at his funniest when battling against immense mechanical or constructed objects.’

The General itself surely marks the first, and possibly the most inventive, comic use of a train in the movies.  Will Hay in Oh Mr Porter, and the Marx Brothers in Go West, certainly made their own attempts at locomotive lunacy, but…

‘…Keaton was the first and only practitioner to make the train a character with a personality all its own.’

Keaton’s career suffered due to his alcoholism, and he…

‘…did not easily survive sound, but later came back in featured roles and was gaining a fresh popularity at the time of his death.’

He therefore regrettably missed out on the critical revival of his works in the late sixties, which led to him being…

‘…now regarded as among the greatest performers in cinema history… the funniest and most inventive silent clown of them all.’

The film's place in cinema history:
  Assessment from the Film Guide   Other notes by Leslie Halliwell   Quotes from the film   Information on the making of the film    
Year: 1926
Studio: UA
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