The General (U)
Not yet rated
Time Out says
Mon Jan 30 2006Only superlatives will do to describe Keaton’s hilarious Civil War dramatic comedy. Made in 1927, at the culmination of the silent era, it sees the graceful, stone-faced genius at his inventive best. Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack), fiancée of Western and Atlantic railway engineer Johnnie Gray (Keaton), wrongly suspects him of cowardice. When, in a preamble to hostilities, Union spies abduct her – along with her rival for Johnnie’s affections, the titular locomotive – he hot-rails it in pursuit of them both. What follows is a thrilling adventure yarn, based essentially upon a pair of hurtling and symmetrically opposed train chases, that is as superbly structured as it is executed.
The extraordinary budget (some $400,000) allowed Keaton unprecedented freedom – and resulted in a series of his most spectacular large-scale set pieces. But what makes the film so special is the way the timing, audacity and elegant choreography of its sight gags, acrobatics, pratfalls and dramatic incidents is matched by Buster’s directorial artistry, his acute observational skills working alongside the physical élan and sweet subtlety of his own performance. On another level, it’s also very satisfying as a Civil War drama (not to mention train movie), with Keaton’s ardour for authenticity expressed in his beautifully detailed (and expensive) period reconstruction. You have to watch every inch of the frame in a Keaton movie; you’ll find things that will continually delight and surprise.The cool contemporary response to the film disappointed poor Buster, but since then its status has steadily grown and grown and now it’s accepted as one of the greatest ever film comedies. This revival – heading a two-month NFT Keaton retrospective – will be digitally projected and feature Carl Davis’s fitting score.
Fri Feb 3 2006