“The General” (1926) – Buster Keaton’s Best Comedy

The General


Title: “The General”

Release Date: 1926

Director: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman

Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender, Jim Farley, Frederick Vroom, Charles Henry Smith, Frank Barnes, Joe Keaton



Buster Keaton’s stone face has become the film’s trademark. “The General” is a perfectly constructed comedy and at the same time a wise story about a man bravely facing all odds.

“The General”, made by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman in 1926, immediately won the hearts of the audience of the time. The first of the mentioned filmmakers also played the main character of the film. The comedy, the action of which takes place in the United States during the Civil War, presents the funny fate of a young engine driver, Johnny Gray. He is rejected by his fiancée, Annabelle (played by Marion Mack), who is convinced that her beloved has simply chickened out because of his usefulness during the war.

“The General” – the symmetry of the structure – chase and flight

One day, Gray’s train, meaningfully named “The General,” is hijacked by Union soldiers, and to top it off, Annabelle is in one of the cars. Without hesitation, the engineer sets off in pursuit, which abounds in a series of hilarious situation gags. The protagonist first travels by trolley car, then by bicycle, and when he manages to seize a train at one of the stations with soldiers willing to help him, he leaves with just the locomotive, without any wagons attached. As a result, Gray must face the kidnappers alone, who try to thwart him in every way possible.

The General 1926 movie review

When the General’s engineer finally reaches the Unionist headquarters at Chattanooga, he tricks his way into freeing his fiancée and escapes with her on the recovered train. We are dealing with a distinctly two-part plot structure. In the second part of the comedy, Buster Keaton turns from the pursuer into the pursued and the whole series of comical events is reversed. On their way back, Gray and Annabelle set fire to the bridge over Rock River, making it difficult for the Unionists to cross the river. The brave engineer, upon reaching his destination, alerts the Southern army and takes an active part himself. He even manages to take General Thatcher prisoner, for which he receives the coveted uniform and the rank of lieutenant. Of course, the hero also regains the love of his grateful beloved.

“The General” – a man with a stone face in the fight against fate

“The General” is one of the most perfect comedies of the silent cinema, in which the structural ingenuity harmonizes with the philosophical basis of the film. Buster Keaton’s work is, above all, a story about an ordinary man’s constant struggle with unpredictable fate. On top of that, it is a mostly lonely fight, fraught with numerous defeats. In this struggle the protagonist of “The General”, regardless of the circumstances, retains the same stony face that is the hallmark of the brilliant comedian. The young machinist never despairs, but even in the most dramatic situations he focuses all his energy on solving the current problem.

The General 1926 film analysis

Thanks to this, the hero of “The General” manages to keep moving forward, regardless of whether he takes part in the chase or in the escape. It is significant that the plot of the comedy was built on the principle of piling up threats, which at the climax reach their apogee. Gray’s ingenious actions do not secure his future, as he must remain constantly vigilant and eventually face almost an entire Union army. His approach to life ultimately contributes to victory and sends a distinctly optimistic message. It says that life is never without its worries, but a person can always retain his or her dignity when facing the world, and the secret to victory lies in not giving up.

A.Grabicz, Kino, wehikuł magiczny. Przewodnik osiągnięć filmu fabularnego. Podróż pierwsza 1913 – 1949, Kraków 2007.