“He seems like a modern visitor to the world of the silent clowns.” Roger Ebert
A big night for Buster as the film buffs and concert crowd gathered together to watch Carl Davis conduct the mighty Philharmonia Orchestra in playing his own scores for two of stone face’s finest. We may have clashed sartorially – and I did have visions of a potential Mods vs Rockers conflagration, though thankfully things didn’t “kick off” – but, ultimately we all grooved to Mr Davis and the band and we all laughed together, out loud and a lot.
Silent films were often shown in large auditoriums and with full orchestral backing so this grand occasion was not unbefitting especially given the scale of Keaton’s comic adventure. I hadn’t watched The General for a long time and here, presented in the recent upgrade, it was indeed re-masterful.
|"If you loose the war, don't blame me..."|
Amidst all of this chaos, there remains that face: impassive, at peace… absorbing every blow whilst immediately figuring out a way to respond. As David Gill once said to Carl Davis, Keaton is a problem-solver and his stories are a triumph of resolute improvisations against all odds: the comedy of hope.
|Buster sets off in lone pursuit|
So it was that The General’s true nature was revealed as an action adventure as much as a comedy. It is a great story based on William Pittenger’s book about actual events in the Civil War and it is superbly filmed. Cinematographers Bert Haines and Devereaux Jennings shot on a parallel line and the narrative is steam-powered by the constant motion of machine, men and horses.
|Buster misses the Northern advance and the Southern retreat|
Then as Buster and his true love Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) try to steam their way to safety, they start rowing as she gets over picky about which bits of wood to use and then starts sweeping the cab. Only Buster would place a domestic quibble in the middle of a war.
By the mid-twenties, Buster could do pretty much what he liked, resulting in this film… one of the most expensive ever made and, at the time, a relative flop that was to curtail his creative freedom. Those guys at the top, they didn’t really have a clue.
|Home sweet home...|
Directed and written by Keaton along with Edward F. Cline the film was a smash and began his establishment as a major star in his own right and you can see why as it hurtles along with the same wit and rapid improvisations as the longer, later film.
|Sybil and Buster on the swing|
Again he puts his female lead through her paces, this time a young Sybil Seely, who flies up in the air as their pre-fab wall spins Buster down and gets thrown in the dirt as the storm spins them round. She also gets featured in a bathroom scene so daring the cameraman eventually puts his hand over the lens.
|Sybil's impressed with the man at work...|
|Before the green screen, a real train and a big smash!|
The General is now available complete with Mr Davis’ score on Kino Blu-ray direct or from Amazon whilst One Week is also on a Kino Blu-ray through Amazon.