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Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Glen Cavender
Writing Credits:
Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton

When Union spies steal an engineer's beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Dolby 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 80 min.
Price: $30.99
Release Date: 5/14/2019

• “Reflections on The General” Featurette
• “The Luminary” Featurette
• Restoration Trailer


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The General [Blu-Ray] (1927)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 3, 2019)

One of two silent films added to the updated AFI 100, 1927’s The General introduces comedy legend Buster Keaton to that chart. It lands all the way up at #18, a shockingly high spot for a movie not deemed to be anywhere in .

Set at the start of the Civil War, Johnnie Gray (Keaton) acts as the engineer of a locomotive called “The General”. He loves nothing more than his train – except perhaps his sweetheart Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack).

After war strikes, Johnnie attempts to enlist in the Confederate army, but they need him as an engineer. When he lets Annabelle know that they wouldn’t take him, she doesn’t believe him, and she tells him not to approach her until he wears a Southern uniform.

A year later, Union General Thatcher (Jim Farley) and his lead spy Captain Anderson (Glen Cavender) concoct a plan to sabotage part of the Confederate army. They’ll steal a train and destroy Southern tracks and bridges along its path.

When Anderson’s men execute this plan, they choose “The General”. Not one to lose his mechanical love, Johnnie sets out in pursuit of the locomotive. The movie follows his attempts to stop the Union soldiers – and also rescue Annabelle, a passenger captured by the North.

Before The General made the 2007 AFI list, Charlie Chaplin was responsible for the handful of silent comedies judged to be among the 100 best films ever made. It becomes tempting to compare Chaplin and Keaton, as they boast more than a few similarities. After all, both Chaplin’s Little Tramp and Keaton’s Johnnie are sad sacks who just want to get the girl.

However, the Tramp always seemed like a pretty passive character to me. Things happened to him, and he affected his environment largely by accident.

On the other hand, Johnnie offers much more of a go-getter. I find it tough to view him as a real heroic figure since many of his actions go comically awry, but he nonetheless takes charge in a tough spot and single-handedly accomplishes a great deal in this film. Johnnie’s façade resembles that of the Tramp, but I couldn’t see Chaplin’s character pulling off so much action.

And The General excels in the action category, another difference between it and a typical Chaplin flick. While Chaplin usually preferred wry comic vignettes, most of The General amounts to a long chase sequence. Given the era in which it was made – and the comedic genre - this is filmmaking on a surprisingly large scale.

Keaton manages to pull off the enormity of a climactic battle as well as the daring stunts of the train chase. The latter really impress, largely because we know how primitive the era’s effects were. Keaton and company essentially had to pull off all the action for real, and that fact makes the sequences dazzling at times.

I must admit I’m not so sure that General fares terribly well as a comedy, though. In that domain, I think Chaplin wins.

No, the Tramp doesn’t greatly amuse me, but I do locate some laughs in those flicks, whereas I honestly can’t thing of anything here that I find particularly witty. Keaton pulls of some clever gags and physical bits, but none of these bring out much mirth in me.

Despite the lack of great hilarity in this comedy, The General proves winning due to its cinematic audacity. It stretched the limits of its era and did so with a lively and involving tale. Yeah, I wish it were funnier, but it’s still an entertaining piece.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus D+

The General appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a stellar presentation.

Sharpness worked well the vast majority of the time, as most of the film offered nice delineation and accuracy. Some interiors could seem a smidgen soft, but that didn’t turn into a concern, so expect a pretty concise and accurate presentation.

The image lacked jaggies or moiré effects, and edge haloes remained absent. The film came with a gentle layer of grain and suffered from no print flaws, a pretty miraculous state of affairs given the movie’s advanced age.

Blacks felt deep and dark, while shadows appeared smooth and concise. The film would look fine for something shot in 2019, so its high quality seemed remarkable given its advanced age.

Since The General entered the world as a silent movie, I didn’t have to worry about any problems with its source audio. The disc provided a DTS—HD MA 5.1 music track to accompany the film.

The mix provided very nice imaging for the score, as the instruments spread well across the front and demonstrated a good sense of spatiality. Despite the 5.1 nature of the mix, I detected only mild support from the surrounds.

This meant the forward channels dominated and left the back speakers without much to do. I didn’t mind this, as I felt the basic stereo impression seemed more than adequate for the material.

Quality was perfectly solid as well. The music boasted nice breadth and definition, with clean highs and some decent bass during the smattering of percussive elements. The soundtrack reproduced the score well.

How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD? The lossless audio felt more robust, while visuals offered tremendous improvements.

Due to the movie’s age, the old DVD wasn’t a disaster, hut it didn’t impress, either. The Blu-ray became a radical step up in quality and entered “revelation” territory.

The set includes two featurettes, and Reflections on The General goes for five minutes, 28 seconds. It provides comments from TV host Ben Mankiewicz, movie critic Leonard Maltin, filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, and actor Bill Hader.

“Reflections” takes a look at the film and its legacy. They offer some interesting perspectives but don’t expect much real insight.

With The Luminary, we find a five-minute, 19-second program with Hader, Tarantino, Maltin, Mankiewicz, actor Paul Dooley and filmmaker Jon Watts. They offer an appreciation for Buster Keaton. Outside of Maltin’s anecdote about how he met Keaton as a kid, this becomes a pretty fluffy piece.

Finally, we find a Restoration Trailer for The General. It spans one minute, 46 seconds and basically just advertises the Blu-ray, which feels odd since we already own it. I thought it’d show the work done for the restored presentation but we get no info of that sort.

The disc opens with ads for The Bostonians, Between the Lines, The Great Buster and Ash Is Purest White.

Note that this package also includes Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. from 1928. I didn’t view that as an “extra” so it didn’t factor into my ratings – it’ll receive discussion in a separate review.

One of the best regarded silent films of all-time, The General doesn’t do a lot for me as a comedy. As an action flick, however, it proves more satisfying, and those two sides make it something unusual and enjoyable. The Blu-ray provides stellar visuals along with perfectly acceptable audio and minor supplements. Film fans will find themselves impressed by this immaculate restoration.

To rate this film, visit the original review of THE GENERAL

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