Friday, January 20, 2012

Buster Keaton in "The General" (1926)


Director: Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
Stars: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack
Genre: Silent film, comedy

Buster Keaton’s fascination with trains is clearly evident in this tale of American civil unrest! He is a man in complete harmony with his train as karma on the tracks would reign supreme for this engineer-conductor of The General. Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton) is passionate about only two things in his life, his locomotive & girlfriend, Annabelle (Marion Mack). The call for duty comes knocking in the south when the Union Army wages an attack on the confederates. This would invoke all emotions of patriotism as Annabelle’s brother & father enlists with the confederate army. To impress his girlfriend, Johnnie would try to enlist as well but unfortunately, he is denied entry because he would be of more value to the cause as a train engineer with The General as stated by the recruiters. This would cause a strain in the relationship as Annabelle misintreprets this the wrong way. Some time has passed and the day would come when the Union army hijacks The General train during a routine break at the Marietta, Georgia stop. All the passengers, the union spies, and Johnnie Gray the engineer would exit the train for a brief lunch break and reststop. Meanwhile, the sly Union army spies would hop back on and steal the General, heading north bound! They kidnap Annabelle out of convenience because she was still on the General. The union thieves would destroy the railroad tracks along the way in order to cripple the south's pursuit & transportation outlets as well as disrupt all forms of communication via the railways by destroying the telephone poles.

This would start the motions of the great Buster Keaton enroute to getting back The General and his girl in which he would not even know she was kidnapped until later on. Some really subtle but cool stunts nonetheless will be executed by Buster such as sitting on the push-pull connecting rod of the locomotive while it was moving, and chasing the stolen General with a railway handcar with a see-saw like pump action by hand to move the car along the tracks! After taking a tumble on the handcar, he would run and jump onto a bicycle in hot pursuit which would not last very long riding alongside the tracks. Johnnie would borrow another confederate train to chase after The union pirates! An amazing sequence of trying to load and fire a cannon, hopping out and back into the locomotive, and then trying to dodge the cannon balls that he loaded waiting to be fired was real suspenseful! Other acts of incredible feats by Buster in the movie include scaling the locomotive while it was moving to remove debris from the tracks left by the union, chopping up wood to fuel the engine while in hot pursuit, and putting out a fire created by the north in a tunnel are just a few examples of his multitasking physical genious! He manhandles the train with brawn & grace! Another amazing scene was when Johnnie sets a bridge on fire so when the enemy train rolled on the tracks the bridge would collapse sending everyone into the water! A 2nd half of adventures would continue on the locomotive when Johnnie comes to the rescue of Annabelle in enemy territories! They both will have slapstick moments together on the locomotive while dodging enemy fire! The confederate flag would flap in the wind again!

After watching The General, you can clearly see where Jackie Chan got some of his ideas for the brand of off the wall action sequences that he would impart in his creations! For example, Buster Keaton’s use of the hand car on the railroad tracks would surface in Jackie’s SUPERCOP. The bicycle sequence would also be of influence in PROJECT A. The stuntwork with Buster navigating, scaling, jumping on/off of the locomotive can be paralleled to Jackie in fight form with his battle vs Ken Lo on the moving train in Supercop/Police Story 3. Buster’s use of taking the short cut down the mountain on foot to intercept the moving train has been used in many Jackie movies such as Police Story when Chan is chasing after the crooks in the hijacked bus! There are definitely many little nuances and quirks of similiarity that you will notice when comparing the great Buster Keaton and Jackie Chan. One of the big differences between these two freaks of nature is that Buster always has that stoic look when executing his physical comedy while Jackie is often filled with exaggerated emotion when showcasing his! Whatever the case may be, both of these legends bring inanimate objects to life whether it be a train, a helicopter, a table, or a 2x4 piece of lumber!

The General is a definite must see on Buster Keaton’s movie queue! Who else would be daring enough to make an American Civil war parody especially siding with the Confederate southern slave states which was a war that was only 60 years removed before the film was conceived!


No comments:

Post a Comment