10 Things About The General (1927)

Posted by Brandy Dean February 1, 2013 3 Comments 20638 views

So my Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra silent film calendar tells me today is the release date for The General. I get really excited about this – a great reason to talk about The General! The problem is February 1 doesn’t match up with any of the release dates in the IMDB entry. What’s a poor film blogger to do? She says “What the hell,” everyday is a good day to talk about the The General!

So I made this post anyway. Then, as I was perusing the interwebs, I saw a bye-bye post from The Toronto Silent Film Festival and the mystery was solved. February 1 is not the release date for The General, but the day on which Buster Keaton shuffled off this mortal coil in 1966.

So let’s celebrate the life of Buster Keaton with a gallery of images from his masterpiece The General and “10 Things About The General. “

Still image from "The General"1 The script for The General was adapted from the book The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger. The book was a recounting of an actual Union Army action that took place on March 13, 1862, but Keaton switched the sides around in the movie.

Still image from "The General"2 Though The General is praised as one of the greatest movies of the silent era, and consistently ranks high on cinema lists, it was a colossal failure at the time of its release. Due to the relatively large budget, $750,000 supplied by Metro’s Joseph Schenck, coupled with a poor box office, The General effectively ended Keaton’s career as an independent artist.

Still image from "The General"3 The General entered the public domain in 1956 due to failure to renew the movie’s copyright registration in the 28th year after release. There’s a lot of poor quality prints with inappropriate soundtracks floating around because of this.

Still image from "The General"4 As usual, Buster Keaton performed his own physical stunts in The General, some of which were pretty dangerous. He jumps from the engine to a boxcar on the moving train, sits on the cowcatcher while in motion, and even sat on the coupling rods as the train picks up speed.

Still image from "The General"5 One of the more spectacular scenes involves a bridge, sabotaged by Buster Keaton’s character Johnnie, collapsing as a train crosses it. A real train was used, thus explaining some of the outrageous costs involved in production.

Still image from "The General"6 The train really stolen in The Great Locomotive Chase was indeed named “The General”. That train is alive and well and on display in Chattanooga’s Union Station. The train used in The General was actually The Texas. It didn’t fare as well.

Still image from "The General"7 Principal filming took place in and around the town of Cottage Grove, Oregon, and used 500 extras pulled from the Oregon National Guard. Keaton dressed them in Union uniforms and filmed them going left-to-right. Then they changed into Confederate uniforms to be filmed going in the opposite direction.

Still image from "The General"8 The production company didn’t clean up the mess after the bridge collapse sequence. The wreckage of “The Texas” was left in the river bed and became something of tourist attraction for almost 20 years. During World War II, the train was salvaged for scrap metal.

Still image from "The General"9 In 1989, the Library of Congress, in its infinite wisdom, selected The General for placement in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” This was the maiden year of the registry and The General was ushered in with the likes of Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane, and Sunset Blvd.

Still image from "The General"10 Kino International released The General on Blu-ray in 2009. This was the first American release of a silent feature on high def video. It’s exactly the same as the Kino 2008 “The Ultimate 2-Disc Edition” on DVD.

About Brandy Dean

Social media consultant, blogger for hire, and lover of classic movies and silent films.

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There are 3 Comments

  1. Miranda
    - February 1, 2013
      -   Reply

    Thanks so much for this post! Buster is my absolute favorite. I grew up about an hour from Cottage Grove. One of the old brick buildings downtown has a huge mural of Buster commemorating the filming of The General, and in the past they’ve had festivals celebrating it on major anniversary years.

  2. - October 10, 2013
      -   Reply

    Keaton, the greatest! Happy 118th Birthday, Buster! ~(;^)~

  3. Hillary Hess
    - October 23, 2013
      -   Reply

    Keaton didn’t “switch the sides around” from the Pittinger book to the movie. In both, the Union spies steal the General. Keaton DID switch emphasis from the Northern POV to that of the Southerners. The original Texas, the locomotive which eventually caught up to the General in 1862 has survived, and is on display in the Cyclorama building in Atlanta, Georgia. The locomotives used in the movie belonged to a lumber line and were backdated to appear mid 19th century. Keaton and crew bestowed the historical names on the engines for the movie.

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