While this Buster Keaton film is not total perfection, it remains a feat of stunts, humour, and high energy which is still very entertaining.
Keaton plays a railway engineer who is not allowed to enlist in the American Civil War due to his value in his day job (but not being told this, he simply feels rejection in his own heart and from the family of his intended). However when his locomotive, the ‘General’ of the title, is stolen by the Northern enemy, he has his chance to prove his heroics in that accident-prone way we have come to recognise from his faster-paced shorts.
Doing all his own stunts, as well as being blessed with one of the least (i.e. most) expressive faces in silent cinema, Keaton makes an excellent lead as well taking on co-writing, directing and producing duties. The stunts and set pieces are a miracle of timing, the message is slightly sending up the military, and love prevails.
Watched in the Thames Silents presentation with music by Carl Davis, using stirring themes from both sides of the Civil War as well as pastiche classical tunes which fit the time and the action.