8.2/10
69,472
259 user 131 critic

The General (1926)

Trailer
1:04 | Trailer

Watch Now

With Prime Video

ON DISC
ALL
When Union spies steal an engineer's beloved locomotive, he pursues it single-handedly and straight through enemy lines.
Reviews
Top Rated Movies #156 | 2 wins & 1 nomination. See more awards »

Videos

Photos

Learn more

More Like This 

Sherlock Jr. (1924)
Action | Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

A film projectionist longs to be a detective, and puts his meagre skills to work when he is framed by a rival for stealing his girlfriend's father's pocketwatch.

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Kathryn McGuire, Joe Keaton
Sunrise (1927)
Certificate: Passed Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

An allegorical tale about a man fighting the good and evil within him. Both sides are made flesh - one a sophisticated woman he is attracted to and the other his wife.

Director: F.W. Murnau
Stars: George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston
Biography | Drama | History
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

In 1431, Jeanne d'Arc is placed on trial on charges of heresy. The ecclesiastical jurists attempt to force Jeanne to recant her claims of holy visions.

Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Stars: Maria Falconetti, Eugene Silvain, André Berley
Seven Chances (1925)
Certificate: Passed Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8/10 X  

A man learns he will inherit a fortune if he marries by 7 p.m. that same day.

Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Ruth Dwyer, T. Roy Barnes
Metropolis (1927)
Drama | Sci-Fi
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich
Comedy | Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down.

Director: Frank Capra
Stars: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains
Comedy | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  

A spoiled heiress running away from her family is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.

Director: Frank Capra
Stars: Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly
Comedy | Romance | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  

A man returns to his Appalachian homestead. On the trip, he falls for a young woman. The only problem is her family has vowed to kill every member of his family.

Directors: John G. Blystone, Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Natalie Talmadge, Joe Keaton
City Lights (1931)
Comedy | Drama | Romance
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.5/10 X  

With the aid of a wealthy erratic tippler, a dewy-eyed tramp who has fallen in love with a sightless flower girl accumulates money to be able to help her medically.

Director: Charles Chaplin
Stars: Charles Chaplin, Virginia Cherrill, Florence Lee
M (1931)
Crime | Mystery | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  

When the police in a German city are unable to catch a child-murderer, other criminals join in the manhunt.

Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut
Tokyo Story (1953)
Drama
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

An old couple visit their children and grandchildren in the city; but the children have little time for them.

Director: Yasujirô Ozu
Stars: Chishû Ryû, Chieko Higashiyama, Sô Yamamura
Safety Last! (1923)
Comedy | Thriller
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

A store clerk organizes a publicity stunt in which a friend climbs the outside of a tall building.

Directors: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor
Stars: Harold Lloyd, Mildred Davis, Bill Strother
Edit

Cast

Complete credited cast:
Buster Keaton ... Johnnie Gray
Marion Mack ... Annabelle Lee
Glen Cavender ... Captain Anderson
Jim Farley ... General Thatcher
Frederick Vroom Frederick Vroom ... A Southern General
Charles Henry Smith Charles Henry Smith ... Annabelle's Father (as Charles Smith)
Frank Barnes Frank Barnes ... Annabelle's Brother
Joe Keaton ... Union General
Mike Donlin ... Union General
Tom Nawn Tom Nawn ... Union General
Edit

Storyline

Johnnie loves his train ("The General") and Annabelle Lee. When the Civil War begins he is turned down for service because he's more valuable as an engineer. Annabelle thinks it's because he's a coward. Union spies capture The General with Annabelle on board. Johnnie must rescue both his loves. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Love, Locomotives and Laughs See more »


Certificate:

Passed | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
Edit

Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

24 February 1927 (France) See more »

Also Known As:

The Engine Driver See more »

Edit

Box Office

Budget:

$750,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (1982) | (1962) | (2003 alternate) |

Sound Mix:

Silent

Color:

Black and White (Sepiatone)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »
Edit

Did You Know?

Trivia

The film's hard-edged look was inspired by the battlefield photographs of Matthew Brady, which captured the carnage of the Civil War in shocking detail. See more »

Goofs

The pistol Johnnie uses near the end of the film to arrest the Yankee officer in the cab of the General is a Colt revolver from the 1870s. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Annabelle's brother: Fort Sumter has been fired upon.
Mr. Lee: Then the war is here.
Annabelle's brother: Yes, dad, and I'm going to be one of the first to enlist.
See more »

Alternate Versions

In 1995, Film Preservation Associates, Inc. copyrighted a 75-minute version of this film with a music score arranged and directed by Robert Israel. See more »

Connections

Referenced in Around the World in 80 Days (1956) See more »

Soundtracks

Wiener Blut (op. 354)
Written by Johann Strauss
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more »

User Reviews

Richly inventive comedy with a logically impeccable plot that makes the hyperbolic slapstick seem plausible and inevitable; this is a work of art and a work of genius
29 June 2000 | by J. SpurlinSee all my reviews

Buster Keaton's "The General," about a man and his engine, puts you in a world where the most comically inventive situation that could happen will happen. From major comic situations to throwaway gags, "The General" always knows what to do.

The story begins in leisurely fashion. A title card tells us that Johnnie Gray (Keaton) has two loves in his life: his engine and his girl—respectively, The General and Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack). Johnnie goes to visit Annabelle, followed by two engineer-worshipping boys and, unknown to him, Annabelle Lee herself. He and his entourage arrive at the door; Johnnie polishes his shoes on the back of his pants legs, slicks back his hair, and gently taps the door with the door knocker. Then he turns to notice Annabelle. Keaton's understated reaction is a testament to his uniqueness. Any other comedian would have done an explosive double-take.

Now Johnnie and Annabelle are together in her parlor, but the boys are there, too. Johnnie stands up, puts on his hat and opens the door as if to leave. The hero-worshippers are ready to follow, but Johnnie lets them out first, then closes the door on them. This is a gentle ruse in the world of silent comedy. At Keystone both boys would have gotten kicked in the pants.

Now the two are alone. Annabelle's father sees them from another room and is about to break things up when her brother enters and announces that Fort Sumter has been fired upon: the War Between the States has begun. Annabelle kisses her father and brother as they go to enlist, then turns expectantly to Johnnie, who cocks his head like a confused puppy. She asks, "Aren't you going to enlist?" Realization hits him, and he leaps off the seat. Before he can run out the door, Annabelle kisses him. This so overwhelms Johnnie that he flings out his arm in a farewell gesture and falls off the porch.

Johnnie races to the general store, which is now a makeshift recruitment office. Taking a shortcut he manages to be the first in line. The door to the office is opened and Johnnie comes marching in—only he and the rest of the line go in two different directions, and he has to jump over several tables to get in front again. He gives the enlistment officer his name and occupation, but the man rejects him. Johnnie is more valuable to the South as an engineer. Later, Annabelle believes that Johnnie didn't even try to enlist. She refuses to speak to him again until he's in uniform. What follows is a classic moment: Johnnie sits on the connecting rod of his engine. He's so miserable that he doesn't notice when he starts moving up and down, until just before the train enters a tunnel.

Time passes and we learn that a group of Unionists are secretly passengers on The General. When (nearly) everyone is off the train having dinner, the Unionists climb back aboard and take the engine. Annabelle, a passenger herself, was still on board. She is now their prisoner.

But Johnnie only knows his beloved General has been stolen, possibly by deserters. He pursues the engine by taking another, The Texas. Through a mishap he becomes the sole person aboard The Texas, but the Unionists think they're outnumbered and continue to run. What follows is the true joy of the movie: two long chases (separated by an important plot twist). Now the movie changes its quiet pace for almost nonstop action.

I love it when the Unionists break off the rail car to hinder The Texas. At one point, the car, which Johnnie thought he had switched to another track, reappears in front of the baffled engineer, only to disappear later just as mysteriously. We see the logical circumstances that lead to the car's seeming magic act, and the equally logical situations that keep Keaton occupied, preventing him from seeing what we see.

Comic logic is important to "The General." In no other movie do hyperbolic slapstick gags seem so plausible and inevitable. In a throwaway gag, Johnnie empties a burlap sack full of shoes because he urgently needs the sack. Of course—of course!—he loses his own shoe in the pile and must stop to hunt for it.

We move to the second chase, where Johnnie has The General and the Unionists are the ones pursuing him. Now Johnnie must contend with Annabelle Lee.

Marion Mack leaves no mark of her personality on the screen. She deserves credit mainly for being willing and able to take it. Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn were never thrown around, trod upon or knocked about the way Marion Mack was. She has hilarious moments. The excitement of the chase does not prevent her from taking out a broom to sweep the dusty floor of the engine. An exasperated Johnnie tells her to keep throwing wood into the fire. She takes a small stick and daintily puts it in. Johnnie sarcastically hands her a sliver, and she puts that in, too. Then, in a moment that has an audience roaring and clapping, Johnnie grabs her and half-throttles her before kissing her instead.

The final section, most of it a battle scene, includes the shot where The Texas begins to cross a burning bridge, only to crash into the river. Owing to Keaton's disdain of fakery (one of several reasons his works seem modern) he did not use a model but a real train on a real burning bridge. The crash cost $42,000—reportedly making it the single most expensive shot ever in a silent film.

A worthy closing gag was too taxing even for Keaton's ingenuity. Johnnie's dilemma is to kiss his girl while saluting the passing soldiers. His remedy is only mildly funny. Is anyone complaining? "The General" is a work of art and a work of genius.


62 of 81 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you? | Report this
Review this title | See all 259 user reviews »

Contribute to This Page

Stream Trending Movies With Prime Video

Enjoy a night in with these popular movies available to stream now with Prime Video.

Start your free trial



Recently Viewed