I first discovered Buster Keaton around a dozen years ago. I quickly devoured all of his silent films that I could find. I recently revisited The General.
Buster Keaton was one of the masters of the silent film genre. He is known for the physical feats in his films, which inspired Jackie Chan decades later.
In The General, Keaton shows off some of his physical prowess but not to the extent that he does in his other films. His use of physical expressions to tell the story speaks to his position among the greats of the silent genre.
The movie utilizes what became a well-worn movie theme: boy loves girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl. Keaton plays a train engineer in lover with his train (The General) and a woman. The story begins at the start of the Civil War and every man is signing up. Keaton’s beloved refuses to talk to him until he is in uniform. Only he can’t seem to get in uniform. The recruiters refuse to recruit him: he is more valuable to the cause as a train engineer.
Through twists and turns and several train chases, Keaton manages to learn about and then foil Northern plans of attacking the South. In the end he saves the day, joins the army, and wins the girl. The General is a good intro to Buster Keaton and his silent films.