Keaton’s The General

Jan 20, 2016

The General Pic 1Roger Ebert wasn’t even sure if Buster Keaton’s The General (1927) was his best film, yet it appears to be one of his favorites.

“Keaton defies logic with one ingenious silent comic sequence after another.”

“Keaton was ambitious and fearless.”

Buster Keaton was not the Great Stone Face so much as a man who kept his composure in the center of chaos. Other silent actors might mug to get a point across, but Keaton remained observant and collected. That’s one reason his best movies have aged better than those of his rival, Charlie Chaplin. He seems like a modern visitor to the world of the silent clowns. (, 1997)

Next up in the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse’s “Silent Sundays” is The General, screening on  January 24.

The General is an epic of silent comedy, one of the most expensive films of its time, including an accurate historical recreation of a Civil War episode, hundreds of extras, dangerous stunt sequences, and an actual locomotive falling from a burning bridge into a gorge far below. It was inspired by a real event; the screenplay was based on the book The Great Locomotive Chase, written by William Pittenger, the engineer who was involved.


The General Pic 2


Keaton is admired for the fact that he performed all his own stunts—such as falling from a train, swinging out over a waterfall, and even having a house fall on him. What makes Keaton’s work succeed, for us, is that he always played it straight. Chaos is all around him and yet he’s either oblivious (absorbed in his own world, pining over the beautiful Annabelle Lee, for example) or stoically goes about his business. Even intimate scenes tend to feel more so, simply for the fact that Keaton’s acting is not over the top slapstick—his reactions are slight, almost imperceptible, and because of that the effect is keen.


1927: Buster Keaton and Marion Mack in The General

1927: Buster Keaton and Marion Mack in The General


The Playhouse has teamed up with the L. A. Theatre Organ Society and organist Mark Herman will provide live accompaniment, playing on the “Mighty Wurlitzer.”


SAN GABRIEL, CA: JANUARY 6, 2011: San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel, California on January 6, 2011.

San Gabriel Mission Playhouse on January 6, 2011.


Copyright 2011 Johnny Vy Photography.

Copyright 2011 Johnny Vy Photography.



Silent Sundays: Buster Keaton’s The General
Sunday, Jan. 24th, 2:30 p.m.
San Gabriel Mission Playhouse
Tickets: $10, advance; $12 at the door
Purchase tickets here
For more information, visit

In coming months, Silent Sundays presents 1927’s Wings starring Clara Bow and The Goddess (1934) starring Ruan Lingyu.




All photos courtesy of San Gabriel Mission Playhouse.





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