This is Buster Keaton’s civil war era masterpiece. It was released in 1927 to mediocre reviews. Keaton was ahead of his time and it caught the audience by surprise. This movie is now considered one of the best movies ever made. Buster wanted to make it look real to the era. He told his crew to make it so authentic that it hurt.
This film contained the most expensive shot in silent movie history. Buster had free rein on this movie and it showed. His budget was $750,000 dollars which was huge at the time. Buster had a bridge built just to have a train go across it and crash. The single scene cost 42,000 in 1927 dollars. In today’s money that would be over half a million. But doesn’t it look great?
Buster made the movie in Cottage Grove Oregon. Animal House would be made there 51 years later. When World War 2 came the train was pulled out and used for scrap iron. People say you can still find fragments around this site of the train.
This movie was based on a true story in the civil war known now as The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrew’s Raid. From Wiki
It was a military raid that occurred April 12, 1862, in northern Georgia during the American Civil War. Volunteers from the Union Army, led by civilian scout James J. Andrews, commandeered a train, The General, and took it northward toward Chattanooga, Tennessee, doing as much damage as possible to the vital Western and Atlantic Railroad (W&A) line from Atlanta to Chattanooga as they went. They were pursued by Confederate forces at first on foot, and later on a succession of locomotives, including The Texas, for 87 miles (140 km).
Because the Union men had cut the telegraph wires, the Confederates could not send warnings ahead to forces along the railway. Confederates eventually captured the raiders and quickly executed some as spies, including Andrews; some others were able to flee. Some of the raiders were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress for their actions. As a civilian, Andrews was not eligible.
Buster made a few changes in the story because he said at the time that you could not make a hero out of the Union Army. The cannon he used in the film was built to the specs of the Civil War Era. When he shot the cannonball from the cannon cart on the train to land in the locomotive… he kept trying different measures of powder to get it right until he had to use tweezers to get the right amount. He would do gags without camera trickery when he could. Below is the cannon shot… shot without cuts.
Buster went to great pains for everything to be right. Some said at one time it was the closest thing you could get to see the Civil War. He worked for an independent producer Joseph Schenck so he had complete control of his movies. A little while after this movie lost money he had to go into the studio system and still managed to make a couple of great movies for MGM but after that, the studio would control everything he did which meant the quality of his movies took a nose dive.
Buster was an incredible filmmaker. This movie is a true chase movie. Buster is either chasing the General (train) after it was stolen or being chased by the Union Army in the “Texas” until it crashes in the ravine.
This movie is worth renting or tracking down. This is one I hope I will be able to see on the big screen one day.
It ranks #155 on the best movies ever on IMDB.