The General (1927)

Hanspostcard is hosting a movie draft from 12 different genres…this is my Silent Movie entry.

Buster Keaton was a little off kilter to his comedy peers. He was more subtle than Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. Keaton used non movement to his advantage. You would see him in a crowd easily. They would be moving along and his stillness would get your attention.

Chaplin had two rivals in comedy at the time. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Lloyd was more successful than Keaton but he was more of an actor playing a comedian on screen. Charlie and Buster were stage trained natural comedians and made some of the best comedies of the teens and twenties…and some would say all time.

Buster was an excellent filmmaker. I would put him over Chaplin in that regard. Buster didn’t fake stunts…he didn’t like cutting in at the last minute. He wanted the gag or whatever it was to be filmed in one shot and completely natural.

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 is a reference point to some people to see what the Civil War looked like.

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 for a comedy. 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 of the creek bed 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.

The Great Locomotive Chase unfolded during the early years of the Civil War, an attempt by Union forces and sympathizers to destroy railroad infrastructure north of Atlanta, Georgia in hopes of eventually capturing the strategic city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The celebrity locomotive in what also became known as Andrews’ Raid was the Western & Atlantic Railroad’s General. The American Type 4-4-0 steamer was commandeered by James Andrews himself (leader of the raid) and used throughout the chase where he traveled northward from Atlanta causing as much damage as he could. Unfortunately, the hasty Union plans were too slow and disorganized to cause serious damage and most of those involved were eventually captured.

Buster made very few changes in the story. He kept his eye on details though. 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 railway car 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.

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.

Keaton 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.

If you have never seen a silent movie…this is a good one to start at…this one and The Gold Rush by Chaplin.

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.

Cast

  • Buster Keaton – Johnnie Gray, Director, Editor, Screenwriter
  • Marion Mack – Annabelle Lee
  • Glen Cavender – Capt. Anderson
  •  Jim Farley – Gen, Thatcher
  •  Fred Vroom – Southern General
  • Richard Allen – His Son
  •  Joe Keaton – Union General
  • Mike Donlin – Union General
  • Tom Nawn – Union General
  • Charles H. Smith – Mr. Lee, Screenwriter
  • Ray Thomas – Raider
  • Jimmy Bryant – Raider
  •  Ross McCutcheon – Raider
  • Charles Phillips – Raider
  • Anthony Harvey Raider
  • Edward Hearn – Union Officer
  • Budd Fine-Raider
  • Frank S. Hagney – Recruiting Officer

J Geils Band – Give It To Me

I would put Peter Wolf up with the best live front men in rock.

The J Geils Band sounded a bit different in the seventies. They had their biggest hits in the ’80s with “Freeze-Frame” and “Centerfold,” but that was the culmination of a long career that included lots of blues-based boogie music like this track.

This song peaked at #30 in the Billboard 100 and #39 in Canada in 1973. The song was on the album Bloodshot and peaked at #10 in the Billboard Album Charts and #17 in Canada. 

Peter Wolf wrote the song with the group’s keyboard player Seth Justman.

While the band was experiencing the greatest commercial success of its career and preparing a follow-up to Freeze Frame…the two main songwriters Wolf and Justman were not getting along. The band refused to record material Wolf had written with other writing partners…so Wolf left in 1983.

The band wanted to go in a more pop direction while Wolf wanted to continue the more blues/rock path they were going . 

From Songfacts

One of the most popular J. Geils Band songs from the group’s early years, this one is unusually carnal, with Peter Wolf making it very clear in his vocal delivery what he’s asking for in “Give It To Me.”

“Give It To Me” was cut down to 3:07 for radio play, but the full version runs a healthy 6:32, with showcase spots for many of the band members. Seth Justman gets a long solo on organ, which is followed by a guitar spot by J. Geils (the group’s guitarist was the band’s namesake) and an extended harmonica solo by Magic Dick. The song became a concert favorite, and one that established the J. Geils Band as a great live act. The live version from their album Blow Your Face Out is the one many radio stations play, as it captures the energy of their shows.

Heineken beer used this in commercials in 2002.

Bill Szymczyk produced the Bloodshot album, which was recorded at the Hit Factory in New York City. Szymczyk would later produce the Eagles, including their albums On the Border and Hotel California.

Give It To Me

You’ve got to give it to me
You’ve got to give it to me
You’ve got to give it to me
You’ve got to give it to me

You’re so slick now, know every trick now
You know I want it, I want it so bad
You know I need it, I can’t believe it
So come on baby, Please relieve it

Now you’ve been bugging me, Every night now
You say you want it, You want it right now
I can’t get to it, I can’t get through it
So come on baby, Please

You’ve got to get it up (give it up)
You’ve got to get it up (give it up)
You’ve got to get it up (give it up)
You’ve got to get it up (give it up)

Why keep me cold
When it’s so warm inside
Come on baby
Your love is too good to hide

Beatles – You Never Give Me Your Money—- Songs That Reference Money

This was part of the famous Abbey Road medley that featured parts of songs by the Beatles.

John Lennon usually wrote about what he knew best…himself and and his personal views. Paul would many times write about fantasy…he would write about his significant other at any given time also but this is one of the few songs that he was living through. Unlike John he usually would mask things more.

Allen Klein’s time as manager built-up tensions within the band. Paul wanted Lee Eastman his in-law at the helm but John, George, and Ringo wanted the notrious Allen Klein. Klein managed the Stones for years and at the end Mick and company found out that they inadvertently signed away their songs up until 1969 to him. Paul was right in this case…they should have never gone with Klein but Paul should have picked someone else but his in-laws as a choice. No way were the others going to go with that decision.

The song was about Klein and his attitude. Always telling them how much they were worth but never handing over cash…just money figures on “funny paper.”

This song was the first song in the medley. It is actually 3 short songs into one. “You Never Give Me Your Money, ” “Out of College section,” and the “One Sweet Dream section”

I’ve been asked, what’s so special about the Beatles? The medley on side 2 of Abbey Road is just one of many things.

Paul McCartney: “This was me directly lambasting Allen Klein’s attitude to us,” “no money, just funny paper, all promises and it never works out. It’s basically a song about no faith in the person, that found its way into the medley on ‘Abbey Road.’ John saw the humor in it.”

George Harrison: “We get bits of paper, saying how much is earned and what this and that is, but we never actually get it in pounds, shillings and pence. We’ve all got a big house and a car and an office, but to actually get the money we’ve earned seems impossible.”

 

From Songfacts

This song is about The Beatles’ business problems. When their manager Brian Epstein died in 1967, they were burdened with handling their own finances, which became a source of tension in the band.

This is the first of a medley of songs on Abbey Road, which goes another 15 minutes to “The End.”

By 1969, members of The Beatles had a lot of unfinished song ideas, which they sometimes combined. This contains fragments of four songs put into one.

Regarding the lines, “You never give me your money, you only give me your funny paper,” “Funny Paper” is how The Beatles felt they were paid. They got frustrated when their accountants would tell them how much they were worth “on paper,” without actually telling them how much money they had.

Paul McCartney played this combined with “Carry That Weight” on his 2002 “Back In The US” tour.

You Never Give Me Your Money

You never give me your money
You only give me your funny paper
And in the middle of negotiations
You break down

I never give you my number
I only give you my situation
And in the middle of investigation
I break down

Out of college, money spent
See no future, pay no rent
All the money’s gone, nowhere to go
Any jobber got the sack
Monday morning, turning back
Yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go
But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go
Oh, that magic feeling
Nowhere to go, nowhere to go

One sweet dream
Pick up the bags and get in the limousine
Soon we’ll be away from here
Step on the gas and wipe that tear away
One sweet dream came true today
Came true today
Came true today (yes, it did)

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
All good children go to Heaven

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
All good children go to Heaven

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
All good children go to Heaven

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
All good children go to Heaven

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
All good children go to Heaven

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
All good children go to Heaven

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven
All good children go to Heaven

 

 

The Unknown Chaplin

A three-part documentary based on unseen footage from Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin ordered all of his outtakes burned but some did survive. This gives us a glimpse of how he constructed a story. He relied on inspiration and rarely had anything planned out in advance and that lead to classic scenes.

He would rearrange sets and actors and if a good mistake happened he would act on it and stretch it out. This was a good way to waste thousands of dollars worth of film but it also made him a comedy genius. Chaplin said he would build sets without an idea in his head but would be inspired.

Below is an outtake he never used in his feature “City Lights” which It would have been interesting if he would have kept it in. He takes the simplest prop…a piece of wood and works a scene around it in a grate.

The documentary was in three parts.

My Happiest Years – This part is mostly on his early Mutual shorts years in 1916-1917

The Great Director – Actresses and Actors talk about working on Chaplin’s films.

Hidden Treasures – A look at a variety of informal, private or salvaged pieces of film by or relating to Chaplin, including home movie footage, visitors to his studios, and several sequences that were edited out of his final films.

Like the Buster Keaton biography A Hard Act To Follow this was produced by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. It’s worth chasing these down or click on this link in youtube. 

 

 

Charlie Chaplin – The Kid

This 1921 movie by Charlie Chaplin teamed him up with young Jackie Coogan. You may remember the adult Coogan as Uncle Fester on the Addams Family. It’s a great film with some classic scenes between Chaplin and Coogan. This was Chaplin’s first feature film. He was finishing up his First National contract as he co-founded United Artists with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith.

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The Jackie Coogan and Chaplin…Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester

The story starts off with a woman (Edna Purviance) that abandons her baby in the back of an expensive car hoping that the owners will give her baby a life that she can not. The car is then stolen and the baby is left on the street. The Tramp (Chaplin) finds the baby and takes it home and raises him. Five years pass and he loves the kid and together they have a great scheme going on.

The kid goes around throwing rocks through windows and out of nowhere later on comes The Tramp who would just so happen to have glass and materials with him to fix the window for a price.

The authorities soon find out that the Tramp is not the kid’s father. While this is going on the mother who is doing really well now is looking for her child. The Tramp and Kid are pursued and in this film, Chaplin had some serious and tender moments combining comedy with pathos which at the time was a turning point. The movie was considered a masterpiece when it was released.

One scene that jumps out is the scene where social services are physically taking the child away and Chaplin fights…not comically but really fights to keep the Kid.

The film was written, directed, produced and starred… Charlie Chaplin. Edna Purviance makes her last appearance acting with Chaplin. She would be directed by him one more time in a drama as a leading lady. This movie kicked off Coogan’s very successful child acting career.

Jackie Coogan would become a star in the twenties. He earned 3-4 million dollars acting and when he turned 21 in 1935 he thought he was set for life only to find out the money was gone. His mother and step-father spent all of his money on furs, jewelry, and cars. His mom said that Jackie enjoyed himself acting and no promises were ever made to give him any of the money. Jackie sued his mom in 1938 and only received 125,000 dollars of his money.

Coogan had financial problems for a long while and even went to Chaplin for help which Chaplin gladly gave him money.

One good thing came out of it. The “Coogan Act” which made parents set aside at least 15 percent of their child’s earnings to a trust fund.

If you get a chance this is a great short entertaining movie.

 

 

Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow

This is a three-part documentary made in 1987. It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen…not just about Buster but anyone.  Each part is almost an hour long. Kevin Brownlow and David Gill wrote and directed this mini-series. This documentary is interesting for fans and non-fans alike. I have watched it multiple times and showed it to friends to didn’t have much interest in silent movies and they ended up liking it.

Brownlow also worked on “Hollywood” (a 13 part history of the silent era that later I’ll review), The Unknown Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius.

This is in my top 5 of documentaries to recommend to people…I just wish it was easier to get. I had to order it from Europe to get a DVD copy of this.  You can watch all of them on Youtube...below

Buster Keaton was not only a great comedian but a great filmmaker. Some of his special effects in Sherlock Jr and other movies stand up today. I always thought that while Chaplin had the best comedy character…Keaton was the better filmmaker.

Part One (From Vaudeville to Movies)

Covers his vaudeville childhood with his parents. Because of child labor laws, his parents would claim that Buster was an adult actor. They would dress Buster to look old. This part goes through Vaudeville and up until Buster meets Roscoe Arbuckle and starts his career in movies.

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Part Two (Star Without a Studio):

Part Two sums up his great silent movies. He did not work in the studio system…Buster had free reign with his movies in most of the 1920s working for Independent film executive Joe Schenck. Part two shows some of the best scenes from his silent movies until he had to join a studio (MGM) that along with his drinking helped ruin his career.

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Part Three (Genius Recognized):

This part is the downfall and the comeback. Buster worked through the early thirties in some successful talkies but soon by the end of the 30s he was working as a gag writer. He was soon largely forgotten until he appeared in “Sunset Boulevard”, commercials and TV. Buster was in a movie with Chaplin called Limelight in 1952. He began to be praised by historians, critics, and fans alike before he passed away in 1966.

 

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There is a new Buster documentary out called ‘The Great Buster: A Celebration’ by Peter Bogdanovich that I have yet to see. I plan to track it down soon. Either way, this one will be hard to beat.

 

Below is Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow…the complete series.

 

 

 

Runnin’ Wild by David Stenn

I got this book in the 90s and just reread it yet again. I’ve gone over Clara Bow earlier but I wanted to add more about this book. It is a well researched interesting book on the great silent movie actress. I have huge respect for Clara Bow as an actress and as a person. She was outspoken in a business where very few women were at that time.

David Stenn separates fact from fiction about Clara. In the book, Hollywood Babylon Kenneth Anger makes many unflattering statements about Clara which Stenn proves were false. Was Clara wild at times? Yes but no wilder than many of the other actresses in the 20s and nothing compared to today…She was just honest about it.

Actress Lina Basquette said: “She wasn’t well liked amongst other women in the film colony. Her social presence was taboo, and it was rather silly because God knows Marion Davies and Mary Pickford had plenty to hide. It’s just that they hid it, and Clara didn’t.” Bow knew the truth. “I’m a curiosity in Hollywood,” she said. “I’m a big freak because I’m myself!”

Her mother suffered from mental illness, Clara once woke with her mother standing over her with a knife saying she was going to kill her. Her father abused her and used her all of his life and may have sexually abused her. She made it against all odds to the top. There was a point in the twenties that she was the biggest female star receiving 45,000 fan letters a month.

Paramount would use her to push lightweight films and hardly ever place her in a great film. Because of this practice, she is only known well for a few films. When silent movies evolved into “talkies” Greta Garbo was given two years to prepare for the change…Clara, who was a bigger star was given a matter of weeks. She would appear on the screen and your eyes would stay with her. She did a few sound pictures and was successful but did not enjoy it as much as the silent films.

She retired and married Rex Bell (a part time cowboy actor) and moved to Nevada in the 1930s to have and raise a couple of children. One of her children, Rex Bell Jr. had this to say about the book.

“A lot of crap biographies have been written about mom, but the one that is accurate is ‘Clara Bow, Runnin’ Wild’ by David Stenn,” Bell said, noting that he first learned his mother was abused as a child from that book that was supported by medical records.

Clara was in the first movie that won an Oscar… Wings … The other movie she is known for is It made in 1927. She was soon known as The IT Girl.

I recommend this book highly. Clara Bow had a hard life growing up in Brooklyn and against all odds turned into one of the biggest stars of the 20s. She was honest to a fault and herself to the end.

Where Clara, Rex, and their children lived…The Walking Box Ranch.