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The General U rating

Buster Keaton's masterpiece is widely and rightly regarded as one of the greatest comedies ever made.

Comedy 1926 79 mins

Director: Buster Keaton


Widely and rightly regarded as one of the greatest comedies ever made, Keaton's masterpiece also impresses as a vivid recreation of the American South during the Civil War. The pleasingly symmetrical storyline is an extended, virtuoso variation on the chase thriller, charting the perilous odyssey to behind enemy lines and back undertaken by Confederate train driver Johnny Gray (Keaton) when his beloved engine - carrying, as it happens, the girl he forlornly dreams of marrying - is stolen by Union soldiers.

Stunningly shot and perfectly paced, the film is considerably more than a series of beautifully executed gags, thanks to a dramatically satisfying narrative and deft characterisation. It helps that it's graced by uniformly strong performances, with Marion Mack especially engaging - and game! - as Anabelle. But it's Keaton, of course, who carries the day, his athletic skill combining with those watchful, wonderfully expressive eyes to create a credible hero of real resilience and intelligence. As close to perfection as filmmaking gets.