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The General / Steamboat Bill Jr.

4.0 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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(Oct 21, 2003)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Often listed among the ten best films of all time, The General is Buster Keaton's greatest work, at once a full-scale epic, a wonderful comedy, and an authentic-looking period drama. Buster plays Johnnie Grey, a locomotive engineer in the Confederate Sou

Buster Keaton's career reached its creative apex with the rousing comic adventure The General. Not merely one of the finest silent films, this remains one of the great film comedies of all time. The Great Stone Face stars as Southern railroad engineer Johnny Gray, a man with only two loves: the sweet Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack) and his trustworthy engine, the eponymous General. When Fort Sumner is fired upon he's one of the first to enlist, but when the war office rejects him (he's too valuable as a trained engineer) his sweetie rejects him as a coward. Johnny has the opportunity to prove his bravery when Yankee spies steal his engine and inadvertently kidnap Annabelle, and Johnny pursues with all the resources at his disposal: handcar, bicycle, and finally railroad engine. Keaton's love/hate relationship with technology and machinery shines as he becomes one with his beloved locomotive and wrestles with a finicky cannon that threatens to blow his engine off the tracks; with tremendous dexterity, he nails the humor with inimitably deadpan takes. Spunky Marion Mack makes a perfect partner for Keaton, not merely a foil but a gifted comedienne in her own right. Other Keaton films contain more laughs and inspired comic stunts, but none combines romance, adventure, and comedy into a solid story as seamlessly as this silent masterpiece. --Sean Axmaker

In Steamboat Bill Jr., Keaton stars in the story of a college-educated young man who comes home to help his father work on his Mississippi River steamboat and immediately demonstrates just what a landlubber he is. What's worse, the woman he falls for is the daughter of his father's worst rival, a bullying rich guy who wants to drive Buster's boat out of business. Keaton's slapstick is inspired and precise, particularly during an amazing sequence in which he tries to walk across town during a tornado. Watch in amazement as the front of a building falls on Keaton and he walks away without a scratch. --Marshall Fine

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Special Features

  • Featuring new prints and music by the Alloy Orchestra

Product Details

  • Actors: Buster Keaton, Ernest Torrence, Marion Mack, Jim Farley, Ronald Gilstrap
  • Directors: Buster Keaton
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC, Silent
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Dubbed: Japanese
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Image Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: October 21, 2003
  • Run Time: 146 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0000C23GP
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,370 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The General / Steamboat Bill Jr." on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By James Toy on July 3, 2004
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I had seen The General twice before purchasing this DVD, and acquiring it was my main goal for this purchase. I had not seen Steamboat Bill, so this 2 in 1 DVD seemed like the best buy.
Overall, I was not disappointed. The images are extremely sharp and clean for movies of this vintage. They almost look brand new, save for some inevitable, but minor artifacts of age. The General is tinted monochrome. Mostly sepia, with some blue tinted night scenes, a common effect in silent films. Steamboat Bill is straight black and white.
Many people are not aware that The General is based on a true story about a locomotive stolen during the Civil War (see: [...] and that the real locomotive now resides in a museum in Kennesaw, GA. The Keaton film is one long exciting chase scene. The first time I saw it, I was actually a little disappointed. It really isn't a comedy, like most of Keaton's films. Rather it is an action movie with sight gags. Once I understood that, I really appreciated the genius of the film, and it is now one of my all-time favorites. It was filmed on location near Cottage Grove, Oregon.
Steamboat Bill Jr. is pure fun. It ranks among the best of Keaton's works, I think. Its the story of the son of a steamboat captain, who falls in love with the daughter of a rival boat operator. The climactic storm scene boasts a number of special effects that rival, or even surpass, today's computer generated effects for believeability. There is also one really hokey, but funny effect involving a flying tree.
My favorite scene in Steamboat Bill was in a hat shop, where there is an inside joke that will be understood only by those who have seen more of Keaton's work.
I would give this DVD five stars instead of four, except that I have mixed feelings about the Alloy Orchestra soundtrack.
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Format: DVD
The two funniest and most visually artful movies ever made! Some of my amazon friends have expressed concern over my lack of gung ho patriotism and regard for home-grown all-American products. Well, y'all, I say without reservation that the silent-era comedies are America's answer to the Parthenon, the Sistine Chapel, and the Mercedes Benz 300SL, and Buster Keaton is our Shakespeare, Goethe, and Ibsen all in one.

Steamboat Bill is a classic wimpy-son-overcomes-macho-dad story, with fantastic physical humor and a storm scene made with propellor fans that's more effective than anything done with computer graphics.

The General is a miracle of cinematography - the best chase scenes ever, the best realization on film of the Civil War period - and a total hoot besides. Buster plays a Rebel engineer who steals a locomotive and gets chased by half the Yankee army; oddly enough, the script is based on a real event of train-theft and sabotage, but the clever saboteur was a Yankee and the pursuers Secessionists. I guess Buster was a Copperhead, a northerner with southern sympathies, but I'll forgive him.

Sweden has Bergman, Italy has Fellini, Japan has Kurosawa, but America has Buster Keaton! Happy Fourth of July!
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Format: DVD
Well, at least it's the one I was waiting for. "The General" is one of my all-time favorite movies, and "Steamboat Bill" is my second most favorite Keaton movie. I've seen the Kino DVDs of both films, and I was blown away by the quality of Film Preservation Associates' restoration. Just astonishing--they look like they were filmed last week.
If there was one weak point of those DVDs, it was the music. For example, the music for "General" was basically a series of Civil War tunes. Not bad by any means, but unremarkable. The music didn't add or subtract from either movie.
That all changes with THIS new DVD edition! The Alloy Orchestra (which is actually just three people) composed and performed brand new scores for both films, in high fidelity stereo (of course). The difference is astounding. Thanks to the new scores, both movies have a new energy and immediacy, and I find this edition to be far more entertaining than the original Kino releases. And, since the versions of the films on this DVD are the same FPA restored versions on the Kino releases, I'd have to say this is the DVD that Buster Keaton fans should DEFINITELY own, even if they already own the first Kino releases.
But don't just take my word for it. If you can, rent this DVD, compare it to the original Kino release, and judge for yourself. See if you're as impressed as this Keaton fan was.
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Format: DVD
Both films are wonderfully acted and provide many laughs. Indeed these are two of the top silent film comedies of all time. Unfortunately, the new soundtrack recorded by the Alloy Orchestra is not only substandard compared to the music I've seen accompanying past versions of the films, but often, and I mean OFTEN downright distracting and inappropriate to the action. I'm selling my copy and looking for a copy of one or both films with more appropriate soundtracks.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
While the Kino releases of these and other Buster Keaton films are entertaining, this release has the advantage of (1) being taken from excellent prints of the movies, and (2) the music (non-intrusively) complementing the story. In The General the music has a simple chugging quality, and changes tempo with the speed of the trains, while in Steamboat Bill it imitates the windstorm. It's a great effect - the music, while not a "soundtrack," onomatopoeietically (?) does what the musicians in the original theaters likely did - it helps bring out the excitement in the story.
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