Walter Kerr (The Silent Clowns, Alfred
A. Knopf, 1975)
"'The General,' as a film, has the peculiar quality of not dating at all: we quite forget that we are looking at work done in the 1920's and tend to identify the pictures we are watching with the period of the narrative. This is only in part due to the fact that is was a costume film to begin with; many costume films of the 1920's are transparently sham today. It is more nearly due ot Keaton's integral relationship with his background."
"The sense of epic in 'The General' does not end with the spectacular shape of the film. The epic feeling permeates with its authenticity the weatherbeaten clapboards of wayside houses, the close-to-peeling pillars of the girl's colonial 'mansion,' the dusty roads of smallish towns and teeming military encampments, the very weeds that push through gravel to wrap themselves about railroad ties. We do not seem to be looking at 'sets' at all, but at a mythic past in its tangible life recovered whole after a hundred years."
"As 'The General' must be the most insistently moving picture ever made, so its climax is surely the most stunning visual event ever arranged for a film comedy, perhaps for a film of any kind."
Joe Franklin (Classics of the Silent
Screen, The Citadel Press, 1959)
"Buster Keaton's 'The General' is in the very odd position of being one of the classic silent comedies while being one of the least typical. . . To us today, the best of it seems not only incredibly ingenious and funny, but also truly creative. But look at any fan magazine of the late '20's, and you will find a number of great visual comedies being passed of as 'just more of the same,' while pedestrian situation comedies . . . were rating rave reviews for being 'different' and 'intelligent'."
" . . . it is still full of fine pantomime and visual comedy. But it is slower-paced than any other Keaton comedy, the gags are more deliberately paced, and there's far more substance to the story. Luckily, the story is so good on its own, and so well handled, that the reduced comedy content is amply compensated for."
Richard Koszarski (An Evening's Entertainment,
University of California Press, 1990)
"To look at Buster Keaton's 'The General,' however, is to step back into a recreation of nineteenth-century life that rivals Griffith in texture and detail. As von Stroheim drew strength from the density of his environments, so Keaton creates his gags from objects, situations, and personalities generated by the period and location with which he is working."
Buster Keaton (as told to Kevin Brownlow
in The Parade's Gone By, University of California Press,
"'The General' was my pet. It was a page out of history. . . Now this was my own story, my own continuity, I directed it, I cut it and titled it. So actually it was a pet."
Marion Mack (in an interview with Raymond
Rohauer in Buster Keaton's The General The Film Classics
Library edited by Richard J. Anobile, Universe Books, 1975)
"They used today what I think would be called an outline. Not a real script as we now know it. I mean, they told you what the scne was, but you were expected to make up your own bits of business, and if anybody had an idea they would try it and see how it played. Like when I have the scene where I'm getting on the train Buster is driving, and I'm still supposed to be mad at him for not enlisting. I made a big business out of admiring the medal my brother was wearing, and polishing his uniform buttons, just to show how much I admired him, because, of course, I know that Buser is looking at me. And this was not in any script, but they said it looked cute, and so it stayed in."
Neil Sinyard (Silent Movies, Smithmark
Publishers, Inc., 1995)
"Keaton's own favorite of his films and now generally acknowledged to be his masterpiece, was 'The General.' It is 'The Birth of a Nation' of screen comedy and indeed probably more than that; the finest film ever about the Civil War. . . the film was remarkable for its visuals. Keaton wanted it to look like 'a page out of history.'
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