Sunday, September 11, 2011


Directors: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Writers: Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman

Marion Mack ... Annabelle Lee
Glen Cavender ... Captain Anderson
Jim Farley ... General Thatcher
Frederick Vroom ... A Southern General
Charles Henry Smith ... Annabelle's Father (as Charles Smith)
Frank Barnes ... Annabelle's Brother
Joe Keaton ... Union General
Mike Donlin ... Union General
Tom Nawn ... Union General
Buster Keaton ... Johnny Gray

Up until last weekend, I'd only seen clips of silent films. Oh yes, I knew how they were done. The film was projected on a screen and a musician played along. In the finer movie houses, they had an organ. In the lesser, a piano.

When a friend told my husband and I that The General was showing at the Tennessee Theater, we had to go see it. I've seen the theater's Mighty Wurlitzer organ whenever they have a regular talkie. Their house organist gives a topical performance before each film, but I've never seen a silent was they were done back in the old days.

The story in brief is that Johnny Gray is a young Southern railroad engineer who loves two things: his girl, Annabelle, and his locomotive, The General. When war breaks out between the North and South, Johnny tries to enlist, but the Southerners believe he is more valuable as an engineer. Then, the North decides to steal his locomotive and blow up the supply lines between Georgia and Tennessee. Johnny goes after them.

Now, I have trouble seeing regular films. If I really like a movie, we'll often see it twice so I get everything. The General was exceptional in communicating their message. The typeset they used for titles was big enough for me to see at about the twelfth row and the gestures were sweeping and recognizable. Oh and the music--the organist alternated between Civil War South and North to tell the story as the film alternated between the spies and courageous Johnny.

Yes, we were spellbound, not just with the movie, but with the mechanics of how the organist kept up with the story and enhanced the visual presentation with his music. The Tennessee Theater will be hosting more silent films through the year and we do plan on attending.

The General is rightly hailed as one of the finest films ever made. That says a lot considering many of the ones made later had access to more money, technology and star power than the 1926 silent film. In my humble opinion, the folks lauding this film are completely right.

Rebecca Kyle, September 2011

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